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Conservative activist pays $100,000 to former ACORN worker

James O'Keefe says he 'regrets any pain' suffered by a man in a widely seen sting video in which the smuggling of underage prostitutes was discussed.

March 07, 2013|By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
  • James O'Keefe has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former employee of the group ACORN.
James O'Keefe has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit filed… (Bill Haber / Associated…)

SAN DIEGO — James O'Keefe, the conservative activist whose hidden-camera stings have been aimed at liberal targets, has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former employee of the group ACORN, according to documents filed Thursday in federal court here.

As part of the settlement, O'Keefe says he "regrets any pain" suffered by Juan Carlos Vera, who was interviewed by O'Keefe and an associate in ACORN's office in National City, near the U.S.-Mexico border, on Aug. 18, 2009.

The video, aired repeatedly on television, appears to show that Vera was willing to help O'Keefe smuggle underage girls into the U.S. to act as prostitutes. O'Keefe and his associate, Hannah Giles, had gone to the ACORN office without an invitation.

In the settlement, O'Keefe says that before the video was shown on TV or posted on the Web, he was unaware of Vera's assertion that he had called the police to report O'Keefe and Giles for proposing an illegal act.

Vera's lawsuit was filed by Eugene Iredale, one of San Diego's top criminal defense and civil rights attorneys. The lawsuit was filed on the assertion that O'Keefe broke a state law prohibiting the surreptitious recording of someone's voice and image.

But O'Keefe's attorney, Michael Madigan from a Los Angeles firm, called the $100,000 payment a "nuisance settlement" and said that O'Keefe "has a full career ahead as a talented investigative journalist."

O'Keefe's actions in the National City incident, and in similar videos elsewhere, were celebrated by some commentators for allegedly showing the hypocrisy of ACORN and the left-leaning political bias at National Public Radio, where O'Keefe masqueraded as a Muslim political operative seeking agreement that "tea party" supporters are racist and xenophobic.

But some journalists blasted O'Keefe for underhanded tactics and acting as an agent provocateur rather than as a reporter.

A report in 2010 by the office of the California attorney general said that O'Keefe and Giles were given immunity from prosecution when they agreed to provide complete and unedited copies of videos made in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and National City.

ACORN employees "may be able to bring a private suit against O'Keefe and Giles for recording a confidential conversation," according to the report, completed while now-Gov. Jerry Brown was attorney general. Brown had been asked to investigate by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Among O'Keefe's deceptions, the report said, was that in the videos he is shown wearing "stereotypical 1970s pimp garb" but that when he visited the ACORN offices, he was wearing a suit and tie.

tony.perry@latimes.com

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