ACORN says a man who took thousands of documents from a trash bin outside its San Diego County office broke the law and is demanding he return them.
Amy Schur, who heads California's ACORN operations, said Tuesday that her group filed a crime report with police in National City, which has an anti-scavenging law. Schur has also asked the county district attorney's office to help get back the papers, which were taken from a caged trash area behind the National City office last month.
Former state Assembly candidate Derrick Roach said he took an estimated 20,000 papers, including some showing employee Social Security and driver's license numbers that should have been shredded. Roach questioned why the documents were tossed only days before state investigators went to the office as part of a probe of ACORN.
To hear Roach tell it, it was either luck or divine intervention. His version of events may be hard to believe for ACORN supporters, but Roach believes something drew him to the dumpster behind the ACORN office on the night of Oct. 9.
Roach recalled the moment he discovered the thousands of documents bagged up and thrown in the trash. He was driving home, he explained Monday, when a thought occurred to him to put his skills to use.
Roach, who describes himself as a local private investigator concerned about what was happening in his neighborhood, told how he “came by” the ACORN office and “observed some individuals in the office and also observed the individual dumping documents into the Dumpster around the corner,” he said.
“I came back later that evening, after business hours, and from an unsecured Dumpster, removed those documents, and they have been in my possession since,” he said.
The documents, which filled Roach's vehicle, numbered close to 20,000 according to Tony Krvaric, chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego County.
“This is a massive data breach at the very least of individuals who come to ACORN for help and assistance,” Krvaric said Monday. “To have their information, tax returns, immigration documents thrown in the trash like common trash is absolutely an affront to every San Diegan.”
“[ACORN] cannot be trusted to be helping people here,” Krvaric said.
On Monday, Schur explained why the paperwork was in the trash.
"In early October, when our San Diego staff were doing an office clean-up in preparation for a major 10-station phone bank program being set up in our offices, it appears that included in the piles of garbage being thrown out may have been some documents containing private information," Schur wrote in an e-mail to NBCSanDiego. "To the individuals whose paperwork was pulled out of the dumpster by this guy Derrick Roach - unsuccessful Republican candidate for State Rep in San Diego - we truly apologize. We will seek return of this information so that we may give proper notice of the compromising of the information as required by law."
When asked about ACORN's policy for disposing of sensitive documents, Schur said, "It is ACORN’s policy to shred documents with personal information at the point when they no longer need to be retained."
Roach, who told reporters Monday that he was not hired by the Republican Party of San Diego, said he has shared some of the documents with various law enforcement agencies.
“I have been specifically asked by certain government officials to not release some of the documents,” he said. He could not identify those officials at this time.
For Krvaric, the main question was: What is the California state attorney's general doing about this discovery?
“We have nothing to indicate the attorney general is conducting a thorough, fair, without fear or favor investigation,” said Krvaric. “They’ve not stated anything. Clearly there are documents that they’re missing because of this document dump that occurred only six days prior to the attorney general coming into town.”
They have not heard from Attorney General Jerry Brown's office, according to Krvaric. He would like Brown's office to contact him.
“The question is: Was ACORN tipped off as to when and where or when the attorney general would be arriving?” Krvaric asked.
Schur confirms the ACORN office was aware of Brown's upcoming visit but said that did not prompt the removal of thousands of documents.
"Absolutely not. Our files were not part of the scope of the visit by the attorney general’s office, and the majority of what was thrown out was junk -- old leaflets, newsletters, etc… It looks like our staff were careless and some documents with personal information were included in the piles of garbage," Schur wrote.
In a written statement, Evan Westrup wrote, "The attorney general's office has contacted the office of the individual who allegedly recovered these documents and has requested that he turn over all information which he believes relates to a violation of law or otherwise relates to our investigation."
"There is absolutely no truth to the assertion that the attorney general's office has come to any conclusions or that the investigation is complete. This investigation, like all investigations conducted by the attorney general's office, will be fair, comprehensive and independent."
Roach smiled when he discussed how he happened to be in the right place at the right time for the discovery. He credited both luck and God at times during Monday's news conference.
“This was an investigator’s dream to get information like this,” Roach said.
In September, California's attorney general and San Diego County's district attorney launched probes into allegations of voter registration fraud by staffers of ACORN.
One month earlier, there was nationwide news coverage of hidden-camera video stings that caught ACORN workers in five regional offices, including one in San Diego County, allegedly offering inappropriate advice and assistance to undercover filmmakers posing as a pimp and prostitute.
A local ACORN staffer in the the group's National City office was recorded Aug. 18, allegedly suggesting that Tijuana was a preferred border-crossing venue for a dozen underage prostitutes from El Salvador, because "I have a lot of contacts" there.
The ACORN staffer also inquired as to how much the purported prostitute charged customers. He was fired after the video was widely broadcast.
“I think we’re seeing the sad, last chapter of ACORN as we speak,” said Krvaric referring to the documents discovered outside the ACORN office.
"ACORN’s core mission is to help low and moderate income families organize and have a voice in order to improve the quality of life in their communities, and at this we excel – the proof is in the long record of accomplishments achieved by our members in making improvements on behalf of hard-working families," said Schur.