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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: http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft
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: http://www.ic3.gov

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

FBI: http://www.fbi.gov/homepage.htm

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

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Special Investigations Unit


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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 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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June 16, 2010

Internal BP email shows how the company handles a crisis

Posted: 12:52 PM ET

BP’s history provides a window into its corporate culture. In fact, you really don’t have to go back too far – just five years or so.

Texas plaintiff attorney Brent Coon represented many victims and their families after a 2005 BP explosion at a Texas City, Texas refinery, which killed 15 workers and injured 180 others.

Coon’s team uncovered more than seven million internal BP documents. He says most of the documents are BP emails, employee surveys, and other internal documents from the public relations department and chief counsel’s office.

One of those documents is an email that was written only three hours after the Texas City explosion happened. It was circulated throughout the company’s public relations department and to other managers at BP.

READ ENTIRE EMAIL HERE

The subject line said, “Media coverage and loss of life.” It says, “looks like injuries and loss of life are heavy,” but because the incident happened before a holiday weekend, the PR person notes the media coverage will probably just “go away.”

Then, the last line of the email states, “This is a very big story in the US right now - but the Terry [sic] Schiavo story is huge as well.”

Terri Schiavo was the 41-year-old, brain-damaged, Florida woman whose story about whether her feeding tube would be removed had captivated the country.

BP’s public relations team saw this as positive for the company. Remember, 15 people had died only a few hours before this email was written. The rescue workers were still removing bodies from the scene when this email was sent out.

Sadly, they were probably right. My guess is that most people outside of Texas have never even heard about the 2005 refinery explosion in Texas City. But if we had paid closer attention, perhaps we could have learned a long time ago about BP’s safety problems, and how some employees felt the company placed profit before people’s lives.

Now, because of the enormity of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, this story will not just “go away.”

We wanted to talk to BP about this email to get their side of the story. BP responded with a statement, but did not specifically address the email. Here is part of their response: “BP has worked diligently since the accident in March 2005 to address safety concerns at the Texas City site. BP has spent more than $1 billion at Texas City to address safety concerns since 2005. We continue to work cooperatively with OSHA to resolve these matters. We are determined to learn from this event and get better as a company.”

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Special Investigations Unit


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May 26, 2010

Bureaucrats and Bullies

Posted: 04:52 PM ET

It seems like every time we turn around there’s another report about a student being bullied at school. You’d think when a bully gets older, that kind of behavior would somehow go away. But maybe it doesn’t.

abbie

Recently, I interviewed a special agent with ATF. He’s been at the agency for nearly 24 years. Most of his time there was spent going undercover. He’s worked on cases involving white supremacist groups and the Hell’s Angels and murder for hire. If anyone were capable of intimidating someone or being a bully, I would think it would be him. But he told me he feels that he is the one being bullied by “bureaucrats” at ATF.

Vince Cefalu has filed a bunch of complaints dating back to 2006. But he says the one that really got him in trouble was his whistleblower complaint.

Cefalu says he was working in the property department and noticed there was missing equipment. He says he told his superiors about his discovery and they told him to “shut up.” He reported his findings anyway, and he said that is when the retaliation and bullying really began. He became an outcast. He says he was given a desk job, with no real responsibilities. All he does is sit there for eight hours, and then leaves. He says he considers this kind of work, the worst kind of punishment, and feels managers at ATF are trying to bully him into leaving the agency. It hasn’t worked yet.

Kenneth Melson, who runs ATF as deputy director, told me there hasn’t been retaliation since he took over last year. He says he will not tolerate reprisals against employees.

I’m interested in hearing more about adult bullies. Have you ever encountered a bully at work? If so, what happened? Has anyone ever tried to bully you into quitting your job? Do you know of other federal agencies where employees feel bullying and retaliation is a part of the operation?

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Special Investigations Unit • Uncategorized


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May 23, 2010

RICHARD ConFINEment

Posted: 09:57 PM ET

When I hear the term “contempt of court,” I right away imagine one of those courtroom dramas on TV, where some guy is yelling at a judge, the judge gets mad, and screams out from behind the bench, “I find you in contempt of court!” The belligerent person screams some kind of obscenity back, and is then handcuffed and hauled away by a bailiff. On TV, he’s let out of jail a day or two later when tempers have calmed down and egos have been set aside. But that’s TV. It’s a much different scenario for Richard Fine who has been held in contempt of court for 14 months now.

abbie

Fine is not a criminal – he’s a 70-year-old former Beverly Hills attorney, once known for his bow-tie.
I met him at the L.A. County Jail. He was wearing an orange jumpsuit and was handcuffed.

He considers himself a “political prisoner.” He’s been held in solitary confinement for more than one year (jail officials say that’s because other inmates could harm him), and he says he’s only been outside for about nine hours since he’s been locked up.

According to court documents, Fine is in jail because he refused to produce financial documents and answer questions when ordered to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees. That’s when Judge Yaffe put Fine in contempt of court, until Fine decided he wanted to give the court what it requested.

Well, so far, Fine is not in the mood to cooperate. Fine believes he is being held in contempt for a very different reason. He says Judge Yaffe, and other L.A. County Superior Court judges, have accepted what he calls “bribes” from the county. Fine argues the “bribes” create a conflict of interest for judges in cases where the county is a party to the lawsuit. He feels the judges should be disqualified from those cases.

L.A. County judges really do receive extra benefits from the county on top of their six-figure state salary. It’s a practice common in California that was retroactively made legal, after a 2008 case against L.A. County found the payments unconstitutional.

