UPDATE: Former UMM student charged in federal case described as ambitious, talented
A former University of Minnesota, Morris student facing federal charges in Louisiana is an ambitious and talented organizer and idea man, according to acquaintances.
Joe Basel, 24, is one of four men facing up to 10 years in prison for attempting to tamper with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu's phone system in a federal building in Louisiana on Monday.
Basel and the other three men were charged Tuesday in New Orleans with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony, according to the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana. They appeared in court on Tuesday, and a preliminary hearing was scheduled for Feb. 12.
If convicted, the four would face sentences ranging from a fine of $250,000 to 10 years in prison.
James O'Keefe, one of the men charged, gained a measure of national attention recently by impersonating, along with a woman, a pimp and a prostitute to receive financial advice from ACORN. A film made of the couple's exploits was a hit with conservatives and an embarrassment for ACORN.
Basel, a 2009 UMM graduate, was a founder of the school's conservative newspaper, The Counterweight, in 2005.
The effort to start the paper was the brainchild of Basel and two friends who believed the campus needed a student-run newspaper with a conservative slant and raised money to start-up The Counterweight.
Basel stated in a 2005 story about The Counterweight in the Sun Tribune that he was from Mankato.
To see an October 2005 Sun Tribune story about the founding of The Counterweight, go to the archive on the Sun Tribune website www.morrissuntribune.com and search for Joe Basel.
Kim Ukura is a UMM graduate and a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Basel, Ukura and Jessica Anderson became friends and were the founders of The Counterweight in 2005.
"It was (Basel's) big idea," Ukura said, adding that she hasn't talked with Basel for some time. "He was always excited -- a big ideas kind of guy. He was always passionate about the things he did."
Basel was a field representative for Minnesota District 11 Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen during his 2006 campaign.
Ingebrigtsen was running against the late Dallas Sams, who was ill at the time. Ingebrigtsen said the state Republican caucus "targeted" the campaign as one the party could win, and dispatched Basel to work with Ingebrigtsen. Basel was not paid by the campaign, nor was he Ingebrigtsen's campaign manager.
"Obviously, we did a lot of door-knocking and leaf dropping," Ingebrigtsen said. "Joe was a very good organizer for my schedule. He was very motivated, very sharp."
Basel handled a lot of technological jobs, made media and other contacts and handled some bill payments, Ingebrigtsen said.
"He was a tremendous aide for a candidate," he said.
"He wasn't afraid of work," Ingebrigtsen said. "With kids that age, it's the work ethic that is sometimes missing. It wasn't missing with him."
UMM confirmed his graduation date, but spokesperson Christine Mahoney said the only statement the university would have is, "While here, (Basel) was a very active student leader."
"The Counterweight" staff issued a statement about Basel:
"Dear University community,
In light of recent events the staff of 'The Counterweight' would like to
remind you that although this publication, its current staff, and alumni
writers and staff have a long-time relationship with Mr. Basel, neither 'The Counterweight' nor its current or former staff members have had any part in or prior knowledge of his alleged actions and have no comments on them at this time. As an organization, 'The Counterweight' will focus on promoting the marketplace of ideas through civil discourse as well as thoughtful analysis of these ideas as it has done since its founding, does now, and will forever."
On Monday, Basel and O'Keefe, 25, Robert Flanagan, 24, and Stan Dai, 24, were taken into custody by federal officials. Flanagan is the son of William Flanagan, the interim United States attorney for the Western District of Louisiana.
According to various news reports, it was not clear what the men were trying to do in Landrieu's office, or what kind of information they were trying to gather. But an affidavit signed by Steven Rayes, a special agent for the F.B.I., detailed parts of the operation, which began about 11 a.m. on Monday, according to the New York Times.
Click on this link, http://minnesotaindependent.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/joseph-basel-..., to see the affidavit.
Basel and Flanagan entered the building dressed in "blue denim pants, blue work shirts, light green fluorescent vests, tool belts, and construction-style hard hats."
They said they were there to do repair work on the telephone system, and later claimed they had left their identification in their car.
O'Keefe was already inside the building and told a person at the office that he was waiting for someone to arrive, according to the complaint. It said he was "holding a cellular phone so as to record" video images of Basel and Flanagan.
Basel picked up the handset of the main telephone at the reception desk and both he and Flanagan tried -- or pretended to try -- to call it with their cellphones. Saying that they could not complete the calls, they asked to be directed to the telephone closet, so they could work on the building's telephone system.
Shortly afterward, they were arrested by United States marshals.
The affidavit did not accuse the men of trying to tap the phones, or describe in detail what they did to the equipment.
The men were all released on $10,000 bonds.
Ingebrigtsen said he liked Basel and that they shared some common interests. But he said that he can't condone Basel's actions.
"We all answer for what we do," Ingebrigtsen said, "and if he did what it sounds like he did, he'll have to answer for it."
The Morris Sun Tribune and the Echo Press are owned by Forum Communications Company.