Former ACORN supervisor takes plea deal

A former supervisor affiliated with the political advocacy group ACORN agreed to a plea deal Monday in a case alleging illegal bonus payments to workers registering voters in Nevada during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Amy Busefink, 28, of Seminole, Fla., entered an Alford plea to two gross misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to commit the crime of compensation for registration of voters. Busefink faced 13 felony counts alleging she was linked to illegal payments.

Her plea acknowledges the state had evidence for a conviction. Busefink retained her right to challenge the constitutionality of the law prohibiting payments to canvassers registering voters.

“She wants finality,” defense attorney Kevin Stolworthy said.

For two years, Busefink’s name has been linked with the embattled Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now, a liberal nonprofit group that for four decades registered millions of voters until a series of scandals forced it into a recent bankruptcy. ACORN employees were videotaped giving tax advice to two people posing as a prostitute and her pimp. After receiving wide play on the networks, the video was discovered to be a hoax, but ACORN sustained serious damage to its reputation.

According to her co-workers and chief executive officer, the case against Busefink is tenuous. They say she had no role in the plan to offer voter registration workers performance bonuses. In fact, she isn’t even an employee of ACORN.

Judge Donald Mosley is scheduled to sentence Busefink on Jan. 10. She probably will receive a $1,000 fine and up to 200 hours of community service, Stolworthy said. She faces a maximum of up to two years in jail and a $4,000 fine, according to Edie Cartwright, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general.

Prosecutors have said they will not seek a prison term, but judges are not bound by such agreements.

Busefink has been steadfast in maintaining her innocence.

“This is what people do in her position,” Stolworthy said of Busefink’s decision to enter the plea. She has no criminal history, he said, and “is a delightful young woman.”

Busefink worked for Project Vote, which ran a voter registration drive in 2007-08 in a joint operation with ACORN. She supervised Christopher Edwards, ACORN’s Las Vegas field director who paid a $5 bonus to canvassers who registered 21 or more voters in a day. Edwards pleaded guilty and received three years probation.

As part of his sentence, Edwards will have to testify when ACORN leaders go on trial Nov. 29. Busefink will not have to testify. The organization faces 13 counts of paying illegal bonuses to people to register voters, the exact charges Busefink faced.

Both Busefink and Edwards’ ACORN supervisors told him not to implement the bonus program.

While ACORN no longer exists and is in bankruptcy, the organization faces a fine of $65,000.

Attorneys for ACORN, decried by conservative groups for its pro-Democratic Party activities, have said they too intend to challenge the constitutionality of the law making it illegal to compensate people who work voter registration drives through an incentive program. Critics believe quota systems encourage workers to write up bogus registrations.

Michael Slater, executive director of Project Vote, defended Busefink. Although acknowledging Edwards “briefly offered voter registration workers bonuses for high productivity,” Slater was critical of the decision to prosecute Busefink and disagrees that state law was even violated under rules governing paying voter registration workers.

“Project Vote does not believe that Amy authorized a bonus plan,” wrote Slater in an e-mail. “Nor do we agree with the state’s interpretation that a bonus plan, whether approved by Amy or not, violates Nevada law.”

Busefink’s link to ACORN activities in Las Vegas was marginal. Michael McDunnah, communications director for the Washington, D.C.-based Project Vote, said Busefink, from her office in the nation’s capital, “was responsible for seeing the entire (voter registration) drive across the country.”

Wrote McDunnah: “She did not work in, and in fact only briefly visited, the Nevada ACORN office.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Doug McMurdo at dmcmurdo@review or 702-224-5512.

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