October 1, 2010
Posted: 10:10 AM ET
By Scott Zamost
It started with a tip about someone who was going undercover in Planned Parenthood clinics. She was about to release a new video showing what happened during that operation. Her name was Lila Rose, a 22-year-old anti-abortion activist. While she had made multiple appearances on Fox News the last several years, she had never been on CNN.
Around the same time, we learned that 21-year-old Hannah Giles, who posed as a prostitute to take down ACORN, would be speaking at a Tea Party rally in Searchlight, Nevada. Hannah also had never done an interview with CNN.
Two young activists. Both conservative and part of a growing movement that they say had been largely ignored by the mainstream media.
Investigative Correspondent Abbie Boudreau and I talked about the idea of following these young activists around. If we could gain their trust, it would be a fascinating story to follow for a documentary. It would not be easy.
Hannah was our first interview. Or at least we thought. I set it up through Levi Russell, a spokesman for the Tea Party Express. But the night before we were leaving for Nevada, Levi called with bad news. He said Hannah's attorney had cancelled the interview because of a pending lawsuit connected to one of the ACORN workers caught on hidden camera. I tried to explain our idea for the project to the attorney, but he would not change his mind.
However, when we got to Searchlight and met Hannah, she decided to do the interview anyway. Abbie asked her for the names of other young conservative activists. And then our project began.
We ended up following Lila Rose, Jason Mattera, Christian Hartsock and Ryan Sorba. Even though Abbie and I are investigative journalists, we kept telling them this documentary was not an investigation. We simply wanted to document their activism. But their distrust of mainstream media kept returning to nearly every conversation. At varying times, I thought the project was in jeopardy. Finally, I think they accepted that we would portray them fairly. But they were still skeptical.
During an interview outside a Planned Parenthood clinic that Lila and her team were protesting, she and I talked about the mainstream media.
I assured her, as I had done over the past several months, that we weren’t taking sides. The documentary was to be a glimpse into a world we hadn't seen before - at least not in an in-depth way - and because of that, it was a story worth telling.
Filed under: Uncategorized
September 29, 2010
Posted: 07:46 AM ET
By Abbie Boudreau
(Programming note: "Right On The Edge" airs this Saturday and Sunday at 8 and 11 p.m. ET).
I've been a reporter for nine years. My first official day on the job was on 9-11. I was the bureau chief in Dubuque, Iowa, working as a one-man band. I shot my own video, set up my own live shots, and edited my own stories. I would bring home the police scanner to make sure the nights were quiet in this modest town along the grand Mississippi River. Only one time, in my year and two months working there, did that scanner wake me up. (It would be the first murder story I covered. I remember being one of the first reporters to show up. The police were hosing down the blood off the sidewalk, and the bloody water washed over my shoes. It's something you don't forget.) Those days were long, and physical. I would go home and count the bruises on my legs and arms. There was nothing glamorous about this life. But that's what I liked about it. I was a reporter – and I was proud of that.
As a woman in the news industry you have to be tough. I have always had to work harder than my male counterparts to be taken seriously and to be treated with respect. As a woman in the news industry you have to ignore all of the silly talk from your managers about the clothes you should wear on-air or what color your hair should be. I have had my share of conversations like that, and to be honest, it stings. I'm left wondering, "When will my work stand on its own? Why does this always have to be part of the conversation?"
Recently, I was the target of a failed punk. James O'Keefe, the so-called "pimp" in the ACORN expose videos, was participating in a detailed plan to "faux" seduce me on his boat. For months, I had been working on a documentary about the young conservative movement. James had called me about concerns he had regarding an upcoming shoot. He asked me to meet him to talk about the shoot. I agreed to fly to Maryland and then drive to his "office" for a face-to-face conversation with him.
When I showed up, there was no office, as promised. Instead, he wanted to get me on a boat, which we later learned, was staged as a "pleasure palace." One of his colleagues, Izzy Santa, who was in Maryland that day, told me about the plan and stopped the punk before it happened.
