7 ACORN workers charged with forgery

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The Allegheny County District Attorney yesterday charged seven people with a combined 51 counts of forgery and other violations, saying they worked with the group ACORN to deliver forged registrations during the 2008 election.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said the workers for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now were driven to fraud by a quota that required them to register anywhere from a dozen to 20 new voters daily, something a spokesman for ACORN yesterday said did not exist. State election law makes it a misdemeanor to require a quota on such registrations, because lawmakers view a quota as an invitation to the kind of fraud the DA is alleging.

"People got paid by the hour, not the form," said Scott Levenson, ACORN's national spokesman. "No one did not get paid because they did not bring in X amount of forms."

Mr. Zappala said the opposite was the case, and that some of the workers charged yesterday told investigators they needed to meet a daily quota to be paid their hourly wage of $8.

At issue would be the difference between what Mr. Levenson called a performance "standard" and what the DA termed a "quota."

Mr. Levenson said ACORN workers who did not reach a 20-per-day registration goal were sometimes given additional training.

"Of course we had standards, but we did not have quotas," Mr. Levenson said. "It's a nuance that is a worthy one. The distinction is that people's jobs were secure, even though they did not hit what would have been the ideal goal."

What did not appear to be in dispute yesterday was that dozens of bogus registrations -- including a registration form for a county elections department employee with the signature forged -- were turned in during the group's voter registration drive last year.

Mr. Zappala said there is no indication that any of the fraudulent registrations resulted in fraudulent votes. Rather, it appeared the workers were submitting fake or doctored registration forms to be paid their daily $40 wage for five hours of work.

The forgery counts -- 51 in all -- are third-degree felonies, the most serious of the charges brought, Mr. Zappala said during a news conference yesterday.

Mr. Zappala said his office is currently in talks with some of the defendants and he indicated that the investigation could expand. In all, ACORN claimed to have registered 38,000 new voters in southwestern Pennsylvania last year, he said.

At present, he said, he has strong indications that a quota system, which is a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania, was in place in the ACORN registration drive here.

Charged were:

• Ashley Lucille Clarke, 21, of Pittsburgh, with forgery, solicitation of registration for pay, unsworn falsification of authorities, obstructing the administration of law or government function, interference with voter registration, and impersonating another person in a voter registration application.

• Alexis M. Givner, 23, of West Mifflin, forgery, solicitation, unsworn falsification, obstruction, interference and impersonation.

• Mario Wyatt Grisom, 28, of Pittsburgh, forgery, solicitation, unsworn falsification, obstruction, interference and impersonation. Mr. Zappala said Mr. Grisom solicited a county elections office employee for a registration. The person filled out the form with everything but a name and Social Security number by way of testing what would happen, according to elections director Mark Wolosik. The form was later submitted by ACORN with a forged signature and false Social Security number.

• Latasha Leann Kinney, 27, no address listed, forgery, solicitation, unsworn falsification, obstruction, interference and impersonation.

• Eric Eugene Jordan, 19, of Pittsburgh, solicitation for pay and interference. He is accused of filing three applications in his own name.

• Eric Lee Jones, 20, of Pittsburgh, forgery, solicitation, unsworn falsification, obstruction and interference. He is accused of filing 30 fraudulent applications.

• Bryan Williams, 22, of McKeesport, obstruction and interference. Mr. Williams is accused of filing 22 registration applications in his own name -- including 19 in 2008 alone. An affidavit in the case says Mr. Williams knew some of the ACORN workers and was helping them meet their quotas.

Two of the workers charged were already in custody. Mr. Jordan was served his warrant at the Allegheny County Jail, where he is being held on DUI and gun charges. Mr. Williams, officials said, was served his summons at a halfway house.

The charges are part of a continuing investigation of ACORN, which has been targeted for election fraud in several other states where similar, fake voter registrations were filed by hourly employees apparently attempting to meet daily registration quotas in order to be paid.

In Nevada, where quotas are illegal, the state attorney general on Monday charged ACORN, its former Nevada field director and former regional director for voter registration with filing thousands of "garbage" registrations to meet an illegal daily quota of 20 new voters.

The charges come almost five years after a similar wave of bogus registrations plagued elections offices in Pennsylvania and other states. In that case, a Republican-leaning group sought out new registrations. In some instances, college students complained that they signed forms they thought were petitions on behalf of legalizing medical marijuana, only to find that they had somehow switched their voter registrations.

At the time, Gov. Ed Rendell said he would refer the matter to the state attorney general for investigation, but later decided against doing so.

Dennis B. Roddy can be reached at droddy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1965.


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