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James O’Keefe: No Felony

May 25, 2010 - 9:24 AM | by: Eric Shawn

It looks like James O’Keefe won’t be in cuffs after all.

The conservative activist filmmaker, who was arrested in New Orleans in January along with three cohorts in the office of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, is expected to enter a plea to a misdemeanor on Wednesday in federal court.  He’s accused of entering federal property under false pretenses.

Originally, O’Keefe faced much more potentially serious charges. At the time of the arrests, the U.S. Attorney’s office claimed O’Keefe and three others were in the process “of committing a felony.” But federal prosecutors never made the supposed “felony” clear, and the lesser misdemeanor plea of entering federal property “under false pretenses” is expected to spare O’Keefe and his co-defendants any jail time.

O’Keefe first made national headlines after going undercover in the offices of ACORN, the community activist group  whose workers have been accused and convicted of repeated voter registration fraud.  O’Keefe, along with fellow activist Hannah Giles, posed as a pimp and a prostitute seeking to obtain an ACORN housing loan to open a brothel for underage girls. They visited a number of ACORN offices around the country, where several workers didn’t bat an eye. ACORN then fired some of the workers when the tapes were made public.

The ensuing scandal sparked a firestorm against the group, and has threatened ACORN’S funding and its very future. The troubled organization saw Congress try to cut its federal funding, and has since shut down some local offices, though critics claim the move is just an attempt to reconstitute ACORN under different names.

O’Keefe then turned his attention to Landrieu’s telephones. Prosecutors said O’Keefe was standing in the reception area of the Senator’s New Orleans office, when two alleged accomplices came in, claiming they were from the telephone company.  They were dressed in “blue denim pants, blue work shirts, light green fluorescent vests, tool belts, construction-style hard hats.” They then pretended to check the main telephone at the reception desk, picking it up and even calling it from their cell phone. As they did this, O’Keefe was allegedly taping it all with his cell phone camera.

When the pair asked to check the telephone closet, and did not have telephone company credentials, Landrieu’s staff became suspicious and the intruders were later arrested by U.S. Marshalls.

O’Keefe claimed the video project was an investigative attempt to show that the Senator’s office phones worked. At the time of the arrest, the heated debate over the Obama administration health care plan was underway, and O’Keefe said there were claims that Landrieu’s office was ignoring complaints against the proposal.

Senator Landrieu issued a statement about the arrests, saying that “this is a very unusual situation and somewhat unsettling for me and my staff. ..I am as interested as everyone else about their motives and purpose, which i hope will become clear as the investigation moves forward.”

Some news media branded the caper as an attempt to “wiretap” the Senator’s the phone system, an echo of a  Watergate-style operation. O’Keefe’s defense has denied that, and in fact, it turned out that prosecutors never presented any evidence that the young men attempted to actually wiretap the phone system.

At first they were accused by prosecutors of “entering federal property under false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony,” and that they were trying to “manipulate,” or “maliciously…interfere” with the Senator’s phone system.

But by March, the charges filed dealt only with the misdemeanor of “entering federal property under false pretenses” and that they “pretended to test the phone system.”

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. called the allegations “extremely serious,” saying “Deception is alleged to have been used by the defendants to achieve their purposes which in and of itself is unconscionable.”

But since the final charges are misdemeanors, the four will be facing a Federal Magistrate.

Since his first ACORN expose, O’Keefe has been busy on similar projects, and more of his video productions are expected to be released very soon.

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