4 former ACORN workers will face trial in Pa.
PITTSBURGH — Four former Pittsburgh-area ACORN workers will face trial on charges they forged or otherwise illegally solicited voter registration cards before the November election.
One worker waived his right to a preliminary hearing Friday on charges he forged 30 cards using bogus names or other fake information, allegedly to meet a 20-card per day quota. Voter registration canvassers can be paid an hourly wage in Pennsylvania, but quotas are illegal.
A district judge found sufficient evidence to hold three others for trial on charges of fudging a total of eight cards between them.
Public defender Alan Skwarla doesn’t deny his three clients helped fill out the cards in question, but said there’s no proof that they were responsible for the forged portions.
“Anything could have happened at any point of the process, from beginning to end,” Skwarla said. “All three are looking forward to vindicating themselves at trial.”
One of allegations against Skwarla’s clients involves a single card turned in by a government worker who tried to catch ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, in the act.
An Allegheny County elections office worker, Denise Halliburton, testified she filled out an ACORN card in July. Halliburton said she purposely didn’t sign the card or give her Social Security number because she heard ACORN workers sometimes illegally filled in missing information.
“I just wanted to see if they’d put a forgery on it,” Halliburton testified.
ACORN officials filed the card. A few weeks later, a co-worker showed Halliburton the card, which by then had a signature and a Social Security number that wasn’t Halliburton’s, she said.
The canvasser who turned the card in, Alexis Givner, 23, of West Mifflin, rapidly nodded her head as Skwarla suggested on cross-examination that somebody else at ACORN or at the county elections office added the signature and Social Security number.
ACORN has also come under scrutiny for registration irregularities in other states.
A St. Louis ACORN worker is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to mail fraud for submitting false voter registrations, and a grand jury in Cleveland has charged a man with registering to vote nine times last year using bogus names and addresses on cards ACORN collected.
In Nevada, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, has charged ACORN itself and two supervisors with requiring illegal quotas of 20 cards per shift and firing workers who didn’t meet them.
In Pittsburgh, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala has said his office is still trying to determine whether ACORN officials are criminally culpable.
A county detective testified that Ashley Clarke, 21, of Pittsburgh, turned in six bogus cards after she was encouraged by her ACORN supervisor to have even registered voters fill them out. Clarke was told duplicates would be weeded out by ACORN or the county, the detective said.
Eric Jones, 21, and Mario Grisom, 28, of Pittsburgh, are the other defendants. Jones waived his hearing on the 30 bogus cards; Grisom was ordered to stand trial for filing one such card.
The four defendants are among seven ACORN ex-workers charged by Zappala’s office. One had previously been ordered to stand trial and two others face preliminary hearings later this month.
ACORN officials have denied using quotas and claim they’re being victimized by unscrupulous workers who were generally paid $8 to $10 an hour.
Ian Phillips, legislative director for Pennsylvania ACORN, said Zappala’s charges stem from 216 questionable cards the organization itself flagged. County officials would not comment on that claim.
“What it looks like to us from the outside to us is these people obviously committed crimes and they’re trying to shift the blame,” Phillips said.
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