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U.S. Troops Launch Legal War Over Fukushima Meltdown; Swiss Bank Under Investigation; Bruno Mars Act

Aired February 20, 2014 - 12:30   ET


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: ... on this chemical's effect on humans, some residents and businesses aren't taking any chances.

In a recent survey, only four percent of people in the area said they're drinking tap water, water that officially is fine to drink.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Elizabeth joins me now, live from Charleston.

Why won't the CDC say the water is safe, Elizabeth?

COHEN: I talked to folks over there, Don, and they say, look, basically, "safe" is not a scientific word. It's not a word that's used in the environmental health discipline. They don't usually say "safe." Instead what they'll say is what I talked about in the story, below this level, it is unlikely that there would be any bad health effects. But they say we don't tend to use the word "safe" in any circumstances like this.

LEMON: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you very much for your reporting.

Turning now to news about three teenagers, they may have picked the wrong house in Detroit for a home invasion. When they broke down the back door, they found a Michigan mom on the other side with a loaded rifle.

Look at this video. She fired it when they didn't heed her warning saying that she had a gun. Detroit police have arrested the three. This video, by the way, has gone viral.

When the earthquake and the tsunami hit Japan two years ago, the U.S. military rushed to give aid and support. Now some servicemen and women are facing debilitating health problems. They are blaming it on the radiation from the Fukushima plant and they are suing.


LEMON: Almost three years after the catastrophic meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, there's been another leak. An estimated 100 tons of radioactive water overflowed a barrier around a (inaudible) and seeped into the ground.

Supposedly the leak is now stopped, but a legal fight over radiation and ruined health is just heating up. And you may be surprised who is suing here.

My CNN colleague Jake Tapper has the story.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE LEAD": March 2011, an earthquake off the coast of Japan triggers a deadly tsunami, killing more than 15,000 people. Waves swamped Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant complex. Huge explosions followed, and, ultimately, meltdowns of three of the six nuclear reactors, spewing radioactive material into the atmosphere.

Into this unknown sailed the USS Ronald Reagan, an American nuclear- powered super-carrier with more than 5,000 sailors and Marines on board. The carrier was a key part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Tomodachi, the Japanese word for friends.

And now, three years later, more than 70 sailors and Marines from that mission have filed a billion-dollar lawsuit against TEPCO, alleging the company withheld information that led to radiation exposure, causing illness, even cancer. Medical experts are skeptical of the connection, but the cases are heartbreaking.

Lindsay Cooper and Kim Gieseking (ph) both served on the Reagan and said, since they have gotten back, they have faced debilitating thyroid issues. Thomas McCants (ph) was on the USS Germantown in July 2011 when it responded to Japan. When he returned, he told CNN he was diagnosed with leukemia. And then there's Navy officer Steve Simmons, who served on the Reagan. Before he set sail, he was an avid hiker in the mountains of Hawaii.

What was your health like in the months leading up to deployment?

STEVEN SIMMONS, U.S. NAVY: The summer of 2010 when we pulled into Hawaii, I was actually out doing trail runs A couple days later I hiked Diamond Head and from there I hiked Stairway to Heaven.

TAPPER: But Simmons said something happened to him off the coast of Japan. A year after returning to the U.S., he lost all function in his legs.

What do the doctors think is wrong with you?


TAPPER: They don't know?

STEVEN SIMMONS: They have no idea.

TAPPER: Two moments during his deployment stick out to Simmons. At one point the ship stopped taking in water from the sea and purifying it because of contaminants. He had already had some of it to drink that day.

STEVEN SIMMONS: The water feeds everything, the showers, the water faucets, the soda machines.

TAPPER: How serious is it when water has to be secured because they've picked up contaminants? Had that ever happened to you before?

STEVEN SIMMONS: This was the first. I think that was first for everybody on board.

TAPPER: The Reagan also sailed through the post meltdown nuclear plume for hours, leading to this thorough decontamination. The ship locked down the ventilation systems, Simmons said.

That account fits with the prior reporting by CNN's Bill Weir, who tried to get on the ship for a story and was waved off by commanders citing radiation concerns.

The Navy declined our interview request because of the pending litigation, but in a statement a spokesman said, quote, "There is no indication that any U.S. personnel supporting Operation Tomodachi experienced radiation exposure at levels associated with the occurrence of long-term health effects."

