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Amount of Alleged ACORN Embezzlement Soars

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The brother of ACORN’s founder embezzled $5 million from the organization, nearly five times more than the figure previously acknowledged by the New Orleans activist group’s officials, according to a subpoena served Monday by the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office.

“The exact amount of the embezzlement was unknown until it was recently acknowledged in a board of directors meeting on October 17, 2008 by (ACORN Chief Executive Officer) Bertha Lewis and (ACORN board member) Liz Wolf that an internal review had determined that the amount embezzled was $5,000,000,” reads the court document. “It is still unclear if some of the monies embezzled are from state, federal of private funds.”

ACORN officials have said that Dale Rathke, brother of founder and former CEO Wade Rathke, in 1999 and 2000 inappropriately charged $948,000 to accounts controlled by Citizens Consulting, the bookkeeping arm of ACORN. Under a quiet arrangement known to only a fraction of the organization’s 50-member board, Dale Rathke was allowed to set up a repayment plan. He eventually repaid about $200,000 before a private donor paid the balance.

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said the statute of limitations for theft from ACORN could present problems. However, the language about the source of the money in the new subpoena hints that ACORN might not be the only victim of the alleged embezzlement and could open new avenues of investigation or prosecution.

Though the debt is paid, the attorney general’s office can still consider whether ACORN or Citizens Consulting intended to defraud the state when it failed to submit employee payroll withholding taxes for nearly six years.

The document says former members of the ACORN board of directors approached state officials with claims that the group was breaking laws “related to the filing of employee withholding taxes, failing to report an embezzlement of nearly $1 million by the brother of the founder…., obstructing justice and violations of the Employee Retirement Security Act.”

The obstruction allegation comes from the failure to report Dale Rathke’s improper charges, and the retirement-account contention refers to the possible illegal use of money in those accounts for ACORN employees.

It seeks myriad financial records dating from 1998 from Citizens Consulting regarding ACORN and all related entities, such as income paid on behalf of all ACORN affiliates, all financial audits and statements, a list of all employees for each related group, notices of tax liens and all tax returns.

The subpoena also focuses on Dale Rathke’s actions, seeking information “detailing the theft of funds by Dale Rathke…and failure to report the theft to the proper law enforcement agencies.” It also demands records “dealing with the issue of Dale Rathke’s illegal use of employee benefit funds” and “records that detail all of the funds received by Dale and Wade Rathke in either income, benefits, use of properties, credit cards or other accounts, loans or other means of deferred compensation.”

Regarding the tax many tax liens filed against ACORN and related groups, the subpoena said that “a substantial portion” of the $306,000 owed was not paid until “bank accounts were levied.”

Records in the Orleans Parish Clerk of Courts Office shows that ACORN-related entities still owe more than $1.5 million in federal taxes, as well as about $30,000 in state taxes. The most recent filing from the IRS was recorded last month for more than $500,000. It makes a claim on the ACORN building on Canal Street until the debt is paid.

Most liens stem from payroll taxes withheld from employees but not submitted to the state or the IRS. The $306,000 bill from the state says payments were missed in 66 tax periods, from 2002 through mid-2008.

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