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Is ACORN engaged in a massive money laundering scheme?

By 12.1.09

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Is ACORN engaged in a massive money laundering scheme?

Although evidence abounds that the radical left-wing advocacy group-cum-organized crime syndicate is recycling funds mafia-style, government investigators and the media have paid scant attention to ACORN's money trail.

Red flags that appear to signal unlawful activities by ACORN are everywhere yet ACORN's collaborators in the White House, Justice Department, and House Judiciary Committee, smugly ignore them.

If senior executives at a troubled publicly traded corporation were to provide completely different accounts of their company's financial standing, how long would it be before federal investigators stormed their offices? If federal authorities failed to act, how long would it be before the media and the public began to accuse the powers that be of complicity in their wrongdoing?

We shall see.

I have just discovered that three senior ACORN officials have recently given wildly divergent accounts of the size of ACORN's budget.

ACORN current CEO and chief organizer Bertha Lewis claimed in October that ACORN had an "average budget" between "$20 [million] and $25 million a year for everything, all of the offices combined."

ACORN national president Maude Hurd reported in the ACORN entry of Erica Payne's handbook for liberal activists, The Practical Progressive, that ACORN's annual budget last year was $50 million.

That's double the figure quoted by Lewis, yet even $50 million seems impossibly low given ACORN's lucrative ongoing corporate shakedown rackets and other revenue sources. The four main ACORN affiliates alone -- ACORN Housing Corp. Inc., Project Vote, American Institute for Social Justice Inc., and ACORN Institute Inc -- took in a total of at least $106.9 million in donations from foundations and individuals from 1993 through 2008. And ACORN takes in untold millions every year in member dues from its 400,000 members -- a figure that has crept up to 500,000 in Bertha Lewis's recent public statements.

In "Understanding ACORN," an essay published earlier this year, ACORN founder Wade Rathke said ACORN's annual budget was north of $100 million. "Each year we raise and spend over $100 million, of which a significant part comes from dues and internal fundraising, but big chunks come from campaign support and labor and corporate partnerships," he wrote.

So, is it $100 million, $50 million, or $25 million?

No one seems to know just how large the entire ACORN network's budget is. One of the reasons is that housing and community development grants administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are difficult to track.

ACORN has received at least $53 million in federal funds since 1993, much of it through HUD. HUD often distributes the money to states and localities, which then allot the funds to many different nonprofit groups. Getting a total financial picture would require enlisting an army of Freedom of Information Act requesters and forensic accountants.

Complicating the accounting further, ACORN Housing Corp. Inc., one of the ACORN network's largest affiliate members and ACORN's primary recipient of federal funding, throws money around like a drunken congressman trying to get reelected.

Taxpayer dollars go into the ACORN network through ACORN Housing and then they somehow disappear. Some of the money leaves ACORN Housing in the form of huge cash transfers to other affiliates within the ACORN network.

From 2001 through 2007 alone, ACORN Housing alone took in more than $18 million in government grants and yet managed to give millions of dollars to ACORN affiliate American Institute for Social Justice (AISJ), usually earmarked for the training of radical community organizers. In addition to training, AISJ also publishes the official ACORN magazine, Social Policy.

After receiving $5.2 million in government grants in 2007, ACORN Housing gave AISJ $253,226 for "training." After taking in $2.1 million in government grants in 2006, ACORN Housing gave AISJ $453,804, again for "training."

ACORN Housing received $1.7 million in government funding in 2005. It paid AISJ $846,817 that year. In 2004, $3 million in government grants went in to ACORN Housing and $947,609 went out to AISJ.

The same pattern was of ACORN Housing taking government money and paying out a large percentage of the total to AISJ was also observed in the three years prior to 2004. In 2003, $2.6 million went in, and $476,702 went out. In 2002 $1.7 million in and $566,535 went out. In 2001, $2 million in, and $606,873 went out.

Previous research already established that Project Vote (legal name: Voting for America Inc.) paid ACORN $10,861,825 from 2000 through 2006. Project Vote also paid ACORN affiliate Citizens Services Inc. $1,206,942 in 2005 and 2006, and paid $1,266,967 to ACORN affiliate Citizens Consulting Inc. from 2000 through 2004.

Since 2002 ACORN Institute Inc. has paid ACORN $861,783, Citizens Consulting Inc. $61,443, ACORN Services $117,261, ACORN Associates, Inc. $61,451, and ACORN International Inc. $83,966.

Since 2000 the American Institute for Social Justice, Inc. paid ACORN $1,926,831, Citizens Consulting, Inc. $362,464, and ACORN Associates, Inc. $258,593.

On its 2002 tax form, the Institute disclosed a $1,684,184 "community reinvestment" grant to ACORN, along with a $9,637 loan to Service Employees International Union Local 100.

In a 2007 LM-2 (labor union disclosure) form, SEIU Local 880 revealed that it gave $60,118 to ACORN for "membership services." On its 2006 tax form, AISJ disclosed that it provided a $4,952,288 "community reinvestment" grant to ACORN, the non-tax-exempt Arkansas nonprofit corporation that controls the ACORN network.

Pablo Escobar would have been impressed.

ACORN's lawyer warned ACORN last year to get its house in order or face certain catastrophe. ACORN didn't listen. It let the problems fester.

The advice from Elizabeth Kingsley of Harmon, Curran, Spielberg Eisenberg LLP came in the form of an eerily prophetic legal memo to ACORN dated June 19, 2008, the day before ACORN's national board fired founder Wade Rathke for covering up his brother's million dollar embezzlement for eight years.

Kingsley slammed her client for not keeping political activities separate from other activities. "It may be that activities are carried out with adequate independence, but without formal policies and separation of staff functions, there are potential liabilities and problems of proof."

Kingsley also warned of the danger posed by the affiliates' lack of proper documentation. There was too much overlap between various employees representing different affiliates and confusion about who is controlling which funds and this can only lead to trouble, she wrote.

Referring to the bizarre system of internal financial transfers described above, she warned ACORN that "merely papering the transfer of money is not sufficient." The nonprofits have to be able to show that their funds were used for appropriate purposes.

ACORN may not have to prove much because President Obama, an ACORN ally, doesn't seem too concerned.

ACORN might even declare bankruptcy before Christmas. As of Nov. 11, ACORN and its affiliates owed at least $2,328,596 in long overdue back taxes to all levels of government. Many of the tax liens, which are only issued by creditor tax agencies after a tax debt has become seriously delinquent, do not appear in the Nexis database, so the actual total may be much higher. ACORN has been negotiating with tax collectors to have interest on its tax debts waived and to have some of the debts partially forgiven.

Or ACORN might get a bailout from the federal government.

Attorney General Eric Holder's Justice Department released a legal opinion last week that allows the Obama administration to ignore the will of Congress, which has voted overwhelmingly to suspend federal funding of ACORN until at least Dec. 18. Holder has also ignored the 88-page report on ACORN's systemic corruption and flagrant racketeering activities that was issued this summer by Republican investigators on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Apparently, public outrage at the continuing antics of the corrupt radical advocacy group that used to employ President Obama and White House political director Patrick Gaspard counts for nothing.

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About the Author

Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist at a conservative watchdog group in Washington, D.C. Vadum is also author of Subversion Inc: How Obama's ACORN Red Shirts are Still Terrorizing and Ripping Off American Taxpayers.