By Jeremy Walsh
Though a scandal surrounding a housing nonprofit whose employees were filmed giving advice on opening a brothel to a fake pimp and prostitute only came as close as Brooklyn, two groups representing Latinos brought the issue home to Queens.
ACORN, a nationwide advocacy group that the New York Post reported has affiliates that own or manage $50 million in properties in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, cites among its achievements procuring affordable housing, mobilizing voters, establishing alternative schools and working on neighborhood landmark agreements in lower-income areas. It does not have an office in the borough.
Charles Castro, the longtime friend of state Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst), helped bring 10 demonstrators to the front of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) Manhattan office Friday to protest her vote in favor of continuing funding for ACORN and to lambaste Latino elected officials for not denouncing the nonprofit after its workers appeared to give advice on concealing a human trafficking business from authorities.
“Not one person has come forward to say, ‘Even though this act didn’t take place, even though this act was make-believe, the fact that they entertained these questions is despicable,’” he said.
The uproar came after footage was released of a pair of conservative activists who dressed like a pimp and a prostitute and visited Acorn offices in Brooklyn, Baltimore, Washington, and San Bernardino, Calif.
In several instances, ACORN staff are depicted on the video giving them advice on how to run their business without getting caught, including how to buy a house for a brothel that would employ underage girls from El Salvador.
In the wake of the video, Congress voted overwhelmingly to cut off funding for the nonprofit, which had been accused by Republicans of helping Democratic candidates in the 2008 election. Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Ridgewood) were among the elected officials who voted in support of the nonprofit.
“While Sen. Gillibrand finds the actions of certain ACORN employees to be reprehensible and urged ACORN leaders to conduct a full investigation … the truth remains that thousands of New York families who are facing foreclosure depend on charitable organizations like ACORN for assistance,” Gillibrand spokeswoman Angie Hu said.
Castro said the one official he had spoken to was Monserrate, who told him most ACORN employees would not have responded in such a fashion.
“There comes a point when you have to cut ties with certain organizations,” he said.
Jessica Ramos, a former Monserrate staffer who lives in Jackson Heights, noted ACORN’s contributions but condemned them after seeing the video.
“How can they backstab the Latino community like this?” she said. “Nobody takes away all the good that they’ve done, but this is an example of the more scrutiny we need to have for not-for-profits.”
Anthony Carollo, a Whitestone resident who said he recently shifted his political allegiance after 20 years as a Democrat, focused his anger at Gillibrand, calling for her resignation for voting in support of ACORN.
“ACORN helps Democrats and I can understand — she’s going to have a tough re-election campaign next year and she doesn’t want to cause any problems with any support she might receive for this,” he said.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.