2 who organized Gulag arrested in phone scheme
Wiretapping is in the news again, but this time, it’s the government whose phones are being tapped.
Some of the organizers of the mock Russian Gulag on Washington University’s campus last November were arrested in New Orleans on Tuesday after they attempted to tamper with phones at the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.
Two of the four men arrested, James O’Keefe and Joseph Basel, were in costume at the mock Gulag constructed on campus. Two other men, Robert Flanagan and Stan Dai were also arrested.
According to the FBI affidavit signed by Special Agent Steven Rayes, Flanagan and Basel entered the Hale Boggs Federal Building, where they met O’Keefe, each wearing blue denim pants, a blue work shirt and construction-style hard hats.
The affidavit stated that the two claimed to be employees of a telephone company and requested access to a telephone in the office. A staff member, identified only as “Witness 1” in the affidavit, directed the men to the U.S. General Services Administration to access the main telephone system.
Basel tried to call the phone from his cellular phone and said he could not get a call through.
According to the affidavit, Flanagan and Basel “attempted to enter…for the purpose of willfully and maliciously interfering with a telephone system.”
When asked by a second witness for credentials to show they actually worked for the company, the two said they had left them in their vehicle. U.S. marshals then arrested the men.
The affidavit states that O’Keefe and Dai admitted to assisting with planning and coordination for the incident to federal agents. O’Keefe also said he had been videotaping the other two while they were in the office.
According to Dirk Doebler, president of the University’s chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), O’Keefe was present at the November Gulag event on campus doing filming.
Some initial reaction to the incident referred to it as “Louisiana Watergate.” Officials do not believe that the intention was to wiretap the office. Just before midnight on Wednesday, O’Keefe posted the message “Govt official concedes no attempt to wiretap” on his Twitter account.
“Their lawyer said there was no wiretapping going on,” Doebler said. “[O’Keefe] does try to get the story in an unorthodox way.”
No further information has been released regarding what the men planned to do with the phones, and the affidavit did not give details about what they did with the phones.
Flanagan had previously written blog posts that were critical of Landrieu for her stance on health care legislation and that raised questions regarding campaign finance.
O’Keefe gained notoriety after he posted videos of himself consulting with Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) workers on advice about how to open a brothel while he and an associate, Hannah Giles, posed as a pimp and prostitute. ACORN is suing O’Keefe and Giles over the so-called “pimpgate” video.
Landrieu has been the target of anger over the recent health care legislation, as she was one of the last Democrats to sign onto the plan.
The men were released on $10,000 bond and a preliminary hearing has been set for Feb. 12. If convicted, the four men could face sentences ranging from a fine to 10 years in prison.
While O’Keefe was present during the Gulag display, according to Doebler, no further contact between the University’s YAL chapter and O’Keefe has ensued.
“We haven’t had any contact with them,” Doebler said. “There hasn’t been any contact since that event. I met O’Keefe that week [of the Gulag event].”