The Navy acknowledged the ship sailed through the nuclear plume, but disputed a key point in the lawsuit. The complaint alleges that the Reagan was operating two miles off the coast. The Navy told CNN repeatedly the Reagan was operating approximately 100 miles out to sea. There was great concern from the Navy.

CNN's Martin Savidge was on board the Reagan during part of its month- long deployment.

His team, like the sailors and marines, went through constant radiation testing and decontamination after being on deck. When your superiors tell you, OK, we secured the ventilation system or we can go back to using water from the ocean, it's safe now, how confident are you that everything is OK?

STEVEN SIMMONS: There was some misleading information that was given not from the stand point of Navy or DOD. Information that we were using to make decisions was all being fed from Japan and Tepco.

TAPPER: In response so our questions about the suit, the power company issued a statement thanking the U.S. for its aid, but adding, quote, "We withhold any comments on this lawsuit and will take appropriate measures in accordance with the judicial procedures in the United States."

Tepco has until April to respond in court.

There is no question Simmons' health has radically deteriorated since his time on the Reagan. But why?

Cham Dallas, the director of the Institute for Disaster Management at the University of Georgia is a respected radiation expert who has led seven expeditions to Fukushima.

CHAM DALLAS, INSTITUTE FOR DISASTER MANAGEMENT: I think that there was probably some exposure to radiation on the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan. But saying "some" manifests to many people that any exposure to radiation is going to be dangerous.

That is actually not the case.

TAPPER: Dallas said the Navy's calculations suggest the radiation exposure of the sailors and Marines was about the same as taking a transatlantic flight, or not very much. He says health effects from radiation such as cancer take years or even decades to show up.

For Dallas and other experts CNN consulted, these illnesses have happened too soon to have been as a result of the exposure at Fukushima.

DALLAS: You have an exposure to radiation and then there's a pause. There is a certain period of time before the health effects start to come.

TAPPER: So what is the reason dozens of sailors and Marines exposed to radiation are having these health problems?

Does the Navy and do these experts know everything that went on at Fukushima

Getting to the truth cannot come quickly enough for Steve and Summer Simmons.

Let's say there is somebody watching this report and they say, look, I'm really sorry that you're going through what you're going through, but the Navy and the Pentagon don't think this is related to Fukushima, so maybe this isn't related at all.

What would you say to them?

STEVEN SIMMONS: Time will tell.

TAPPER: Steve Simmons and his wife, Summer, like the 78 other plaintiffs, hope time will bring compensation from Tepco or at the very least more information.

Until then, the Simmons family is trying to cope as best they can, going so far as to reshoot the memories of their big wedding day so those pictures are no longer a reminder of what once was.

SUMMER SIMMONS, STEVEN SIMMONS' WIFE: We retook our wedding pictures to include the chair because we wanted to be able to look forward instead of looking back and we wanted our wedding photos to be what we are.

TAPPER: Simmons is in the process of being honorably discharged from the Navy for medical reasons.

He continues to wait for a diagnosis so that he and his family can sort out what his family's next steps should be.

The budget bill that Congress passed last month demands that the Pentagon provide Congress a full accounting for the health of all those who served on the USS Ronald Reagan.

Jake Tapper, CNN, Washington.


LEMON: All right, Jake, thank you very much.

A new terror warning is ratcheting up security at airports. Homeland Security officials says terrorists may be working on sophisticated, new, shoe-bomb designs.

While there's no specific threat, overseas flights into the United States could be targeted. This comes just after officials warned of hidden explosives in toothpaste and cosmetics tubes on flights to Russia for the Olympics.

About 35 people injured when the second floor of an activity center at a church in Laurel, Mississippi, collapsed last night. Our affiliate WDAM reports the floor gave way during a worship service, sending nearly 80 teens crashing down. Fortunately, none of the injuries is life-threatening.

A single mom of twins says she was fired from her job as a McDonald's manager for paying for some meals for several firefighters. Heather Levia (ph) told our affiliate WIVB that the corporate office wouldn't cover the costs, so she and coworkers pitched in on the $153 bill for two fire departments. After her next shift, she was fired.

The restaurant denies her allegations saying it would never penalize an employee for something like that.