Izzy told me he had "strawberries and champagne" waiting for me on the boat, and that he planned to "hit on me" the entire time. She said it would all be captured on hidden cameras that had been set up on the boat and in the back yard. She said the sole purpose of the "punk" was to embarrass me, and to make CNN look bad.
I would soon learn the details of the plan, in a 13-page document titled, "CNN Caper."
It explains the type of equipment needed to stage the boat for our meeting. Here is how the document reads:
1. hidden cams on the boat
2. tripod and overt recorder near the bed, an obvious sex tape machine
1. condom jar
a. Alicia keys
b. 80s romance songs, things that are typically James
c. avoid Marvin Gaye as too cliche
5. ceiling mirror
6. posters and paintings of naked women
7. playboys and pornographic magazines
9. Viagra and stamina pills
10. fuzzy handcuffs
James was supposed to tape the following script before the meeting on the boat.
"My name is James, I work in video activism and journalism. I've been approached by CNN for an interview where I know what their angle is: they want to portray me and my friends as crazies, as non-journalists, as unprofessional and likely as homophobes, racists or bigots of some sort…"
"Instead, I've decided to have a little fun. Instead of giving her a serious interview, I'm going to punk CNN. Abbie has been trying to seduce me to use me, in order to spin a lie about me. So, I'm going to seduce her, on camera, to use her for a video. This bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who comes on at five will get a taste of her own medicine, she'll get seduced on camera and you'll get to see the awkwardness and the aftermath."
"Please sit back and enjoy the show."
It explains very simply what "the joke" is.
"The joke is that the tables have turned on CNN. Using hot blondes to seduce interviewees to get screwed on television, you are faux seducing her in order to screw her on television."
It goes on to explain how James should "adapt" to my mood on the boat.
"As the operation is going on, James will have to adapt and adjust to her mood and her reaction. If she is pulling away, withdraw and pull her back in. If she's unsure, comfort her and reassure her. Vacillate between somewhat serious interview and the come-hither persona as needed in order to confuse her judgment and also keep her on the boat."
James says that he wasn't really going to follow through with the plan. He e-mailed CNN this statement:
"That is not my work product. When it was sent to me, I immediately found certain elements highly objectionable and inappropriate, and did not consider them for one minute following it."
But that does not appear to be true, according to a series of emails we obtained from Izzy Santa, who says the e-mails reveal James' true intentions.
All of this is so disappointing. I never wanted to become a part of the story – especially under such strange circumstances.
I have worked so hard to have people pay attention to my work, and to be a respected journalist. I don't want to be judged based on anything other than my work. But apparently, I represent all of the things this group hates about the mainstream media. They feel because of the way I look that I do not matter, and that my reporting is a joke. They don't know anything about my work ethic – my history – my dedication and commitment – and my love for reporting. They just saw my blonde hair. And the ironic thing is that I'm really a brunette.
Filed under: Uncategorized
August 13, 2010
Posted: 11:20 AM ET
Jackson County, Mississippi, Sheriff Mike Byrd told CNN he was shocked when he met with the local head of BP security as the company was cranking up beach clean-up operations. The sheriff was told BP wasn’t doing background checks on oil-spill clean-up workers.
"I said, 'You're kidding me,' Byrd recalls telling the BP official.
Now, Byrd says, that lack of screening has resulted in a convicted sex offender being charged with raping a co-worker.
A CNN investigation into the incident reveals a web of corporate finger-pointing after basic background checks were not done on those hired to remove oil from the beaches in and around Pascagoula, Mississippi.
Byrd said he told the BP official that "you're going to have every type of person coming in here looking for a job and you're going to have the criminal element in here and we're not going to know who we're dealing with if we don't do background checks on these people."
Byrd believes if a simple background check had been done, the alleged rape could have been prevented. Charles Rundy Robertson, the man charged in the case, had failed to register as a sex offender. He was also on probation for a felony. Yet, because no background checks were done, he was hired as a supervisor.
In a statement to CNN, BP spokesman Robert Wine said, "BP does conduct full checks on its employees, and under normal business conditions can make it a part of the contract for full backgrounds to be conducted by our long-term contractors. This was not done for all contractors in this response; the responsibility lies with the employing company for their own staff.”
