NEW ORLEANS — A conservative activist who posed as a pimp to target the community-organizing group ACORN and the son of a federal prosecutor were among four people arrested and accused of trying to interfere with phones at Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's office.
Activist James O'Keefe, 25, was already in Landrieu'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. Letten says O'Keefe recorded the two with his cell phone.
Flanagan, the son of acting U.S. Attorney Bill Flanagan in Shreveport, and Basel asked for access to a phone at the reception desk. Then they asked for access to a phone closet so they could work on the phone system. The men were directed to another office in the building, where they again said they were telephone repairmen.
They were arrested later by U.S. marshals. Details of the arrest were not available. A fourth man, Stan Dai, 24, was also arrested, but Letten's office said only that he assisted the others in planning, coordinating, and preparing.
It sounded a bit like a Watergate-style operation, but federal officials have not yet said why the men wanted to interfere with Landrieu's phones, whether they were successful, or even if the goal was political espionage.
Landrieu, a moderate Democrat, declined comment Tuesday through spokesman Aaron Saunders. Saunders did say Landrieu was in Washington, not in her office, when the men showed up Monday. Landrieu 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 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.
None of the defendants commented on the allegations in court.
“It was poor judgment,” Robert Flanagan's lawyer, Garrison Jordan, said in a brief interview outside the courthouse. “I don't think there was any intent or motive to commit a crime.”
Eddie Castaing, who represented O'Keefe, Dai, and Basel, said he had no details on the allegations.
“We are just grateful that they were not detained ... and they can go home to their families,” he said.
O'Keefe was the brains behind a series of undercover videos that have caused major problems for ACORN — the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now.
He managed to do what Republicans have been trying to 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.
By producing undercover videos shot in ACORN offices, O'Keefe brought a firestorm of criticism that the group was helping its low-income clients break the law.
Using a hidden camera, O'Keefe, posing as a pimp and accompanied by a young woman posing as a prostitute, shot videos in ACORN offices where staffers appeared to offer illegal tax advice and to support the misuse of public funds and illegal trafficking in children.
Edited videos of those visits to ACORN offices were first posted on biggovernment.com, a site run by conservative Andrew Breitbart. Reached by phone Tuesday about the Landrieu allegations, Breitbart said, “I know nothing of it other than people are asking me questions.”