NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana's attorney general said Tuesday he has stepped up an investigation into embezzlement at ACORN nearly a decade ago, but the prosecutor and community activist group clashed over how much money was taken.
Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said the figure was $5 million, but ACORN said the sum hadn't changed from slightly less than $1 million.
ACORN said its chief executive officer estimated it could cost up to $5 million to "get everything together" in the aftermath of the embezzlement, but the group's leaders say only $948,607 was stolen.
The prosecutor's new figure was reported in a subpoena filed last week. He was seeking information from a company that provided bookkeeping, accounting and other financial management services to ACORN.
ACORN said Caldwell was basing the $5 million figure on remarks chief executive officer Bertha Lewis made during an October 2008 board meeting.
"The $5 million figure was an off-handed remark by Bertha as a worst-case scenario for what it could potentially cost to get everything together," ACORN president Maude Hurd said in a statement. "Bertha's remarks have since been taken out of context."
ACORN last year settled an internal dispute and a lawsuit involving accusations that Dale Rathke, a brother of the group's founder, made nearly $1 million in improper credit card charges in 1999 and 2000. The Rathke family and a donor have repaid the money, and no charges were ever brought.
Caldwell's subpoena said the exact amount was unknown until the 2008 board meeting. Caldwell said he wanted ACORN's financial records to determine if the money was public or private.
Once he sees the records, Caldwell said he will determine if anyone can be charged.
The subpoena requested documents from Citizens Consulting Inc., which assisted ACORN, and from various accounting and legal consultants in New Orleans.