The FBI just released details of the guilty pleas entered Wednesday by the right-wing activists who entered Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office under false pretenses in January. The band of activists was following the lead of James O’Keefe, famous for the debunked fraudulent and illegal videos of workers at low-income housing and voter registration group ACORN that were published and promoted by conservative media mogul Andrew Breitbart last fall. Those heavily edited tapes led to federal defunding of the organization and the shuttering of ACORN offices across the country.
Department of Justice Press Release
For Immediate Release
May 26, 2010 United States Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Louisiana
Contact: (504) 680-3000
Four Men Plead Guilty to Entering Federal Property Under False Pretenses
Entered Senator Mary Landrieu’s Office to Secretly Record Office Staff Conversations
NEW ORLEANS—Joseph Basel, 24; Stan Dai, 25; Robert Flanagan, 24; and James O’Keefe, 25, pleaded guilty today in front of U. S. Magistrate Judge Daniel E. Knowles, III, to one-count of entering federal property under false pretenses, announced the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana. As a result of their conviction, Basel, Dai and Flanagan were each ordered to pay a $1,500 fine, placed on two years probation and serve 75 hours of community service within the first year of probation; O’Keefe was ordered to pay a $1,500 fine, placed on three years probation and serve 100 hours of community service within the first year of probation.
According to court documents, the four men met in New Orleans on Jan. 20, 2010, to discuss various topics, including possible scenarios to engage the staff of Senator Mary Landrieu in her office inside the Hale Boggs Federal Building in New Orleans and to record the interactions. On Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010, O’Keefe called Flanagan and invited him to participate in the plan, which Flanagan accepted. The next day, Basel, Dai, Flanagan and O’Keefe met, discussed the disguises they would wear, and practiced how they would interact with Senator Landrieu’s staff and record the interactions.
Also according to court documents, at approximately 10:00 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 25, 2010, Basel, Flanagan and O’Keefe met in an office near the Hale Boggs Federal Building to finalize their plan, check the recording devices and mount a camera in one of the disguises. During this meeting, O’Keefe explained how the recording devices worked and instructed Basel and Flanagan how to position themselves once inside the Senator’s office.
At approximately 11:00 a.m., Basel, Flanagan and O’Keefe entered the federal building and passed through the security screening. Their purpose was to orchestrate a conversation about phone calls to the Senator’s staff and capture the resulting conversation on video. Dai remained outside to provide support. Basel and Flanagan were each dressed like telephone repairmen, wearing blue denim pants, a blue work shirt, a fluorescent green vest, a tool belt and a white hard hat. One of the hats contained a video recording device installed on the brim.
O’Keefe entered Senator Landrieu’s office first and positioned a digital video recorder made to look like a cellular telephone in his hand to record the interaction. He told the staff that he was waiting for a friend. He recorded the subsequent interaction.
Basel and Flanagan entered the office soon thereafter and told the Senator’s staff that they were telephone repairmen who were following up on reports of problems with the telephone system. A staff member said that there were no problems with the phone system, and Basel then asked the staff member for permission to test the phone. Basel then walked behind a staff member’s desk, lifted the handset from the cradle, questioned whether there was a dial tone and handled the receiver. Basel and Flanagan each pretended to call the office phone with their own cellular phones, and they said the calls would not go through. O’Keefe also interjected and said he had previously placed a call to the office that would not go through.
Basel then told a staff member that he and Flanagan needed to perform repair work on the main phone system, and he asked that they be taken to the “central box.” The staff member directed them to the office of the General Services Administration (GSA), and Basel and Flanagan followed the staff member to GSA’s office inside the Hale Boggs Federal Building. Upon meeting a GSA employee, Basel and Flanagan again said they were telephone repairmen, and Basel again asked to be taken to the phone system’s “central box.”
The GSA employee asked Basel and Flanagan if they had a work order or credentials, and they responded that they had left both their work order and credentials in their vehicle, parked just outside of the building. The GSA employee then informed Basel and Flanagan that he would escort them to their truck so that they could provide him with the work order and their credentials.
O’Keefe left Senator Landrieu’s office several minutes after Basel and Flanagan went to the GSA office, after pretending to take a call from “Sam.”
All four men were apprehended shortly thereafter
The investigation of this matter was conducted by Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Deputy Marshals with the U.S. Marshal’s Service. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordan Ginsberg.
Conservative lawmakers in Washington, including Colorado’s Doug Lamborn, awarded O’Keefe with a commendation for “investigative journalism” in the public interest last year after the ACORN tapes aired. They also voted to defund the organization, a move that was found to be unconstitutional, as Florida Rep. Alan Grayson warned at the time. Congress can not hold trials for fear that politics will sway them in their decisionmaking, which is clearly what happened in the case of ACORN. Judges reviewing the full tapes have ruled ACORN violated no laws. Congress did violate the law in defunding the organization, as likely did O’Keefe in surreptitiously making the tapes, said the judges. O’keefe may still be the subject of civil suits, stemming from that case, even as he works under probation to put the Landrieu case behind him.