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ACORN announces new training, review after 'prostitution' videos

  • Story Highlights
  • People disguised as pimp, prostitute secretly filmed group's employees
  • "We have all been deeply disturbed" by videos, CEO says
  • Steps include hiring freeze, independent review of programs
  • FBI director hints at Justice Department investigation
By Terry Frieden
CNN Justice Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The community organizing group ACORN on Wednesday announced a hiring freeze, new training programs and an independent review of its programs after the recent release of a series of videotapes embarrassing to the agency.

In the videos, the individuals seek advice on setting up a brothel with underage women from El Salvador.

In the videos, the individuals seek advice on setting up a brothel with underage women from El Salvador.

The videos, secretly taped by two individuals posing as a pimp and a prostitute, showed ACORN employees in four of the agency's offices suggesting or condoning a series of illicit actions as the couple sought advice on setting up a brothel with underage women from El Salvador.

"We have all been deeply disturbed by what we've seen in some of these videos," ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis said. "I must say on behalf of ACORN's board and our Advisory Council that we will go to whatever lengths necessary to re-establish the public trust."

The steps announced include an immediate halt in hiring for all ACORN offices, an immediate training program for all front-line staff and selection of an independent auditor by the end of this week. Video Watch Lewis address the scandal »

As the announcement was made, FBI Director Robert Mueller appeared on Capitol Hill for a wide-ranging oversight hearing, and when asked about ACORN, he signaled a potential federal investigation of the organization.

In response to a description of the highly publicized videotapes by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Mueller said he had just learned of the matter.

"I think the first time I heard of this incident to which you refer was last evening," Mueller said. "Clearly, given what you have said, it's something in consultation with the Department of Justice that we would look at."

At least 11 states have been investigating ACORN -- the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now -- for alleged voter registration fraud stemming from the general election in 2008.

The statement issued by ACORN on Wednesday stands in sharp contrast to comments earlier in the week, in which a spokesman called the recordings' release "an orchestrated sham."

Spokesman Scott Levenson said the taping was an attempt to "create news rather than report the news."

The videos by filmmaker James O'Keefe and his colleague Hannah Giles have caused ACORN to fire four employees shown on the tapes. Video Watch some of the recordings »

The videos were shot in ACORN offices in New York; Baltimore, Maryland; Washington; and San Bernardino, California.

ACORN claims that the film team also attempted to "trick" employees in several other cities to make incriminating statements but failed.

Fallout from the publicity prompted the U.S. Senate this week to vote 83-7 to block Housing and Urban Development grants to ACORN.

Lewis responded with a statement saying that although the organization was "disappointed that the Senate took the rare and politically convenient step" of cutting HUD grants, the move would have little effect.

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"Fortunately, ACORN derives most of its income from its members and other supporters, so the decision will have little impact on overall operations," Lewis said.

On its Web site, ACORN, which was founded in 1970, describes itself as "the nation's largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families, working together for social justice and stronger communities."

All About Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now

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