The Case for ACORN as a Criminal Enterprise

The group will be hard pressed to recover from this string of revelations.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

It now looks very much like there was a lot more truth to the criticisms about ACORN—the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now—than its leadership, its allies on Capitol Hill and its supporters in the media were willing to acknowledge.

The ongoing investigation of ACORN conducted by two activist-journalists working undercover—and brought to the public's attention by's Andrew Breitbart and Fox News Channel's Glenn Beck—showed employees of ACORN caught on tape suggesting various ways to commit fraud and evade taxes.

The journalists, James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, posed as a prostitute and her pimp asking ACORN for help in obtaining a mortgage so they could purchase a building they could use in their sex business, which included a number of under-age girls brought to the United States from overseas as sex workers.

The ACORN personnel cheerfully obliged, suggesting ways to defraud the bank, avoid tax payments by misstating income, and disguise the true nature of their activities. They were even advised to classify several of the under-age girls as "dependents" so the pair would qualify for the federal child tax credit. In one office an ACORN official even told Giles to classify her occupation as a "free lancer" and to bury any cash her business generated in the backyard.

This latest round of problems for ACORN may be the best documented, but they are not the first nor, for that matter, are they the most serious. A report issued last summer by the Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, according to Sunday's Washington Times, "presented evidence that ACORN had engaged in criminal misconduct."

Among the findings, the report said, ACORN:

  • Engaged in tax evasion, obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting a cover-up of nearly $1 million embezzled by Dale Rathke, brother of group founder Wade Rathke;
    • Committed investment fraud, depriving the public of the right to "honest services," and engaging in a racketeering enterprise affecting interstate commerce;
      • Conspired to defraud the United States by using taxpayer dollars for partisan political activities;
        • Submitted false filings to the Internal Revenue Service, and the U.S. Department of Labor; and,
          • Violated the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act.
          • Any one of these is a serious allegation. Taken together, they give ACORN most every appearance of being some sort of massive criminal enterprise worthy of a federal investigation of the sort made under the terms of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act—or RICO. In fact the group and its affiliates are currently the target of more than a dozen lawsuits related to voter fraud in the 2008 election alone.

            As a result of the increased public scrutiny of its actions, the Obama administration has "severed it ties" with ACORN, at least as far as allowing it to participate in the 2010 Census. The U.S. House and Senate are both voting as fast as they can to cut off federal funding of the group and more than one coalition has been created to ask state legislatures and governors to do likewise. ACORN's response began as a militant defiance of the criticism, likening it to the use of "Willie Horton" in the 1988 presidential campaign.

            Except that talking about Mr. Horton, a convicted murderer sentenced to life in a Massachusetts prison without the possibility of parole who walked away from the last of nearly a dozen unsupervised furloughs he had received to commit additional crimes in Maryland, was not a political dirty trick as certain liberals and Democrats continue to insist; he was proof positive that former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis held views about incarceration, crime and punishment that were well outside the mainstream of American thinking. Likewise, the folks at ACORN who think they can mount a racially-tinged, aggressive offense to deflect attention from what is on those tapes are likely to be disappointed.

            In fact, that disappointment may already be setting in. Continuing to ask the federal government for money, ACORN's defense has softened into a sort of "mistakes were made, they were isolated incidents, let's have a blur-ribbon panel of experts tell us where we went wrong and how to fix things" amalgam of sweetness and light seeking forgiveness. It's not likely to work. The group may find salvation in its ability to hide behind a myriad of names and organizational structures but, for the most part, the damage is done.

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              • Peter Roff

                Peter Roff is a contributing editor at U.S. News & World Report. Formerly a senior political writer for United Press International, he's now affiliated with several public policy organizations including Let Freedom Ring, and Frontiers of Freedom. His writing has appeared in National Review, Fox News' opinion section, The Daily Caller, Politico and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff.

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