By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 12, 2009
The nonprofit group ACORN Housing fired two employees from the organization's Southeast Washington office Friday after a video from a hidden camera showed them advising a young couple about how to buy a house to use as a brothel.
In the video posted online Friday, Hannah Giles, 20, poses as a prostitute, asking staff members how to get a home loan without tipping off the bank that she wants to use it as a brothel with 10 Salvadoran prostitutes. James O'Keefe plays Giles's boyfriend, supposedly a Georgetown law student with aspirations to run for Congress.
O'Keefe is a conservative activist and filmmaker who has attracted attention for other undercover videos. Townhall.com describes Giles as part of the conservative Young America's Foundation and a journalism major.
ACORN housing employee Sherona Boone and volunteer mortgage consultant Lavernia Boone are recorded guiding the pair on how to disguise the nature of the business on loan applications and advising Giles to "keep it low-key" to avoid being reported to the police. Sherona Boone and an unidentified woman in the room were fired; Lavernia Boone was banned as a volunteer.
The video comes one day after two ACORN Housing employees were fired from the group's Baltimore office after a similar video -- also featuring Giles and O'Keefe -- was released. In that video, Giles posed as a 16-year-old prostitute and said she planned to bring minor girls into the country for purposes of prostitution.
A spokeswoman for ACORN Housing's national office said that the two tried the same thing in at least five other offices across the country but that employees denied them assistance or called police. In a blog post on http://biggovernment.com, O'Keefe denied that claim.
"Our policy is not to encourage or facilitate illegal activity," said ACORN spokeswoman Alyson Chadwick. "There's no manual for how to deal with this situation. It's just common sense." She said ACORN has begun an internal review of its practices and training.
On Friday, the Maryland House Republican Caucus called for an investigation into the actions of the ACORN employees shown in the video, the possibility of other such instances and the potential misuse of taxpayer funds by ACORN.
"These persons appear to have asked for, and received, advice from ACORN on how to engage in racketeering, fraud and the systematic sexual abuse of children," House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert) said in a statement.
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as ACORN, has been a target of conservative activists since last year's presidential election. Republican officials and advisers to GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) repeatedly sought to paint the group as radical and accused it of fomenting voter fraud during its registration drives. A Republican National Committee spokesman went so far as to call ACORN a "quasi-criminal group" at an October news conference.
ACORN's political action committee endorsed then-Sen. Barack Obama for president, and Obama's campaign said last fall that it had paid a group affiliated with ACORN more than $800,000 to conduct get-out-the-vote operations during the Democratic primaries in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.
In the video at Washington's ACORN housing office, in the Barracks Row neighborhood, O'Keefe tells the employees and volunteer that Giles has enough money for a down payment on a house but that she has been denied loans from several banks because she is a prostitute who intends to use the home as a brothel for herself and 10 Salvadoran girls. Giles says she plans to use her profits to fund O'Keefe's congressional bid.
No one in the video could be reached for comment Friday.
Lavernia Boone, who works as a mortgage consultant for Smith-Myers Mortgage Group in Upper Marlboro, tells O'Keefe that Giles must create a company with a false name and call herself an independent consultant on loan documents. "You're not saying what it is that she does; she just provides a service, regardless of what it is," Boone says on the video. "She's not going to put on there that she's doing prostitution."
Later in the video, Sherona Boone tells O'Keefe that "you don't know where [Giles's] money is coming from."
"I personally know where it's coming from," he responds.
"Right, but when the police ask you, you don't know where it's coming from, is what we're trying to tell you," Boone says. "We're looking out for you."
Staff writer Philip Rucker and staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.