"ACORN embezzlement was $5 million, La. attorney general says
By Robert Travis Scott
October 06, 2009, 5:46AM(Photo) Michael DeMocker / The Times-PicayuneThe former ACORN headquarters at 1024-26 Elysian Fields Ave. is up for sale; the organization, which was founded in the New Orleans area, has moved its headquarters to Washington, D.C.
"Louisiana's attorney general has broadened the scope of an investigation of ACORN to include a possible embezzlement of $5 million a decade ago within the community organization, five times more than previously reported.
ACORN Chief Executive Officer Bertha Lewis said the new reported amount is "completely false."
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has been conducting an investigation of ACORN since June. He issued subpoenas in August seeking documents related to former ACORN International President Wade Rathke and his brother Dale Rathke, who kept the group's books. Those subpoenas were focused on possible ACORN violations for non-payment of employee withholding taxes, obstructing justice and violating the Employee Retirement Security Act. No charges have been made.
The attorney general had inquired in June into an alleged embezzlement within ACORN that happened 10 years ago. The group last year dealt with an internal dispute and a lawsuit involving accusations that Dale Rathke made nearly $1 million in improper credit card charges in 1999 and 2000. The brother and a donor repaid the money.(Photo) Ellis Lucia / The Times-PicayuneState Attorney General Buddy Caldwell
Caldwell said last month that the statute of limitations presented obstacles to prosecutors taking action on the embezzlement, and that his investigation was not focused on that issue. The subpoena issued Monday changed the tone of the investigation and put a new emphasis on the embezzlement issue.
"Current high-ranking members of ACORN have publicly acknowledged that embezzlement did in fact occur, but the exact amount of the embezzlement was unknown until it was recently acknowledged in a board of directors meeting on Oct. 17, 2008, by Bertha Lewis and Liz Wolf that an internal review had determined that the amount embezzled was $5 million, " the new subpoena says.
The subpoena says, "It is still unclear if some of the monies embezzled are from state, federal or private funds."
The subpoena requests documents from Citizens Consulting Inc., a financial arm of ACORN, and from various accounting and legal consultants in New Orleans. Investigators are trying to verify the issues raised in the subpoena.
"We're going to follow the evidence where it leads us and try to do the right thing," said David Caldwell, head of the attorney general's public corruption and special prosecutions divisions. "We are actively investigating the case, whatever the outcome might be. This is something we are devoting our full attention to."
Wade Rathke, who was in Bangkok, Thailand, on Monday, referred questions to ACORN officials. Lewis said she would comment further after she and ACORN attorneys had a chance to review the subpoena.
ACORN board member Vanessa Gueringer, chairwoman of the Lower 9th Ward Chapter, said she had not seen the subpoena but that the accusation about the larger embezzlement was untrue.
"I believe it is another lie, another witch hunt, " Gueringer said.
ACORN, which provides counseling on housing and other assistance to low and moderate income families, has been reeling from national negative publicity in recent weeks. Actions have been taken on the federal level and by many states, including Louisiana, to end public contracts with the group."
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