ACORN ‘gotcha’ man arrested in attempt to tamper with Mary Landrieu’s office phones
Posted on Jan 27, 2010 in Local Issues
By David Hammer, The Times-Picayune
January 26, 2010, 6:23PM
okeefe-landrieu.JPGPatrick Semansky / The Associated PressJames O’Keefe, left, and Stan Dai walk out of the St. Bernard Parish jail in Chalmette on Tuesday. O’Keefe, a conservative activist who last year posed as a pimp to target the community-organizing group ACORN, is one of four people arrested by the FBI and accused of trying to interfere with phones at Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in New Orleans.
Alleging a plot to tamper with phones in Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in the Hale Boggs Federal Building in downtown New Orleans, the FBI arrested four people Monday, including James O’Keefe, 25, a conservative filmmaker whose undercover videos at ACORN field offices severely damaged the advocacy group’s credibility.
Also arrested were Joseph Basel, Stan Dai and Robert Flanagan, all 24. Flanagan is the son of William Flanagan, who is the acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana. All four men were charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony.
basel-landrieu.JPGThe Associated PressJoseph Basel, 24, is one of four men arrested at Sen. Mary Landrieu’s offices in New Orleans.
An official close to the investigation said one of the four was arrested with a listening device in a car blocks from the senator’s offices. He spoke on condition of anonymity because that information was not included in official arresting documents.
According to the FBI affidavit, Flanagan and Basel entered the federal building at 500 Poydras Street on Monday about 11 a.m., dressed as telephone company employees, wearing jeans, fluorescent green vests, tool belts and hard hats. When they arrived at Landrieu’s 10th-floor office, O’Keefe was already in the office and had told a staffer he was waiting for someone to arrive.
When Flanagan and Basel entered the office, they told the staffer they were there to fix phone problems. At that time, the staffer, referred to only as Witness 1 in the affidavit, observed O’Keefe positioning his cell phone in his hand to videotape the operation. O’Keefe later admitted to agents that he recorded the event.
After being asked, the staffer gave Basel access to the main phone at the reception desk. The staffer told investigators that Basel manipulated the handset. He also tried to call the main office phone using his cell phone, and said the main line wasn’t working. Flanagan did the same.
They then told the staffer they needed to perform repair work on the main phone system and asked where the telephone closet was located. The staffer showed the men to the main General Services Administration office on the 10th floor, and Flanagan and Basel went in. There, a GSA employee asked for the men’s credentials. They said they left them in their vehicle.
The U.S. Marshal’s Service apprehended all four men shortly thereafter.
Landrieu said: “This is a very unusual situation and somewhat unsettling for me and my staff. The individuals responsible have been charged with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purposes of committing a felony. I am as interested as everyone else about their motives and purpose, which I hope will become clear as the investigation moves forward.”
Landrieu’s Republican counterpart, Sen. David Vitter, called for a racketeering investigation against New Orleans-founded ACORN last year in the wake of O’Keefe’s videos.
“I’ve seen the news reports and it’s obvious this is a very serious matter. We’re blessed with an extremely competent U.S. attorney’s office in New Orleans, and I know they’ll handle this as aggressively as they have other serious cases,” Vitter said in a statement.
ACORN spokesman Kevin Whelan said the arrest calls O’Keefe’s credibility into question, and used the opportunity to point out that he “edited (ACORN videos) to make things look as bad as possible.” He said, for instance, that O’Keefe actually wore a normal dress shirt when he was in the ACORN offices, but spliced in shots of him dressed as a pimp in the final videos.
But he also acknowledged that O’Keefe’s undercover ACORN footage showed truly improper conduct by ACORN staff.
“ACORN’s leadership and grassroots leaders have taken a whole series of steps, including commissioning an independent report that shows actually there wasn’t illegal conduct by any of the ACORN employees involved, although we fired people involved for improper conduct,” Whelan said.
O’Keefe on Thursday gave a speech to the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a libertarian group in New Orleans.
20Acornside01YouTubeFilmmaker James O’Keefe dressed as a pimp before entering ACORN offices last year. O’Keefe was arrested Monday after allegedly attempting to tamper with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office phones in New Orleans.
Last fall, O’Keefe was hailed as a conservative hero for dressing as a pimp and taping ACORN employees offering advice on how he and a partner could get away with running an international underage prostitution scheme.
The New Orleans event was promoted with this glowing statement about O’Keefe by the Pelican Institute: “James has been a pioneer in the use of new media to drive these kinds of important stories. He will discuss the role of new media and show examples of effective investigative reporting.”
The four men appeared in federal magistrate court Tuesday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Louis Moore wearing red inmate jumpsuits from St. Bernard Parish Prison. Moore is allowing the men to be released on $10,000 bond each.
The men have to go to pretrial services, a federal agency, tomorrow morning. Moore allowed three of the men to stay together Tuesday night, but ordered them to not talk about the case.
Eddie Castaing is the lawyer representing O’Keefe, Basel and Dai, all of whom are from out of town. He said Tuesday that he was not prepared to comment on the case and would know more Wednesday. He also said he gave one of his clients $60 to take a taxicab from St. Bernard Parish Prison back to wherever they are staying.
According to the Phillips Foundation’s Web site, Dai was the editor-in-chief of the GW Patriot, an alternative conservative student newspaper, when he attended The George Washington University in 2006. According to information Dai posted in September 2007 on the university’s online alumni directory, he lived in Naperville, Ill., helped run a “Defense Deparment regional defense counterterrorism/irregular warfare program” and then became assistant director of the Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence at Trinity Washington University, which prepares undergraduates for careers in intelligence.
On Tuesday at 4:40 p.m., O’Keefe, Dai and Basel were released from the jail and were waiting for a cab. Asked to comment, O’Keefe said only, “Veritas,” which is Latin for “truth.” O’Keefe’s biography on the blog site www.BigGovernment.com says he works at VeritasVisuals.com, although that site does not appear to be functioning.
O’Keefe spent most of the time in the men’s room off the jail’s lobby, then hustled to the cab when it arrived. As he ran into the back seat, he called out, “The truth shall set me free.”
Robert Flanagan’s attorney, J. Garrison Jordan, said he believes his client works for the Pelican Institute. Asked the motivation for the alleged wiretap plot, he said: “I think it was poor judgment. I don’t think there was any intent or motive to commit a crime.”