SAN DIEGO – A conservative activist who secretly filmed employees of the now-defunct community group ACORN has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit with one of those workers.
James O’Keefe and his partner in the videos, Hannah Giles, agreed to make the payment to Juan Carlos Vera. O’Keefe said in the settlement he “regrets any pain suffered by Vera and his family.”
The videos showed Vera and other ACORN employees appearing to give O’Keefe and Giles advice regarding prostitution, illegal immigration and other activities. The widely aired footage and the resulting outrage led to ACORN disbanding.
Vera told investigators he was just trying to get information from the suspicious pair. He immediately called a detective relative.
Vera’s attorney, Eugene Iredale, said he and his client were happy with the settlement, but it was a small consolation.
“Mr. Vera’s reputation was savaged, his job was taken from him, and the organization for which he worked was destroyed,” Iredale said. “They were able to destroy an organization by selective editing.”
O’Keefe’s attorney, Michael Madigan, called the payment a “nuisance settlement” and said O’Keefe has a career ahead as a talented investigative journalist.
ACORN, short for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform, portrayed itself as a successful advocate for low-income and minority homebuyers, but Republicans called it a pro-Democratic partisan.
In 2009, Vera was working in the housing section of ACORN’S National City office when O’Keefe and Giles came in with a hidden camera and asked questions similar to those they had at ACORN offices around the country, according to a report from California’s attorney general.
The edited video would show them wearing outlandish pimp and prostitute outfits as they entered, but the clothing was not shown in the interviews. O’Keefe wore a tie.
Giles claimed to be a prostitute looking to bring a dozen girls ages 12 to 15 to the U.S. from El Salvador. O’Keefe claimed to be her boyfriend, a recent law school graduate, but later suggested he may be involved in the prostitution, according to the report.
Vera initially changed the subject to the group’s housing program, but later told attorney general’s investigators he became suspicious of the pair and began answering their questions in hopes of getting more information, falsely saying he had contacts in Tijuana that could help with smuggling the girls.
When O’Keefe and Giles left, Vera called his police detective cousin, telling him about a couple of “crazy people” he had just talked to, and also informed a co-worker and an ACORN board member, the report said.
O’Keefe said in the settlement documents that when editing the videos he did not know Vera had called police.
The attorney general’s investigation found that some ACORN employees acted inappropriately, but none illegally.