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Videos spur ACORN inquiry

September 17, 2009|Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Amid a firestorm of criticism, the community organizing group known as ACORN announced Wednesday that it would launch an independent review into "the indefensible action of a handful of our employees" who were secretly videotaped while giving advice to actors posing as a pimp and prostitute on how to buy a home and start a brothel.

The announcement by Bertha Lewis, ACORN's chief executive, came on the day that her organization's actions were strongly condemned by White House spokesman Robert Gibbs and days after conservative members of Congress called for a complete cutoff of federal funding for the group.

Lewis said she was ordering a halt of new entrants to the liberal organization's service programs effective immediately, a retraining of the staff within 48 hours, and a meeting of an advisory council no later than Friday to review the system that was "called into question" by the videos on YouTube and conservative websites.

"We have all been deeply disturbed by what we've seen." Lewis said. "We will go to whatever lengths necessary to reestablish the public trust."

The announcement was a reversal of ACORN's counter-offensive after the videos first aired on a Fox News program last week, when the group said the videos had been doctored.

In the videos, James O'Keefe, 25, and Hannah Giles, 20, strolled into ACORN offices in San Bernardino, Baltimore, Brooklyn and Washington, D.C., posing as a pimp and a prostitute. They said they wanted to buy a home and run it as a brothel.

ACORN workers were recorded offering advice on how the couple could skirt laws to buy a home and how to cloak the status of underage workers.

O'Keefe, a self-described filmmaker, and Giles, the eldest daughter of a conservative Christian minister in Miami, visited ACORN offices in the summer. An ACORN spokesman said they were turned away in Miami, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, where workers called police.

At the White House on Wednesday, Gibbs called the conduct on the videos "unacceptable." On Wednesday, House Republicans introduced a "Defund ACORN Act."

For years, Republicans have accused ACORN of voter-registration fraud. The group came under increased scrutiny in 2008 because of the candidacy of Obama, who once worked for ACORN as a lawyer.

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