Someone in Northern California just won a boatload of cash, a $425 million jackpot. The one winning Powerball ticket was sold at Dixon Landing Chevron in the Bay Area. The winning numbers were 17, 49, 54, 35 and 1, and the Powerball number was 34. The Chevron will get a $1 million bonus.

An investigation reveals schemes to avoid paying taxes, a woman hiding hundreds of thousands of dollars in her pantyhose while flying to Switzerland, buying gold bars and stashing them in secret bank accounts. Details on the multibillion dollar schemes, just ahead.


LEMON: Here's a warning for you as tax filing season approaches. The IRS is out with its list of scams. Identity theft is topping the dirty dozen list once again this year. Scammers are filing fraudulent returns and claim refunds using your name and your Social Security Number. Telephone scams are also increasing. Number three on this list, phishing. That's when criminals use e-mail or a fake website to steal your financial information. So now you know, be aware and be safe.

Another major problem on the list, hiding income offshore. Perhaps you can talk it up to greed. The kind epitomized in this clip from the movie "Wolf of Wall Street."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Jordan Belfort. The year I turned 26, I made $49 million, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're making a name for ourselves.


LEMON: Well, several Swiss banks are under criminal investigation for allegedly helping customers hide assets overseas. Among the banks targeted, Credit Suisse. Our justice correspondent Evan Perez joins us now from Washington.

Evan, what is - what's this bank accused of doing to help customers avoid the tax man?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Don, you know the -- Credit Suisse is accused of helping their customers hide their assets overseas. Now, the government has been on this crackdown on offshore banking, on hiding assets overseas for several years now.

And even as the government has been cracking down on this, according to prosecutors, there were bankers of Credit Suisse that were helping their customers move money out of certain banks that were already under scrutiny and trying to get it into other places, again, to try to hide it from the IRS.

We have some documents - some court documents that have - where prosecutors allege that you have customers who are hiding money in nylon pantyhose in order to transport it from the United States to try to get it into their Swiss bank accounts. Some of them were buying gold bars and stashing them in their Credit Suisse safety deposit boxes. So all kinds of methods that they were using to try to hide their money from Uncle Sam.

LEMON: Ah, very interesting. The investigation, though, has been going on for years. What's taken so long?

PEREZ: Well you know, that's a good question. Next week there's going to be this hearing in the Senate, and I'm sure that's going to be the big question for the Justice Department, which is, you've been working on this for so many years. You have 14 banks, Swiss banks, that are under criminal investigation. And these cases seem to be moving very slowly. So the question is, you know, when are you going to make - bring these cases to fruition. Credit Suisse is in discussions for an $800 million payment to settle these allegations. We'll see where that goes, Don.

LEMON: All right. So what's happening to the bank executives? PEREZ: Well, you know, you have eight bankers from Credit Suisse already under indictment here in eastern Virginia, in Alexandria. They're in Switzerland somewhere. They're probably not going to come to justice any time soon. The Swiss don't extradite their citizens for these types of crimes. So as long as they say in Switzerland, you know, they can go on plenty of ski vacations but they probably won't be able to do any vacations on the Spanish coast any time soon because if they go they have the fear that they could be arrested and sent to the United States to face just on these charges, Don.

LEMON: Evan Perez, thank you very much. Appreciate your reporting.

PEREZ: Thank you.

LEMON: Bruno Mars' fans are angry right now. Well, they did get locked out of heaven in a way, or at least locked out of getting concert tickets. This after lining up for hours at the box office to buy them for the moment they went on sale. Well, within minutes, online buyers and scalpers had snatched them up. Now there's a move to change laws so more tickets get into the hands of actual fans. The legal view on that is next.


LEMON: Hit songs, Grammys and fame. Here's some more bragging rights for Bruno Mars. People love his music so much, it may change the law. Hawaii Senate President Donna Mercado Kim has introduced a bill that would require in person ticket sales in the rainbow state for the first 48 hours of sales just to keep most tickets from going to online scalpers. Kim was inspired to write the Bruno Mars Act after tickets to the pop star's concert in Hawaii sold out in minutes in a day after her performance at the Super Bowl. Well, the box office ended up selling just 6 percent of the tickets, leaving many fans who stood in line for hours empty handed.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thirty minutes in to box office, we are not even on number 19 yet. I'm number 17. And pretty much everything is sold out. And I'll tell you, I'm pretty pissed off.


