ACORN Massachusetts' head organizer Noemi "Mimi" Ramos arrived at the organization's offices in Fields Corner Thursday morning, Oct. 16, to find the front door unlocked, three desktop computers missing, internet and phone lines ripped out of the walls and general disarray.
Ten minutes after she was scheduled to start for the day at 10 a.m., she was calling the police instead. Detectives collected photos and fingerprints and discovered a small basement window open in the rear of the building at 196 Adams Street, with no sign of forced entry. The building's burglar alarm was also torn out of the wall, and a vending machine was damaged, the change inside stolen.
"We think a lot of this may have to do with what's happening nationally," said Ramos on the phone later that day, referring to charges of voter registration fraud that were brought against the national ACORN organization. The alleged irregularities were found in eight states, but Massachusetts was not among them. "Massachusetts isn't a swing state," said Ramos. "We've only registered 700 people to vote."
In Wednesday night's debate, Sen. John McCain said ACORN "is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy." But many election law experts have since said McCain's statement is overblown.
Sen. Barack Obama countered that the irregularities were apparently due to low-level employees of ACORN, who filled out cards with fake names to earn their pay rather than register voters door-to-door.
Spokesman for ACORN's national office, Charles Jackson, said that another break-in, so far unconfirmed, may have occured in the organization's Seattle office.
"I can tell you that I have been receiving and other staff have been receiving threatening emails, racist emails from partisan forces," said Jackson. "We are deeply concerned about the break-in in Boston and we're hoping that it's a trend that won't continue. It's disturbing that it's reaching this level of people showing their discontent... We will not let this deter us from our goal of ensuring every person has the right to participate in our democratic process."
On Sunday, the Boston Herald ran a story naming Dorchester-based attorney Brian W. Mellor as a defender of ACORN and Project Vote - a partner in the voter registration drive in question. Mellor's has his Boston office in the rear of the Adams Street office and said he has also recieved a few hateful emails and voice mails.
"It's not like 'I'm going to kill you' like other people have gotten, but it's 'You stupid lawyer' and 'You can't get a better job' and that kind of stuff," said Mellor.
Police say the break-in is under investigation, and did not comment on any possible leads or suspects in the case. The Dorchester ACORN headquarters has been the nerve center of the local efforts to defeat ballot question one, which deals with the proposed abolition of the state income tax.