A Nevada judge on Wednesday gave ACORN, the defunct grass-roots community organization, the maximum fine for its illegal voter-registration scheme in that state.
District Court Judge Donald Mosley was blunt and unsparing in his criticism of the discredited activist group. Citing the long history of voter registration fraud allegations that engulfed ACORN across the country, he slapped the group with a $5,000 fine for violating Nevada election law during the 2008 presidential election.
Mosley, reading the pre-sentence report, listed a series of voter registration fraud allegations against ACORN workers. He said that if the claims have been true, then “It is making a mockery of our election process. If I had an individual in this courtroom…who was responsible for this kind of thing, I would put that person in prison for 10 years, hard time, and not think twice about it,” he said. “To me this is reprehensible. This is the kind of thing you see in some banana republic, Uruguay or someplace, not in the United States.”
In Nevada, ACORN pleaded guilty to one felony count of unlawful compensation for registration of voters, stemming from an illegal voter registration scheme in its Las Vegas office during in the 2008 race.
The group paid a bonus to workers to sign up 21 or more voters per shift, calling the program “21,” or “Blackjack.”
It is illegal in Nevada to pay bonuses to register voters.
The case was the first and so far only prosecution of ACORN itself. The previous ACORN cases that made headlines nationwide, included numerous convictions of ACORN employees for voter registration fraud.
Allegations ranged from trying to register dead people and making up fictitious voters, to plucking names out of the phone book.
“This is not a voter registration fraud case, it is an improper compensation case,” countered Lisa Rasmussen, the ACORN attorney, who argued that the fine should only be $1,000.
She told the court that “ACORN registered some tens of thousands of people to vote in the 2008 election, who would not have otherwise registered or voted.”
She claimed that the Las Vegas bonus program was “not something that was implemented with the permission of ACORN’s corporate management.”
ACORN’s Nevada field director, Christopher Edwards, had previously pleaded guilty, cooperated with prosecutors, and testified against the organization in court.
In November, ACORN’S regional director, Amy Busefink, who also worked for the nationwide group Project Vote, pleaded no contest to charges and was also sentenced to probation.
The Nevada Secretary of State, Democrat Ross Miller, told Fox News that the case shows voter registration fraud will be prosecuted.
“The message out there is that we are not just going to look the other way, when we see these type of violations. We are going to aggressively pursue them, and I think that will deter people from engaging in that type of activity.”
Court papers claim that ACORN is essentially out of business. Its lawyer, Arthur Schwartz, claimed that as of April of last year, it has no more employees, maintained only “one small office in New York,” and “had real assets of less than $4,000,” and “liabilities of more than $4 million.”
“ACORN does not exist,” Schwartz simply claimed.
But critics like Matthew Vadum, author of the new book about the group, Subversion, Inc., warn that “this is not the end of ACORN.”
“ACORN state chapters have been reorganizing under assumed names,” says Vadum, noting that new groups have popped up in former ACORN offices.
He predicts that former ACORN workers will be back on the streets conducting voter registration efforts for the 2012 presidential election.
“I expect ACORN will run voter drives under the new front groups…I have no doubt that this new election season will spawn new charges.”
After the sentencing, ACORN’s attorney denied that the group tried to subvert the electoral process and said that she is not aware of any plans for ACORN to reorganize in time for the 2012 elections.
In an interview with Fox News, Rasmussen said: “They were not convicted of submitting false voting registration petitions. They were not convicted of voter registration fraud.”
She said she does not think the conviction “has any impact on the voter registration process.”
But prosecutor Patrick Ferguson, senior Nevada deputy attorney general, told Fox News that: “The practices that occurred in this case will have the effect of subverting the election process, and that is why we have these laws on the books, to make sure that these practices don’t lead to voter fraud.”
He called the $5,000 fine “an appropriate sentence,” and said that “It sends the message to know and follow our voter registration laws and our election laws here in the state of Nevada.”