ACORN Employee Says She Thought Couple Was Part of a Stunt

By Garance Franke-Ruta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 17, 2009; 5:59 PM

Videos that show a couple, posing as a pimp and a prostitute, receiving business advice from ACORN employees have drawn national media attention and placed the community organizing group in hot water. But an ACORN employee captured in one such video is pushing back against what she says is a misrepresentation of her answers as matters of fact.

She says she was making up stories in response to kids who she thought were goofing around.

Tresa Kaelke, 61, said Wednesday that she was so certain the well-spoken youngsters who showed up at the San Bernardino, Calif., ACORN office were trying to fool her, she asked them if they were reporters -- something they denied, she says.

"I thought from the very beginning that it was a joke," she told The Washington Post.

Because she thought that it was a stunt by the three youngsters who came to her office -- two of whom were later revealed to be videographer James O'Keefe, 25, and college student Hannah Giles, 20, of the new conservative news site, along with a third man she says was around their age but "a silent partner" -- she decided to fight fire with fire, she said. "The crazy answers that came from me were in response to lies and shocking things they said to me," she said. "They played with me, and I played back. It's just that simple."

On Thursday, BigGovernment posted a 69-page transcript of its interaction with Kaelke that begins at what appears to be an early point in the conversation, but not the beginning.

She was presented with the story of a pimp who wanted to use the proceeds of a brothel filled with underage Central American prostitutes to finance a bid for political office.

"I mean, is it -- if I didn't know better, and I don't, but I would think this is a total setup," she said midway through the transcript before being assured by O'Keefe, "No. This is not a setup."

"In retrospect, I probably did not use the best judgment in handling them. But not for one minute did I believe it was true," Kaelke said. She said she did not know she was being filmed.

Kaelke, who has worked as a field organizer for ACORN for two years, has been suspended in the wake of the videos. She was suspended with pay, according to ACORN Deputy Director of National Operations Brian Kettenring, who found her story different enough from the others told by organizers who encountered the BigGovernment team that the group sent out a news release defending her. Two other ACORN employees, from other offices, have been terminated as have two with the ACORN Housing Corp., in the wake of the BigGovernment videos.

Kaelke previously spent 12 years working as a home-health aide.

In the video, she is seen saying that she shot and killed her husband and had previously run an escort service, two claims she said Wednesday were simply fantastical, if ill-considered, storytelling.

In response to the ACORN videos, the San Bernardino Police Department opened an investigation into Kaelke's murder and prostitution claims. "From the initial investigation conducted, the claims do not appear to be factual," the department said in a statement Tuesday. "Investigators have been in contact with the involved party's known former husbands, who are alive and well."

Kaelke also introduces the "pimp" and "prostitute" to a man named Jim Miller across the street. She introduced the "pimp" and "prostitute" to him, she said, because "It was the best way to get them out of my office."

"I actually walked out of my office with my keys and I locked the door because I felt really uneasy with them and wanted them out of my office," she said, adding later: "They came back, but they never came back inside my office."

A segment of the Kaelke videos from San Bernardino is filmed outside the ACORN office -- and the transcript shows her moving the youngsters across the street shortly after being assured that it was not a setup.

"While her sense of humor might not be funny to many people, the fact is that she spun false scenario after false scenario and the videographer ate them up," ACORN said in a statement Wednesday decrying the videographers, whose work was picked up by Fox News Channel and broadcast stations, as well as by blogs and newspapers across the country. "ACORN challenges Fox to show the complete, unedited versions of all of these inflammatory videos and allow the American people see the 'truth,' the 'whole truth.' " ACORN also suspended intake operations nationwide on Wednesday and said it would retrain frontline staff over the next 48 hours.

An e-mail to O'Keefe through his video venture Veritas Visuals was not returned.

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