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7 Pa. ACORN workers charged in voter probe

PITTSBURGH – Seven Pittsburgh-area ACORN workers were charged with falsifying voter registration forms, with six accused of doing so to meet the group’s alleged quota system before last year’s general election.

District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. said he’s hoping the workers charged Thursday will help authorities determine whether Allegheny County ACORN officials will be charged with requiring the illegal quotas or otherwise directing that voter registrations be faked.

“You should consider the investigation as ongoing,” Zappala said.

Six suspects forged a total of 51 cards, a felony that carries up to seven years in prison. The same six also were charged with illegally accepting payments to meet a quota of 20 registrations per day — a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

The one defendant not charged with either of those crimes told police he filled out at least 100 voter registration cards in his own name, even though he was already registered and knew it was illegal. He’s charged with misdemeanor counts of obstructing and interfering with the elections process, as are several of the others.

Zappala said investigators targeted 100 local ACORN canvassers after county elections officials started noticing dozens of possibly forged registration forms in August. ACORN registered 38,000 new voters in southwestern Pennsylvania, including about 33,600 in the county last year, Zappala said.

There’s no evidence anybody voted illegally or was denied a vote because of the scam, Zappala said.

One worker allegedly forged cards using names of already registered voters, but with different addresses. Another unwittingly solicited a county elections worker who filled out a card but didn’t sign it. The card wound up filed, with a forged signature and fake Social Security number. Two other workers filed 13 and 30 forged cards, respectively, using bogus information, including names of dead or nonexistent people.

The DA noted that the Nevada attorney general on Monday charged ACORN — the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now Inc. — and two employees for allegedly having a quota. That’s a felony in Nevada, where canvassers made $8-$9 an hour but were required to turn in 20 voters per daily shift to be paid, Zappala said.

Zappala said the Allegheny County workers also worked under the 20-card daily quota, but made $8-$10 an hour for a five-hour shift.

“You would be gone that day if you didn’t get the quota,” Zappala said.

Zappala said no local ACORN supervisors or officials are charged yet, because police need additional evidence. Complicating matters is that some canvassers may have been hired through subcontractors, he said.

Scott Levenson, national spokesman for ACORN, denied the quota exists but said workers were expected to register some voters to earn their hourly pay. “Obviously, we’re entitled to have standards,” he said.

Levenson called the charges “a big step on the continued vindication of ACORN’s name.” He said most of the workers were charged “with evidence delivered by us,” though court documents don’t reflect that.

The charges are based on information from county elections workers, or the workers themselves — including one who said her ACORN supervisor had her fill out bogus cards at the group’s Pittsburgh call center.

That worker, Latasha Kinney, 27, of New Kensington, is charged with forging 13 cards including one using a dead man’s name.

Kinney’s criminal affidavit says the ACORN supervisor, Hazel Hastings allowed workers to sign cards that previously were filled out with false information. Hastings had Kinney “completely fill out forged voters registrant cards with false dates of birth and social security numbers,” the affidavit alleges.

Hastings, who has not been charged, declined comment Thursday.

Kinney; Alexis Givner, 23, of West Mifflin; and Pittsburgh residents, Mario Grisom, 28, Ashley Clarke, 21, Eric Jones, 20, and Eric Jordan, 19, all face at one forgery count and the quota charge. Bryan Williams, 22, of McKeesport, faces only the other charges. The suspects were being arraigned Thursday. It was not clear if any had attorneys in this case, though Jordan and Williams are already incarcerated on other crimes, Zappala said.

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