LEMON: Wow. Well, there you go. Joining me now, Joey Jackson and Heather Hansen.

I mean what are the chances if this -- if it passes, that this will catch on?

HEATHER HANSEN, TRIAL AND CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, different states have different rules. There's 29 states with different types of regulations. The thing about this is, what's to stop scalpers from standing in line and getting the tickets that way?

LEMON: Right. Or paying someone to stand in line all night. JOE JACKSON, HLN LEGAL ANALYST: I say something beats nothing. Listen, you have these people who love Bruno Mars, who want to go to this concert. They stand there, Don. They stand and they wait and they can't wait to be there. And, guess what, when they come to the front, no more tickets for you. And so there needs to be some type of law to protect the average consumer.

HANSEN: I agree, but I don't know that this is it. I mean if you can have something where you have to show your ID that you bought this ticket and someone else didn't buy it for you, that might be a better way.


HANSEN: There's different ways to regulate it. I don't know if this is it.

LEMON: But isn't this what ticket brokers, so to speak, isn't this what they do? I was doing a story on the Super Bowl and there was -


LEMON: You know, people who were selling tickets. And you went and they told you, this is how many we have in this particular section. This is what this costs.

HANSEN: It's the law of supply and demand. You know, if people didn't want it so bad, the other people's tickets aren't selling at the same price as you can scalp a Bruno Mars ticket for. So the argument is, this is capitalism at its best.

JACKSON: Now, that's true, but what I like about it is this, all right, because at the box office, you know, $100, it's all good. But by the time the scalper sells it, it's five times that much. So you need something to protect the common person so they can enjoy a show and not be ripped off, for lack of a better term, by these scalpers.

LEMON: So who's getting the tickets? These are, you know, high money people or clients or those sorts of - there are vendors? Those are the people getting the tickets?

JACKSON: Well, it's -- for the most part. Corporate clients. Especially with the Super Bowl, there was a lot of corporate people who were getting those types of tickets.

But the other thing Joey and I were talking about is, what if you don't live in Hawaii but you want to go there for vacation to see a certain show.

LEMON: Uh-huh.

HANSEN: You can't fly there twice, once to buy the ticket and then once to go to the show.


HANSEN: So it's really going to take a lot of the tourism for entertainment out of the mix.

LEMON: Can record companies retaliate saying, hey, listen, you're not doing what -- supply and demand. We want to make as much money as possible. We're not sending our artists to Hawaii or our performer to Hawaii to perform there?

JACKSON: Right. Sure. There's always pitfalls in anything. But I say, with any resolution, with any type of bill, you start somewhere. And if the aim is to protect the common person by allowing people who are residents of the state at least the right of first refusal, so to speak -

HANSEN: Right.

JACKSON: To stand on line and to get their share, I think it's a start and it's a move in the right direction.

HANSEN: And Hawaii's way behind in this. Right know the only thing you can't scalp is Hawaii is boxing tickets. So they need to do something and this is a step in the right direction, (INAUDIBLE).

LEMON: OK, so, Joey, who would you stand in line for? You don't want to - you think that something's - something must be done, Mr. high and mighty, holier than thou.

JACKSON: I am not revealing -

LEMON: Who would you stand in line for?

JACKSON: I am not revealing who is worth the time, instead - but there's a lot of artists out there who do great work and I love y'all.


LEMON: That is a total cop out.

What about you?

HANSEN: I don't know. I like J Lo. We talked about J Lo a little bit before. I'd stand in line for her, I think.

JACKSON: She's all right.

LEMON: All right. I'd stand in line to see you guys.

JACKSON: Yes, sure.

LEMON: Gracious. All right.

JACKSON: Thank you, Don.

HANSEN: Thank you.

LEMON: Appreciate you guys.

We'll be right back, one minute. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Thank you so much. I hope you learned a lot about the law and about concert tickets and about Bruno Mars as well. That's it for me. I'm Don Lemon. Thanks for watching. Ashleigh will be back here soon.

Now here's "Wolf," but Jim Sciutto is filling in for him.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, the crisis in Ukraine.