The Maryland attorney general's office said Monday that it will investigate the local chapter of ACORN, a community organizing group that has come under fire with the release of secret recordings showing its employees advising a couple posing as a pimp and a prostitute.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Doug Gansler said the probe will "involve everything," although she declined to say whether it would include an examination of whether the recordings violated Maryland's law requiring consent from those being audiotaped.
"We cannot say specifically who or what will comprise the investigation until we actually start it," said the spokeswoman, Raquel Guillory. Gansler was not available for comment.
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now has a 6,000-member Maryland chapter based in Baltimore's Charles Village neighborhood. The two part-time employees captured on the video were fired Sept. 10, the day the video was released through the Web site BigGovernment.com and promoted on Fox News programs.
Filmmaker James O'Keefe, 25, and Hannah Giles, 20, sought advice on how to maximize tax credits while setting up a brothel with underage sex workers from South America.
Similar videos at four other ACORN offices across the country have since been released. Prosecutors and state officials elsewhere, including in Brooklyn, N.Y., where another recording was made, also are investigating ACORN.
In a statement, the Rev. Gloria Swieringa, a Maryland ACORN board member, said she and other members welcome a review "because it provides us the opportunity to clear our name."
"We believe that after a thorough investigation, the only parties who will be found to have committed a crime in Maryland are James O'Keefe, Hannah Giles and Andrew Breitbart," she said. Brietbart runs the BigGovernment.com site.
Gansler and the Baltimore state's attorney's office have been bombarded with phone calls and emails demanding that ACORN be prosecuted.
The announcement about the investigation came through the office of Gov. Martin O'Malley. A release Monday afternoon said Gansler had requested the authority to investigate and that the governor had granted it. O'Malley spokeswoman Christine Hansen said the governor's office has received about 175 emails and phone calls about ACORN.
Typically, criminal investigations are conducted by local prosecutors. However, Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy has declined to launch a probe. Her spokeswoman said the tax advice captured on video is a federal matter and that the recording issue would be difficult to prosecute.
"It appears that the video and taped communications cannot be used in criminal prosecution in Maryland, under the law," said Margaret Burns, a spokeswoman for Jessamy. "The videotape was illegally obtained, and that evidence is tainted."
Burns also noted that Baltimore prosecutors are the busiest in the state and must be selective about what cases they press.
But Gansler believed an investigation should take place, his spokeswoman said.
"As time went on, it was clear that the local authorities were not going to look into the matter," Guillory said. Gansler "sees it as an obligation," she said. "It's obvious that someone needed to look into it."