Politics

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Jae C. Hong/AP
An investigator carries a box of evidence seized from the ACORN office in Las Vegas,
October 7, 2008.

Nevada’s Attorney General Files Criminal Charges Against ACORN

May 06, 2009 05:00 PM
by Emily Coakley
Nevada officials have charged the organization and two former employees with nearly 40 felony counts for allegedly encouraging fraudulent voting practices; ACORN denies the allegations.

Suspicious Registration Forms Started Investigation

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Nevada’s attorney general says that the way ACORN compensated people hired to register voters encouraged fraud.

Though employees were paid an hourly rate, the group allegedly “made continued employment, and therefore continued compensation, contingent upon the canvasser registering 20 voters per shift,” according to the attorney general’s press release.

In October, Nevada officials announced that the group had turned in registration forms that appeared suspicious. Some forms were submitted under the names Tony Romo and Terrell Owens, who are also well-known football players, for example.

ACORN, in a statement, said that it had been a victim.

Our policy all along has been to pay workers at an hourly rate and to not pay employees based on any bonus or incentive program,” the statement said. It added that when the organization found out that an employee had set up a bonus program, “that employee was ordered to stop immediately.

According to The Associated Press, fake registration cards ACORN workers allegedly submitted are being investigated in “about a dozen states.”

The former employees who have also been charged are Amy Adele Busefink, 26, of Seminole, Fla., and Christopher Howell Edwards, 33, of Gilroy, Calif. The AP couldn't reach either of them for comment, and ACORN officials have said they will not represent them in court.

Catherine Cortez Masto, the attorney general of Nevada, and Ross Miller, the secretary of state, filed the criminal charges, which include “26 counts of Compensation for Registration of Voters, a Category E felony,” and “13 counts of Principle to the Crime of Compensation for Registration of Voters, also a Category E felony,” the release said.

Edwards is accused of creating a bonus program called “Blackjack,” or “21+.”

“Specifically, a canvasser who brought in 21 or more completed voter registration forms per shift would be paid a bonus of $5.00,” the attorney general statement said.

Busefink, who was a deputy regional director for the group, allegedly approved the program. State officials said the group's timesheets show that “corporate officers” knew about the program and didn't “take immediate action to terminate it.”

ACORN, or Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, is a national organization that is involved in a variety of issues, including preventing foreclosures, reducing unemployment and protecting civil rights.

Background: ACORN offices raided during 2008 campaign

At the beginning of October, Nevada state officials took documents from a Las Vegas office belonging to ACORN. Members at the Las Vegas office were accused of “submitting fraudulent voter-registration forms,” The Associated Press reported.

Bertha Lewis, ACORN’s interim chief organizer, said in a statement at the time that her group had separated suspicious applications from others and given them to election officials for investigation, then met with state officials in July because they weren’t acting on ACORN’s information.

“ACORN pleaded with them to take our concerns about fraudulent applications seriously,” the statement said, and went on to label the search a “stunt.” The raid, the statement said, only “discredit[s] our work registering Nevadans and distracting us from the important work ahead of getting every eligible voter to the polls.”

Bob Walsh, a spokesman for Nevada’s secretary of state, told the AP: “You don’t have to read too many cop novels to know that sometimes people will tell you a grain of truth to try to hide the rest of the truth. I’m certainly not suggesting that ACORN is that nefarious, but at the same time just because they handed over 50 to you doesn’t mean there aren’t 150 others out there.”

ACORN was also under investigation in Ohio, one of battleground states in the 2008 presidential campaign. Cuyahoga County Board of Elections conducted an inquiry into the group’s alleged submission of fraudulent voter registration cards. According to Cleveland paper Plain Dealer, “the group has faced similar inquiries in other large Ohio counties.”

In Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is located, “election workers flagged about 50 names on suspicious cards. The cards were to register the same names, raising the possibility that canvassers shared information when trying to make quotas,” the Plain Dealer reported last year.

The paper said the group’s head organizer, Kris Harsh, said the group couldn’t be expected to catch everything.

“None of us have ever achieved perfection,” he was quoted as telling the board.
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