The company that hired workers for BP’s clean-up efforts was Aerotek. We spoke with the general counsel for Aerotek who told us, “We are not liable for anything that happens. Once we deliver the people to be supervised by our client, we don't have anything to do with them anymore."
Sheriff Mike Byrd said he asked BP’s local head of security why no background checks were being performed, and his response was, “…there’s so many of them [employees], we were told to do drug screens and that was it.”
Do you think more should have been done to prevent criminals from being hired for BP’s clean-up operation along the Gulf Coast? Also, Sheriff Byrd told CNN, he would have done the background checks for free. So, why do you think the companies involved still refused to have the checks performed?
July 27, 2010
Posted: 05:31 PM ET
Why isn't more being done to stop online imposters who steal photos of soldiers they find on the Internet, and then fraudulently post them on dating websites to scam women out of money? Sometimes these scammers even use photos they find of soldiers who were killed while at war.
We reached out to the Army, the Secret Service, the FBI, the State Department, Federal Trade Commission and the National White Collar Crime Center to find out if anyone was trying to track down these scammers. All say, unfortunately, there is little they can do. Of course, the feds can take your complaint, but they say they are not actively pursuing the imposters, mostly because they are operating from outside the United States and are very mobile, often from internet cafes.
I can only imagine how frustrating that must be for both the women who are scammed and the soldiers whose names and photos have been stolen. The reason the Army says it cannot go after these scam artists is because the soldier is not the perpetrator, which means the crime does not fall under the Army's jurisdiction.
Since we began reporting this story, we've heard from other soldiers and high-ranking Army officials who say they feel helpless. They don't understand why more cannot be done to stop these online imposters.
What do you think should happen? And for you computer geniuses out there, is it really that hard to track down these scammers and to put an end to this?
If you want to report a scam like this one, the Army recommends you contact one of the following entities:
Federal Trade Commission: http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft
Internet Crime Complaint Center: http://www.ic3.gov
Report the theft to one of your local law enforcement agencies:
United States Secret Service: http://www.secretservice.gov
United States Postal Inspection Service: http://postalinspectors.uspis.gov
United States Army Criminal Investigation Command: http://www.cid.army.mil
United States Navy Criminal Investigative Service: http://www.ncis.navy.mil
United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations: http://www.osi.andrews.af.mil
July 19, 2010
Posted: 05:41 PM ET
We’ve all heard of people getting scammed out of large sums of money by opportunists making phony pitches over the phone, by mail or by e-mail and via online websites.
For a story, we’re now checking into reports about thieves who steal people’s online photos and then post them on dating websites. The scammers create a fake profile, dupe vulnerable people into responding and ultimately getting drawn into what they think is a romantic relationship.
One man who says his photo was posted on a dating site without his knowledge told us he gets a dozen e-mails a week from women all over the world who’ve fallen for his online imposter. He told us one of the women got scammed out of $50,000 and was devastated to find out he was happily married. He says the ordeal has taken a heavy emotional toll on his family who keep hearing from victimized women and he can’t find a way to bring the scam to an end.
We’re wondering how widespread this is around the country. Let me know if anything like this has ever happened to you on Internet dating websites. I’ve heard some real horror stories, and I’ll share some more details with you when we’re ready to air our report in the next week or two.
Filed under: Abbie Boudreau
July 15, 2010
Posted: 02:02 PM ET
Just this week, the Government Accountability Office released a report about thousands of registered sex offenders receiving U.S. passports. The report stated that many of the offenders would subsequently use their legally obtained passport to travel to foreign countries known for sex tourism.
The report detailed 30 case studies involving registered sex offenders who were issued passports by the State Department during fiscal year 2008. The State Department says there are no laws that allow it to deny issuing passports to registered sex offenders, and that it “rigorously adheres” to following the law.
One of the cases in the report involved a U.S. Postal Service employee.
Here’s what the report stated:
“A U.S. Postal Service carrier was convicted of indecency with a girl, including sexual contact. The Postal Service was aware of the conviction and the offender is still employed as a postal carrier. The assigned route for the postal carrier goes through a residential area that includes an elementary school.”
