Activist arrested over phone tap

January 27, 2010 12:00 am

, NEW ORLEANS, Jan 27 – A conservative activist famous for obtaining embarrassing footage of a prominent community action group has been arrested for attempting to tamper with a Democratic senator\’s phone, officials said Tuesday.

Federal authorities said James O\’Keefe, who famously posed as a pimp in undercover videos to expose the left-wing community group, was part of an attempt to "maliciously" interfere with Democratic Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu\\\\\\\’s telephones.

O\’Keefe, 25, was arrested after he apparently used a cell phone camera to film two other men who posed as telephone repairmen in order to gain access to Landrieu\’s office.

O\’Keefe has become a conservative darling after footage from his undercover operations left controversial community outreach group Acorn mired in scandal.

His arrest Tuesday drew the ire of the Democrats, who blasted Republicans for their outspoken support of O\’Keefe – including a House of Representatives resolution signed by 31 Republicans honoring the filmmaker for his attempt to root out corruption and the abuse of tax dollars.

"The last time Mr O\’Keefe was in the news, Republicans broke land speed records to praise him as an American hero and fell all over themselves to out-do one another in expressing disgust, outrage and indignation at what he brought to light," Democratic National Committee press secretary Hari Sevugan said in a statement.

"The silence by Republicans in the face of these criminal acts by one of their own speaks louder than then their wails of outrage ever did."

Steven Hartman, acting head of the US Marshals Service, which provides security for the downtown federal building housing Landrieu\’s office, said the alleged incident began shortly after 11:00 am (1700 GMT) Monday.

"We received calls of two to three individuals involved in suspicious activities," Hartman said.

Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan, both 24, entered the office of the senator posing as telephone repairmen, according to a federal complaint unsealed in court Tuesday.

O\’Keefe was already in the office, holding a cell phone as if to record the actions of the two other men.

Dressed in blue work clothes, light green fluorescent vests, and carrying hard hats, Basel and Flanagan requested access to the telephone system at the reception desk and a telephone closet, saying they needed to perform repairs.

They were then directed to another federal office. However, when a federal employee requested their identification, Basel and Flanagan said they had left their papers in a vehicle outside, the complaint states.

The men then attempted to leave the building.

Hartman said his agents stopped and detained the two men as they left the federal building, then immediately notified the FBI.

A short while later, O\’Keefe and Stan Dai, 24, were also arrested.

Both Flanagan and Basel admitted they entered the federal building under false pretenses, a criminal offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison, according to an FBI agent\’s affidavit.

O\’Keefe and Dai also admitted taking part in the "planning, coordination and preparation of the operation," according to the affidavit, which did not provide details.

Hartman also declined to provide further details, saying "we are very much in the infancy stages of this investigation."

The affidavit said there was probable cause to believe that Flanagan and Basel entered the building with help from O\’Keefe and Dai for the purpose of "maliciously interfering with a telephone system operated and controlled by the United States of America."

Landrieu, a moderate Democrat, has roused the ire of conservatives since she negotiated an increase in federal funds for Louisiana before announcing her support late last year for health care legislation proposed by President Barack Obama.


Latest Articles

Most Viewed