- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 27, 2010

NEW ORLEANS | A conservative activist who aired an expose of the community-organizing group ACORN and the son of a federal prosecutor were among four people arrested by the FBI and accused of trying to interfere with phones at the office of Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat.

Activist James O’Keefe, 25, was already in the Democratic lawmaker’s New Orleans office Monday when Robert Flanagan and Joseph Basel, both 24, showed up claiming to be telephone repairmen, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s office said Tuesday. Mr. Letten said Mr. O’Keefe recorded the two with his cell phone.

In the reception area, Mr. Flanagan, the son of acting U.S. Attorney Bill Flanagan in Shreveport, and Mr. Basel asked for access to the main phone at the reception desk.

After handling the phone, Mr. Letten’s office said, they asked for access to a phone closet so they could work on the main phone system. The men were directed to another office in the building, where they are accused of again misrepresenting themselves as telephone repairmen.

They were arrested later by the U.S. Marshals Service. Details of the arrest were not available. A fourth man, Stan Dai, 24, was also arrested, but Mr. Letten’s office said only that he assisted the others in planning, coordinating and preparing the operation.

Federal officials did not say why the men wanted to interfere with Mrs. Landrieu’s phones or whether they were successful. Mrs. Landrieu, considered a moderate in her party, declined comment Tuesday. She has been in the news recently because she negotiated an increase in Medicaid funds for her state before announcing her support for Senate health care reform legislation.

Bill Flanagan’s office confirmed his son was among those arrested, but declined further comment.

An FBI criminal complaint charging the men was unsealed Tuesday, and a magistrate set bond at $10,000 each after they made their initial court appearances wearing red prison jumpsuits.

“It was poor judgment,” Robert Flanagan’s attorney, Garrison Jordan, said in a brief interview outside the courthouse. “I don’t think there was any intent or motive to commit a crime.”

Mr. O’Keefe helped film a series of undercover videos last year that have caused major problems for ACORN — the liberal Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now.

Mr. O’Keefe managed to do what Republicans have been trying to do for years — hurt the political affiliates of ACORN, which have registered hundreds of thousands of voters in urban and other poor areas of the country.

Using a hidden camera, Mr. O’Keefe, posing as a pimp and accompanied by a young woman posing as a prostitute, shot videos in various ACORN offices, where staffers appeared to offer illegal tax advice and to support the misuse of public funds and illegal trafficking in children.

ACORN calls itself the largest grass-roots community organization of low- and moderate-income people in the country, with more than 1,200 neighborhood chapters in about 75 cities.

Until the controversy last year over the videos at ACORN offices, 10 percent of ACORN’s funds came from federal government grants. In September, Congress blocked previously approved funds from going to ACORN.

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