Hidden-camera footage of wrongdoing by ACORN workers continued to pile up Wednesday, as the anti-poverty group announced the launch of an "internal review" and a temporary end to any "new intakes" — essentially closing its doors to new clients for now.
The organization had been defiant in criticizing undercover filmmakers and media outlets, including FOX News, for reporting on what the filmmakers found at several ACORN offices around the country. But Wednesday afternoon, ACORN issued a statement saying it was hiring an independent auditor and investigator to examine its operations after the release of four videos showing its workers advising a couple posing as a pimp and prostitute how to skirt federal laws.
The filmmakers, in conjunction with BigGovernment.com, released a fifth video Wednesday night that they say was filmed at a San Diego office of ACORN.
The latest video — barely a minute long, much shorter than the others — shows the "pimp" and "prostitute" asking a man identified as an ACORN worker for help with their prostitution business. The man seems to offer help in trafficking underage girls through his connections in Tijuana.
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The videos were filmed by conservative activist James O'Keefe, 25, and his friend, Hannah Giles, 20, who posed as the pimp and prostitute, they did in previous undercover stings. Their work has set off a firestorm in Washington, with the Census Bureau severing ties with ACORN and the Senate voting to block funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.ACORN initially accused the filmmakers and FOX News of a smear campaign, but on Wednesday, ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis acknowledged "the indefensible action of a handful of our employees" and pledged to reform the organization.
"I am, in consultation with ACORN's Executive Committee, immediately ordering a halt to any new intakes into ACORN's service programs until completion of an independent review," Lewis said "I have also communicated with ACORN's independent Advisory Council, and they will assist ACORN in naming an independent auditor and investigator to conduct a thorough review of all of the organizations relevant systems and processes."
Lewis said an independent auditor will be named no later than Friday and will make recommendations directly to her, as well as the full ACORN board.
"We enter this process with a commitment that all recommendations will be implemented," Lewis said.
In the latest video, O'Keefe asks the man if Tijuana is the best place to bring the girls to cross over into the U.S.
The man replies "yes," because he has a lot of contacts there who can assist in bringing them across the border.
In another part of the video, the man asked O'Keefe how much he charges for Giles' services.
"Are you a potential client?" O'Keefe asked.
"No, no. I want to know," the man said. "How...what is it?"
The other videos released in recent days and posted on BigGovernment.com have prompted the firing of at least four ACORN employees, in Baltimore and Washington, and the launch of a criminal investigation by the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office.
Republicans, who have long criticized ACORN, which is under scrutiny for several voter-registration fraud cases, are urging the Justice Department to investigate ACORN. The Senate voted Monday to block the Housing and Urban Development Department from giving grants to ACORN, and the Census Bureau last week severed its ties with the group for the 2010 national head-count.
"We have all been deeply disturbed by what we've seen in some of these videos," Lewis said, adding that the group "will go to whatever lengths necessary to re-establish the public trust."
ACORN's advisory council includes prominent supporters of President Obama, such as John Podesta, president of the nonprofit Center for American Progress, and Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. Asked Wednesday about the controversy, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that "obviously the conduct that you see on those tapes is completely unacceptable."
"I think everyone would agree with that. The administration takes accountability extremely seriously," Gibbs said. "I think the Census Bureau evaluated and determined that this group could not meet the bureau's goal of achieving a fair and accurate count in 2010."
Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., said he's asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repeal a nearly $1 million grant it awarded to ACORN earlier this month.
FEMA awarded $997,402 to ACORN in New Orleans on Sept. 4 as part of its Fire Prevention and Safety Grants program. The group plans to use the money to assess fire safety in the homes of low and moderate-income families and hand out smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and other fire prevention gear, ACORN's Brennan Griffin said.
FEMA had no immediate comment on Bilirakis' request.
Gibbs said he assumed that federal agencies "constantly evaluate to ensure that any grantee is living up to what has to happen in order to fulfill that grant application."