WASHINGTON (NNPA) -- ACORN is determined to clear its name. Through the launch of a self-investigation, the anti-poverty group hopes to overturn accusations of illegal methods used to benefit its clients. However, CEO Bertha Lewis is prepared for any possible outcome.
YouTube videos made by conservatives opposed to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now show right-wing activists James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles dressed as a pimp and prostitute receiving tips from ACORN workers on how to hide money and falsify taxes for a prostitution operation. The investigation will examine all ACORN procedures the video calls into question.
"The public needs to know we take this very seriously," Lewis said. "If there is something wrong with this organization, it's my job to fix it which is why we wanted to bring in somebody who's tough."
That tough guy is Scott Harshbarger, who said he will use his skills as senior counsel to the office of Proskauer Rose LLP and former Massachusetts attorney general to lead a "transparent, complete and candid review" of ACORN's systems. The inquiry has not yet begun, but Harshbarger said he will work expeditiously and looks forward to beginning the challenging task.
"We have been asked to conduct an independent inquiry, a comprehensive review of a range of incidents and general review of management of ACORN as a whole," Harshbarger said. "Our job is to determine what the facts are, do what we can to offer solutions and make recommendations to the CEO and advisory board of ACORN. We intend to apply the same process, technique and skills to this that we do to any other investigation so that the leadership of the organization and the public has some consensus that we have offered our very best."
Calling the video tapes an "outrage and embarrassment," Lewis said she understands the criticism ACORN has received and is committed to an open collaboration with Harshbarger to unveil the truth.
Until the investigation is complete, Lewis implemented a freeze on client intake, suspended some of its services and eliminated its tax preparation assistance. She has also sued O'Keefe and Giles and fired the ACORN workers who dispensed the information.
While she does not anticipate a severe loss if the federal government chooses to cut its approximated financial contribution of 10 percent, Lewis fears the videos will negatively impact the impoverished Americans ACORN was founded to uplift. Nonetheless, she said the organization will continue striving to fulfill its mission.
"It does hurt all of the poor people we've helped over the years," Lewis said. "That's why I moved swiftly. I will not tolerate such behavior. We need to save people's homes, make sure people get proper health care, and that our children are getting proper education. We're going to continue to do our good work. We've done it for 40 years and we're going to do it for 40 more."
In conjunction with launching an internal investigation, ACORN has also taken an aggressive stand against the videographers that started this firestorm. According to a press release, the organization has filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against O'Keefe, Giles and Breitbart.com LLC, seeking an injunction against further distribution of the video and compensatory and punitive damages.
Maryland law requires two way consent before taping of a conversation can occur. The person seeking to record must have the permission of all parties being taped to legally proceed. Violation of this law is a felony.
The Baltimore ACORN employees caught on tape have been released from the organization as their actions violated company policies. "Although we do not condone what our former employees did, no matter how entrapped they were," said Lewis in a statement, "we are also committed to our 500,000 members [and] we will hold the defendants civilly and criminally responsible for their violations of Maryland laws and for the damages inflicted upon ACORN's reputation."
ACORN's legal representation for this matter includes, Andy Freeman of Brown, Goldstein and Levy, Baltimore; A. Dwight Pettit, a 45-year civil rights lawyer, Baltimore; Arthur Schwartz, from Schwartz, Lichten & Bright, PC, New York, N.Y. and C. Justin Brown, Baltimore.
The defendant's acts, Schwartz said in a written statement, "[are] clear violations of Maryland law that were intended to inflict maximum damage to the reputation of ACORN, the nation's largest grassroots organizer of low-income and minority Americans. Unfortunately they succeeded."