NEW ORLEANS — Four days before James O'Keefe was charged in a plot to tamper with the office phones of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, the conservative activist promised his audience at a luncheon they would be hearing about a project he was working on in New Orleans.
O'Keefe wouldn't elaborate on the nature of his plans, according to people who heard his speech at the luncheon held by the conservative Pelican Institute on Jan. 22 in New Orleans.
Neither the FBI nor federal prosecutors are saying what O'Keefe and three other conservative activists were up to when they were arrested Monday.
Authorities said two of the defendants posed as telephone repairmen in hard hats, fluorescent vests and tool belts and asked to see the phones at Landrieu's office; one of them had a tiny camera in his helmet. A third man is alleged to have waited in a car with a listening device to pick up transmissions. O'Keefe used his cell phone to try to capture video of the scene inside, authorities said.
O'Keefe, 25, and Joseph Basel, Stan Dai and Robert Flanagan, all 24-year-olds, are free on $10,000 bail. They are due back in court Feb. 12.
During the luncheon last week, O'Keefe didn't indicate that Landrieu was a target of his project, said Robin Edwards, a Baton Rouge resident and co-founder of the Louisiana Tea Party Federation.
"He just said he had a project going in New Orleans, but he wouldn't say what it was," Edwards said. "I figured it had something to do with ACORN."
Last year, O'Keefe, a self-described investigative journalist, posed as a pimp in the hidden-camera videos that embarrassed the community organizing group ACORN.