July 27, 2010

Scammers, Be Gone!

Posted: 05:31 PM ET

Twitter: @AbbieCNN

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:
By phone: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or TTY, 1-866-653-4261
By mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580

Internet Crime Complaint Center:

Report the theft to one of your local law enforcement agencies:


United States Secret Service:

United States Postal Inspection Service:

United States Army Criminal Investigation Command:

United States Navy Criminal Investigative Service:

United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations:

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Special Investigations Unit

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July 19, 2010

Dating Scams Flourish Online

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

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July 15, 2010

Who is delivering the mail?

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

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July 13, 2010

Should Sex Offenders Get U.S. Passports?

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,"
considering sex offenders made up only a fraction of a percent of the 16 million passports that were issued during that period of time.

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.
The offender traveled to Mexico after receiving his passport."

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?

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Special Investigations Unit

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July 12, 2010

ATF Chief Takes Aim At Retaliation Claims

Posted: 10:11 AM ET

By Scott Zamost
Senior Investigative Producer

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 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 ( and in person with Mr. Melson are receiving review."

Filed under: Uncategorized

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July 8, 2010

Send us your ideas

Posted: 10:04 AM ET

By Abbie Boudreau

Special Investigations Unit

@Abbie CNN

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?

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Special Investigations Unit

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July 7, 2010

Lindsay Lohan's soon-to-be fellow jail inmate

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.
Fine believes the judge should have removed himself from a case involving the county. But that didn’t happen.  Fine says he thinks that is the underlying reason the judge slapped a  contempt order on him.

"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

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July 6, 2010

Imprisoned soldier's wife pleas for justice

Posted: 03:53 PM ET

Twitter: @AbbieCNN

Battlefield justice or murder?

That question was the focus of our CNN investigative documentary, "Killings at the Canal: The Army Tapes," which aired last November. The documentary was about three U.S. soldiers who shot and killed four Iraqi detainees in 2007.

Their families say the so-called "catch and release" program was not working, which was why these soldiers killed the four, unarmed Iraqi detainees. One of the soldiers, who was later convicted of premeditated murder, told Army investigators that killing the four detainees had likely saved countless American lives. It was an emotional story to report, and one that brought in thousands of responses worldwide.

We often hear from people who wonder what happened to the three convicted soldiers.

We know two of them had their clemency requests denied. All three are serving long sentences at Fort Leavenworth.

Recently, we got an e-mail from John Hatley's wife, Kim. Her husband is serving a 40-year prison term for the murders. This is part of her e-mail to us:

"I am on a mission to get word out about my husband, (former) Infantry First Sergeant John Hatley who is highly decorated, served 20 years in the U.S. Army, but was sentenced to prison for 'life' for allegedly killing 4 insurgents (enemy combatants) in Baghdad, Iraq at pre-surge, OIF – Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08. This was a 15-month long deployment at one of the most violent periods in the Iraq war, each day riddled with extreme sectarian violence. This is a case of self-defense, for the 'detainee catch & release policy' was yet another flawed policy, that placed our troops in danger and continues to exist to this day. My husband did everything he could to bring his soldiers back alive. They were all like sons to him. This deployment resulted in six of my husband's soldiers getting killed; 2 by small arms fire and 4 by IEDs – Improvised Explosive Devices."

 Kim Hatley calls her husband a "hero," and she pledges to keep fighting until he is released from prison. The Army says what these three soldiers did that day in Iraq was murder, pure and simple.

 What do you think? Should these soldiers be released? Or do you think they deserve 30 to 40-year prison sentences?

 Here is a link to our full investigation and documentary.

 IF you'd like to read more about John Hatley's case, his website is below.

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau

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