Ex-ACORN Vegas director to testify against group
LAS VEGAS — A former Las Vegas director for a political advocacy group accused of illegally paying canvassers to register voters during last year’s presidential campaign has pleaded guilty to a reduced charge and agreed to testify against the group and another employee.
Christopher Edwards pleaded guilty this week to two gross misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to commit the crime of compensation for registration of voters. He agreed to testify against the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as ACORN, and Amy Busefink, a former regional voter registration director.
The case threatens the group’s ability to operate in Nevada, with the possibility that the group could have its status as a nonprofit corporation revoked, said Conrad Hafen, chief deputy attorney general for Nevada.
Hafen’s said Edwards’ testimony strengthens the state’s case against ACORN and Busefink.
“It adds to the evidence that we already have,” Hafen said Wednesday. “It makes a strong case that much stronger.”
Busefink’s lawyer, Kevin Stolworthy, said she plans to fight the charges. A lawyer for ACORN did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment from The Associated Press.
ACORN spokesman Brian Kettenring called the plea deal a “desperate attempt to get publicity and grab headlines.”
“The prosecution is clearly willing to cut a deal with an admitted criminal,” Kettenring said. “Shame on them.”
Prosecutors said in court documents that Edwards, Busefink and ACORN created a bonus incentive program that paid canvassers an extra $5 per shift if they turned in at least 21 voter registration cards at the end of the day. Prosecutors said violates state laws that prevent a system that pays workers based on the number of registrations they turn in.
Stolworthy said Busefink, now living in Seminole, Fla., told Edwards not to use the so-called “blackjack” plan but he did anyway.
“When she found out about it she told him to stop,” Stolworthy said. “This guy was the instigator of this and the person who dreamed it up and they’re giving him a break to go after others who told him not to do it.”
Edwards is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 17. Under the plea deal, prosecutors are recommending that he receive informal probation, pay a $500 fine and perform 16 hours of community service.
The case is the result of an investigation that began last year into the group that works to get low-income people to vote.
In October, the secretary of state’s office raided an ACORN office in Las Vegas after complaints surfaced that the group was turning in bogus voter registration forms. Secretary of State Ross Miller said at the time that some of the registrations included forms for football stars Tony Romo, Terrell Owens and the Dallas Cowboys starting lineup.
ACORN officials at the time said they separated and identified registrations that they thought were fraudulent when they turned them into the Clark County registrar. The group said the law prevented them from withholding registrations they thought were fake.