ACORN Fires Staffer in ‘Gotcha' Video

Damage control for scandal that could exact a heavy toll

The local office of ACORN is doing heavy damage control tonight, after the online posting of hidden-camera videos showing a staffer giving advice to a purported pimp and prostitute.

The footage has 'gone viral'.

The staffer has been fired.

San Diego is one of five cities that whose ACORN chapters have a black eye -- Owing to the undercover work of filmmaker James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, posing as 'players' in 'The World's Oldest Profession'.

"Yeah, we're gonna have a house with about a dozen underage prostitutes," O'Keefe tells the staffer,  identified as  Juan Carlos Vera.  "We don't want people in the community to give us any problems about it."

The footage, shot August 18th and posted on the website, shows Carlos Vera suggesting Tijuana as a border-crossing point for the El Salvadoran prostitutes, because he has 'contacts' there.

Later, Carlos Vera asks how much Giles charges as a prostitute -- not for him, just out of curiosity.

The discussion goes back and forth.

ACORN says the two left without filing any paperwork or being given any direct help.

And, that the staffer misunderstood what the two were saying because of his faulty English.

But upon further review of the videos, the organization announced it's terminated him.

"No paperwork was filed," said a statement issued by ACORN Political Director David Lagstein, "but the video reflects unacceptable conduct that contradicts (Carlos Vera's) earlier statements ..."

Those statements came at a mid-afternoon news conference in ACORN's National City office, during which Carlos Vera denied that he was helping further a prostitution scheme.

"That's stupid!  I'm 39 years (of age)," he told journalists.  "What is my benefit to do that?  I have my record clean.  Over there and here.  What is my benefit?"

This episode, along with hidden-camera encounters at ACORN offices in four other cities, could exact a heavy toll on the organization's ability to advocate for the poor.

Congress has voted to suspend ACORN's federal funding.

And all ACORN 'intake services' have been suspended pending an independent investigation.

Meantime, an economic development expert who has worked closely with ACORN in revitalizing San Diego's inner city said that the 'gotcha' footage reflects a departure from the group's otherwise noble mission.

"Their organization began growing very rapidly in the past five years," said Jim Bliesner, former CEO of the City/County Reinvestment Task Force, who has helped to guide urban renewal projects and services in San Diego's lowest-income areas.

"You get a little filtering down of the values and ethics and training mechanics of a large organization that expands very rapidly."

Bliesner said Carlos Vera appears not to have exercised good judgment or skepticism in screening the purported brothel and under-age prostitute smuggling scheme. 

Carlos Vera, in Bliesner's view, should have surmised that "this is either a scam, it's a joke, or 'I should be calling the police, because this kind of activity is what ACORN is against ...'

"If you heard that story, it would be like, 'Hmm. What's going on here?... Look for the hidden camera'!" Bliesner said.

Bliesner noted with concern ACORN's suspension of all community intake services during an indeterimate standdown period for retraining and rededication to its mission of advocating for the poor across a wide variety of issues.

"You're missing a very signficant player in the protection of consumer rights and the economic development of low-income neighborhoods," Bliesner said. "Who's going to step in to fill that gap? Right now, I don't know."

Bliesner predicts that, given this void, "you'll begin to see the vultures come in to do foreclosures and resales, and taking profits. Speculation in low-income neighborhoods is always rampant. It's always a problem."

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