SACRAMENTO — Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown has launched an investigation into the brouhaha over videotapes of a conservative group's sting operation against ACORN, the community organizing group credited with helping push Barack Obama to the presidency.
Brown's office plans to look into circumstances surrounding both the making of the videos and any possible misdeeds by ACORN employees in California caught on tape.
In what has become a staple of TV and radio talk shows in recent weeks, ACORN workers in several states were shown allegedly offering advice on tax evasion, human smuggling and child prostitution. Undercover videotapes, shot surreptitiously by a pair posing as a pimp and prostitute, were shot of ACORN workers in Maryland, California, New York and Washington, D.C.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked Brown to investigate the videos in a letter two weeks ago. Chief Deputy Atty. Gen. James M. Humes replied that an investigation has been opened "of both ACORN and the circumstances under which ACORN employees were videotaped."
It is illegal under state law to tape someone without his or her permission.
"We're going to look at the tapes, we're going to follow the facts without fear or favor, and we're going to see where it takes us," said Scott Gerber, a Brown spokesman.
Schwarzenegger said in a statement that he is "outraged and deeply concerned by these allegations," which include videotapes released of alleged misdeeds at ACORN offices in San Bernardino and San Diego counties.
"If these reports are true," the governor said, "they warrant prosecution under the fullest extent of the law."
ACORN officials in California accused the governor of political grandstanding and said they are confident that the investigation will prove that their workers did not commit any crimes.
David Lagstein, a California spokesman for ACORN, said the group acknowledges its workers acted unprofessionally at the two offices, and they have been terminated.
He said in one case the worker called police after the pair left, and in another the employee sensed a prank and made a few outrageous statements, but no serious advice was given.
"We accept responsibility for the lack of professionalism shown in these videos," Lagstein said. "But there's a big gap between stupid behavior and breaking the law."
Members of ACORN, which stands for the Assn. of Community Organizations for Reform Now, are already under investigation in several states for allegations of irregularities in registering voters before the 2008 presidential election.
When the controversy erupted last month, Congress voted to cut off federal money to ACORN, and there are various probes into its funding and activities.