Press Release

Federal Judge Denies James O’Keefe’s Attempt to Dodge Accountability for Illegal Michigan Sting

Case Exposing Infiltration and Eavesdropping of Union Offices by Fake Intern Moves Ahead

For Release: 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Contact:

Andrew Crook
o: 202-393-8637 | c: 607-280-6603
acrook@aft.org

DETROIT—A federal judge has rejected right-wing smear merchant James O’Keefe’s bid to dismiss a lawsuit over an illegal sting operation perpetrated on Michigan teachers.

O’Keefe’s organization, Project Veritas, orchestrated an intrusion on AFT Michigan’s offices in 2017, dispatching a mole to covertly access documents and record private discussions. AFT Michigan sued Project Veritas, seeking injunctive relief, compensatory damages and punitive damages. Discovery was granted in June 2018.

Today, Judge Linda Parker of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan denied Project Veritas’ motion to dismiss the union’s lawsuit seeking accountability and redress. It upheld the majority of the union’s claims, including eavesdropping, breach of duty of loyalty, fraudulent misrepresentation, trespass, civil conspiracy and unlawful interception of oral communications.

The scam began in May 2017, when the mole, Marisa Jorge, adopted the pseudonym “Marissa Perez” and posed as a student at the University of Michigan to secure a job as an AFT Michigan intern. In fact, Jorge, a graduate of Liberty University, was a clandestine operative deployed by O’Keefe’s network to infiltrate the union.

Jorge exploited her access to hack computers, steal private documents and covertly record union employees with her smartphone. Portions of her spliced-and-diced recordings were later uploaded to YouTube and promoted by O’Keefe.

This is the second time this month that Project Veritas has lost a legal bid to have a case against it tossed. A case involving a Democratic National Committee sting is now moving forward to a jury trial.

AFT Michigan President David Hecker said: “The court has agreed that the illegal political espionage carried out by Marisa Jorge was substantive. Jorge callously exploited the goodwill of our staff with the goal of damaging the union that represents 30,000 Michigan educators. We look forward to proceeding with this case to hold O’Keefe and the other scammers associated with Project Veritas to account.”    

AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “Judge Parker’s decision means we can now move forward to expose how Project Veritas perpetrated an illegal scam meant to harm Michigan educators and their representatives by undermining our union’s fight for a better life for our communities—including great public schools. We went to court to pierce Project Veritas’ veil and to halt, once and for all, its dirty tricks. Project Veritas has tried to cloak itself in the First Amendment to shield itself from breaking the law—but today’s ruling means that we can now do everything in our members’ power to make sure James O’Keefe’s reprehensible organization pays the price for its brazen deception.”

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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.