10/18/08

ACORN distracts Rathke embezzlement story

More ACORN stories: hereWade Rathke stories: here

'Get those computers out of there before the FBI arrives'

An ACORN community organizer received a death threat and the liberal-leaning voter registration group's Boston and Seattle offices were vandalized Thursday, reflecting mounting tensions over its role in registering 1.3 million mostly poor and minority Americans to vote next month.

Attorneys for the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now were notifying the FBI and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division of the incidents, said Brian Kettenring, a Florida-based spokesman for the group.

Republicans, including presidential candidate John McCain, have verbally attacked the group repeatedly in recent days, alleging a widespread vote-fraud scheme, although they've provided little proof. It was disclosed Thursday that the FBI is examining whether thousands of fraudulent voter-registration applications submitted by some ACORN workers were part of a systematic effort or isolated incidents.

Kettenring said that a senior ACORN staffer in Cleveland got an e-mail that said she "is going to have her life ended."

A female staffer in Providence, R.I., got a threatening call from someone who said words to the effect of "We know you get off work at 9," then uttered racial epithets, he said.

Separately, vandals broke into the group's Boston and Seattle offices and stole computers, Kettenring said.

The incidents came the day after McCain charged in the final presidential debate that ACORN's voter-registration drive "may be perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history" and may be "destroying the fabric of democracy."

McCain's comments provoked a response from ACORN.

"I would not say that Senator McCain is inciting violence," Kettenring said, "but I would say that his statements about the role of this manufactured scandal were totally outlandish."

McCain's campaign didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

It's unclear whether the alleged threats violated federal law, but Jonah Goldman, the director of the National Campaign for Fair Elections at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law argued that the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voter intimidation, should apply.

LEGAL DISPUTE

NEW ORLEANS - ACORN has another bruising item on its agenda when its board of directors meets here this weekend.

Leaders of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now are locked in a legal dispute stemming from allegations that the brother of the group's founder misappropriated nearly $1 million of the nonprofit group's money several years ago.

The embezzlement case, a recent revelation to some board members, has spawned a lawsuit and set off a power struggle inside ACORN.

The lawsuit filed in August by two board members accuses ACORN founder and former chief organizer Wade Rathke of either concealing or failing to properly report that his brother Dale embezzled about $948,000 from New Orleans-based ACORN and affiliated charitable organizations in 1999 and 2000.

Instead of reporting the allegations to law enforcement authorities, a small group of ACORN executives allowed the Rathke family to repay the misappropriated money, according to the lawsuit brought by board members Karen Inman and Marcel Reid.

(tbo.com)

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