Justice Dept. Inspector General Plans Internal ACORN Probe

By Garance Franke-Ruta and Aaron Davis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Justice Department's inspector general announced Monday that he plans a review into whether the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) ever applied for or received grant funds from Justice -- and, if so, whether Justice has ever reviewed how such funds were spent.

Maryland's top law enforcement officer also moved to launch an investigation into ACORN. Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) announced Monday that he had asked for and received permission from Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute "conduct involving" ACORN.

ACORN came under criticism from lawmakers last week after videos circulated that appear to show employees of the group offering tax help to a couple posing as a pimp and a prostitute. Congress voted last week to cut off federal funding, and House Republicans are looking into the group's financial activities.

Rep. Lamar Smith (Tex.), the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, wrote last week to Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, urging both men to investigate ACORN, which Smith said Monday has a "culture of corruption."

"As the primary federal law enforcement agency, the Justice Department has a responsibility to ensure that no organization receiving federal funds ignores our nation's laws," Smith said in a statement in response to news of the review. "I am pleased that Inspector General Fine has agreed to investigate whether the Justice Department provided federal funds to ACORN through its grant program. The IG's report will help Congress ensure that money allocated to support law enforcement efforts is not instead used to support criminal conduct."

ACORN has received more than $53 million in federal funds since 1994, according to a report by Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

ACORN welcomes the inspector general's inquiry "to help bring the truth to light and to allow us to focus on the important issues facing low- and moderate-income Americans," Scott Levenson, a spokesman for the group, told Bloomberg News in an e-mail.

An initial review by ACORN showed it received $12,000 from the Justice Department since January 2008, according to the group.

Gansler's Maryland investigation effectively usurps Baltimore City State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy. She had called the secret taping of ACORN employees illegal under the state's requirement for two-party consent for audio recordings.

"As time went on, it became clear that the local authorities were not going to look into it," said Raquel Guillory, Gansler's spokeswoman. "It's obviously something that needed to be looked into, and that's why we've taken this step."

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