Last December, the Postal Service announced it would begin a program to compare its lists of employees to the national sex offender database. Earlier this year, a postal carrier in California was reassigned to a job where he does not interact with the public after it was discovered he was a registered sex offender.
A Postal Service spokesman says the carrier mentioned in the GAO report has since resigned. As for the program, postal employees have 10 days after finding out they’re on a sex offender registry to inform the Postal Service. The agency is still in the process of compiling data about the number of sex offenders working there.
Do you think registered sex offenders should be allowed to deliver mail in residential neighborhoods?
Filed under: Uncategorized
July 13, 2010
Posted: 03:23 PM ET
I was reading through a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report about how thousands of registered sex offenders are being issued U.S. passports.
Apparently, the State Department cannot legally deny registered sex offenders from getting a passport. (Though it can legally prevent people from getting passports who have been convicted of "sex tourism" crimes, thanks to a 2008 statute that has cracked down on sex offenders who travel to other countries for the explicit reason of committing sex crimes.)
Still, according to GAO, of the 16 million people who received passports during fiscal year 2008, about 4,500 of them were registered sex offenders.
According to the State Department, that number is "very misleading,"
GAO cites 30 case studies in its report. Many of the offenders mentioned in the report had multiple sex offenses, and used their passports to travel to foreign countries known for sex tourism activity.
This is one case study that GAO documented in its report:
"In the early 2000s, the offender was convicted of two counts of unlawful sexual contact with a minor under 14 years old. The offender pled guilty to molesting two boys, ages 8 and 11. Both victims were friends with the offender¹s son and occasionally spent the night at the offender¹s home. The offender entered his son¹s room during sleepovers and molested the victims while they were sleeping. The offender currently has child support debt of about $21,000 and owed child support at the time the passport was issued.
According to GAO, there is no sex offender registry in Mexico.
Here's my question: Do you think registered sex offenders should be allowed to receive U.S. passports?
July 12, 2010
Posted: 10:11 AM ET
By Scott Zamost
For months, we investigated claims that ATF agents were the victims of retaliation for speaking up about alleged abuses in the agency. Filing a complaint got you ostracized, agents told us.
Before our investigation, "ATF Under Fire" aired in May, the deputy director, Kenneth Melson, pledged to take any kind of alleged retaliation seriously, saying he would not tolerate it while he was in charge.
In the interview with Investigative Correspondent Abbie Boudreau, he was clear: "And if there's somebody that's afraid that they're going to be retaliated against if they file or they complain about fraud, waste, abuse or illegal conduct they can come and talk to me about it and I'll make sure that not only will the investigation be conducted, but they won't be retaliated against.”
Days before the story aired, Melson held his first webcast and told employees what he had promised to CNN: “I will not condone, or allow acts of retaliation by management for suggestions made by employees, expressions of concern, reports of misconduct – that’s not going to happen on my watch.”
And he's followed up with a subsequent webcast in which he said, "One of the things we've done recently is to talk to Internal Affairs because I know there have been some concerns about what has happened to complaints to Internal Affairs about things that they've seen going on in ATF. They are now going to make sure that every time they receive a complaint from anyone in ATF that they acknowledge the receipt of that complaint so you know it hasn't gone into a black hole."
Melson also acknowledged that communication with the department that handles discrimination complaints "can be improved." He said “so when someone files a complaint they will be notified and communicated with on a periodic basis so they know what (their) status is, what they can expect to happen in the next stage of their process."
After meeting with representatives of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, he said "we all were in agreement on what some of the concerns were and we expressed to them many of the things that we're doing in order to address those concerns."
Agents tell me that Melson is taking a proactive stance to address what they claim has been a culture of retaliation within ATF. They say the next several months will be critical to how this all plays out.
Vince Cefalu, the agent we profiled in our story who says he was retaliated against for speaking up, is optimistic. As he writes on the cleanuatf.org website, "There are many and multiple accounts around the country that suggest Mr. Melson is a man of his word and suggest the matter discussed on (cleanupatf.org) and in person with Mr. Melson are receiving review."
