The same conservative investigator who tried to embarrass the community-organizing group ACORN by posing as a pimp and prostitute on hidden video has brought his camera to Charleston.
James O'Keefe recently sent an actor to the Department of Health and Human Services offices in Charleston and Summerville posing as an Irish Republican Army supporter seeking health care assistance for about two dozen others he said were hurt in overseas gun battles.
Video purportedly showing his visits, and interactions with state workers, was posted online Tuesday, including on YouTube.
In the lengthy recording, an actor who goes by the name Sean Murphy is wearing a kilt and Celtic garb and walks into a government office to talk of seeking emergency Medicaid assistance for the men whom he says are in a local hospital convalescing.
During a telephone interview Tuesday, O'Keefe said the film is part of his investigation into Medicaid fraud. He chose South Carolina in part because the state's consent laws allows for filming individuals without their permission. He also said he wanted to expose weaknesses in the system by laying out a seemingly outrageous story of terrorists seeking help and not being called on it by cooperative employees.
"These people aren't shocked by anything," he said of the account the actor gives, which includes discussion of owning expensive bullet-proof luxury cars and exporting arms. There appears to be "no controls in the system."
As the discussion carries on and the actor relates his situation, O'Keefe's footage reportedly shows a staffer giving the actor multiple application forms to be filled out.
State HHS Director Anthony Keck said Tuesday he wanted the public to know that the paperwork the actor was seeking never would have gotten through and the assistance never granted. But he did say the video raises questions on whether the employee had been properly trained to "handle outrageous situations like this."
"We will fully investigate this situation and involve the Attorney General if needed," he added in a statement. "I do have to say the fact that the imposter closed himself in a room alone with our female worker, and made statements that could be interpreted as intimidating or threatening, is worrisome. We have to understand why the employee didn't immediately call security or her supervisor."
State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, said Tuesday he has written to the leadership of HHS asking them to explain the video and why no red flags were raised by the state employee in connection to a man with an Irish accent, dressed in a costume and seeking assistance for wounded foreigners. "It's a spoof but it's kind of scary," Limehouse said.
O'Keefe is founder of Project Veritas, which bills itself as an organization that investigates and exposes corruption, "dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions."
In his ACORN videos, published reports describe group employees as being recorded while they advise a couple posing as a prostitute and pimp to lie to get housing aid. It also showed employees counseling the pair on tax, banking and immigration issues.
In 2010, O'Keefe and three others accused of trying to tamper with the phones in Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu's office pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of entering federal property under false pretenses. They received probation, community service and fines.