ACORN Massachusetts' head organizer Noemi "Mimi" Ramos arrived at her office the morning after last week's presidential debate 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 arrived for work, last Thursday at 10 a.m., she was calling the police. Detectives visited the office - the headquarters for ACORN's Massachusetts operation at 196 Adams St. in Fields Corner - and collected photos and fingerprints and discovered a small basement window 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 the Oct. 15 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 was 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.
Since last week's burglary, a group called the Velvet Revolution has offered a $5,000 reward for information that would lead to an arrest in the case. Velvet Revolution's website describes the organization as a progressive "citizen's brigade" that aims to stand up to a "corrupt anti-American agenda in D.C."
A spokesman for ACORN's national office, Charles Jackson, said that another break-in occurred near Seattle on Tuesday in Burien, Wash.
"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."
Days before the break-in, on Oct. 12, 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 has his Boston office in the rear of the Adams Street headquarters and said he has also received 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, asked voters to abolish the state income tax.