Filed under: Uncategorized
July 8, 2010
Posted: 10:04 AM ET
By Abbie Boudreau
Special Investigations Unit
I was just looking at different news websites. Mainly mainstream – cable and network. It was interesting to see what headlines were front and center.
Around 7 p.m. on Wednesday, I checked Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, CBS News, and NBC Nightly News.
These are the various headlines:
FOX News: “Feds: Terrorists Planning NYC Subway Attack Linked to U.K. Cell”
CNN: “Arrest made in serial killings that stretch over decades”
MSNBC: “Thousands evacuate as Rio Grande floods”
ABC News: “Russian and U.S. Diplomats Exploring Elaborate Spy Swap”
CBS News: “Does Israel’s Netanyahu Trust Obama?”
NBC Nightly News: “Extreme Heat Tests Grit of Power Grid”
The top stories are all very different, and it makes me wonder what kind of news that people are most interested in. Terrorists or serial killers? Extreme heat or flooding in the Rio Grande? Russian spies or Netanyahu? Maybe all of these topics interest you – or maybe none of them do. It’s all very subjective.
I often think about the types of stories I want to report, but I’m even more interested the kind of reporting people want me to focus on.
What many people do not realize is that a large number of my stories come from tips. I always take time to read and think about the story ideas that are sent to me. Of course, it’s impossible to report on every tip that comes my way, but every once a while we spot a gem – a story that will have an impact – a story people will remember.
It’s really easy to send me a story idea if you would like me to take a look at it. Send me a tweet saying you have a story idea, and I will write you back a direct message. Or you could always post a comment on my blog.
If you don’t have a specific story idea in mind, I am still interested in the topics you think reporters should be focusing on the most? What would your headline read?
July 7, 2010
Posted: 04:57 PM ET
By Abbie Boudreau
CNN Special Investigations Unit
What do Lindsay Lohan and this man have in common?
Starting July 20, actress Lindsay Lohan will check into Los Angeles County jail to start her 90-day sentence for missing alcohol counseling sessions in violation of her probation. And already, it’s been widely reported that her three-month stint behind bars may be shortened because of jail overcrowding.
Here’s what I find so interesting.
There’s an inmate named Richard Fine who is sitting in a jail cell in L.A. County wishing he could leave, and free up some space for someone else. He’s 70 years old, and has been serving time for more than a year.
Fine is a former attorney who once worked for the Department of Justice. As we first reported in May of 2010, Fine is now being held in contempt of court after he refused to turn over financial documents and answer questions when ordered to pay an opposing party's attorney's fees, according to court documents.
Fine says his contempt order masks the real reason why he's in jail. He claims he's a political prisoner.
"I ended up here because I did the one thing no other lawyer in California is willing to do. I took on the corruption of the courts," Fine said in a jailhouse interview with CNN.
For the last decade, Fine has filed appeal after appeal against L. A. County's Superior Court judges. He says the judges each accept what he calls yearly "bribes" from the county worth $57,000. That's on top of a $178,789 annual salary, paid by the state. The county calls the extra payments "supplemental benefits" - a way to attract and retain quality judges in a high-cost city.
Fine says the judge who put him in contempt of court had received supplemental benefits from the county.
"The reason I'm here is the retaliation of the judges," Fine says. "They figured they're going to throw me in jail and that way they feel that they can stop me."
So far, neither the judge involved in this case, nor Fine seem to be willing to work things out, and end this 16-month imprisonment. This could go on indefinitely.
Fine actually gets an entire cell to himself.
Jail officials tell us he is in solitary confinement for his own protection, since the general population can be dangerous. In fact, Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the L. A. County Sheriff's Department, says Fine's jail cell could be used for a “violent offender.”
I am not placing any judgment on what should or should not happen in Lindsay Lohan’s case or that of other celebrities who have broken the law. But the issue of jail overcrowding has been in the California spotlight for years. And it makes me wonder how many other non-violent L.A. County jail inmates are taking up cell space that could be used by other people who really should be locked up.
Here's the original story.
Filed under: Abbie Boudreau