The county says the extra cash is a type of “supplemental benefit” that helps to attract and retain quality judges in a high-cost city. Fine doesn’t buy that argument, so for the past decade, he’s been going after judges and has tried to expose what he considers a “corrupt judicial system.”

But for the purpose of this blog, let’s put the details of his history aside for a moment, and just focus on why court officials say he’s in jail. It’s because he doesn’t want to hand over his financial records or answer questions. He is being held in what is called “coercive confinement.”

That means, unless he does what the judge wants him to do, he will remain in jail – in his case, indefinitely. It’s like the world’s longest timeout. Fine does not want to cooperate because he says he will lose his chance to appeal his case against Judge Yaffe, if he ever gets out of jail. But when does this stop being productive and start becoming a waste of everyone’s time?

Of course, we tried contacting Judge Yaffe. And of course, he said he did not want to talk to us about this case since it’s ongoing.

What will happen if Fine refuses to cooperate, and Judge Yaffe doesn’t put an end to this? Could this go on for another year, or maybe even more? At what point does “coercive confinement” become nothing more than an indefinite jail sentence.

Oh, and one more thing. In the last couple of months, L.A. County Jail released about 200 inmates before their terms were up because of budget shortages. A spokesman for the jail told me they sure could use Fine’s cell for real criminals.
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Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Special Investigations Unit


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February 18, 2010

At the 96th Hour

Posted: 11:27 AM ET

The more I learn about NATO’s 96-hour detainee rule, the more I wonder why military commanders and NATO politicians created it in the first place.

abbie

What I heard from nearly everyone I interviewed for this story is that the rule was developed in response to the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison. The world was watching, and no one wanted another humiliating display of detainee abuse. There had to be stricter rules when it came to detaining the enemy and there had to be a time limit on how long a suspect could be held. So, a small group of people agreed that 96 hours – or four days – was the magic number.

Nearly half of U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan are not operating under the U.S. military, but they are assigned to NATO. That means, nearly half of U.S. troops in Afghanistan are following NATO’s 96-hour rule. The soldiers we’ve interviewed say this rule caters to the enemy, and puts soldiers lives at risk. One former commander told me he would instruct his soldiers to “not bother” detaining the enemy anymore, because the 96-hour rule made it too difficult to keep someone locked up.

From the moment a soldier captures a suspect, the clock begins to tick. They have 96 hours to gather enough evidence to hand over to the Afghans, so that Afghan authorities can detain the suspects and do what they want with them. If the Afghans decide they don’t want to detain the suspect, the NATO soldiers have no other choice, but to release them.

We’ve talked to military experts, soldiers, former commanders on the ground, even people who helped implement this rule, and they all say the enemy knows about the time constraints, so they are trained to keep quiet for the 96 hours they are detained so soldiers will be forced to release them. How does this strategy make sense? How could anyone expect soldiers – who remember, are not trained to be police officers or criminal investigators – to gather all of the required evidence to lock someone up in just 96 hours? We certainly do not hold prosecutors to these strict time restrictions when they are building their case.

I have one very simple question for you: Do you think soldiers should risk their lives to detain the enemy under the 96-hour rule?

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Special Investigations Unit


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February 11, 2010

Texas, Pelosi and the doctor bills

Posted: 12:47 PM ET

A picture tells a thousand words: Taken in 2007, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is cutting the ribbon at the brand new Women's Hospital at Renaissance outside McAllen, Texas.

Everyone is smiling, and with good reason.

Once the ribbon-cutting ended, the schmoozing and fundraising began. The party moved to the home of the developer who built the hospital. The Texas Monthly reported the developer, and the doctors who also invested in his beautiful, sprawling, for-profit medical complex, handed over $800,000 in donations for Pelosi's Congressional Democrats.

One day, $800,000.

Why would a group of doctors and a big developer give so much money to Nancy Pelosi? There's a lot at stake here.

Two national studies about Medicare costs show why McAllen, Texas is a good example of why health care is costing all of us so much.

In McAllen, the medical bill for the average Medicare beneficiary is almost twice as much as the national average, and health care costs are growing faster here than almost everywhere else in the country.

Just walk down any street and you can see why. On almost every corner, in almost every strip mall, every office building, there are doctor's offices, MRI screening centers, medical testing facilities.

And believe me, they are all in use. In our report for Campbell Brown's show, we'll tell you about one patient with a swollen ankle who went through so many tests–including an ultrasound for the abdomen and one to determine testosterone levels–the Texas Medical Board finally said enough.

What a Dartmouth Atlas study found interesting is that all this healthcare being delivered in McAllen does not actually add up to better health.

Which brings me back to that picture and why doctors would invite Speaker Pelosi to dinner and raise money for her?

One doctor who was at this very fundraiser said, "Look at it this way," he told me. "If you are going to take my money way, I am going to bring you to my house, serve you a nice dinner, and do all I can to convince you not to do it.”

In 2009, the hospital's political action committee also donated to House and Senate candidates, including Republicans.

Now, I am in no way implying here that all the donations paid off... but when members of the House of Representatives voted 395 to 34 in December to approve a $636.3 billion defense appropriations bill, tucked inside was a provision that delayed a planned 21.2% cut in Medicare physician payments until Feb. 28, 2010.

And just this week, Democrats proposed the passage of a new jobs bill with yet another two month delay in those Medicare cuts.

Those doctors at the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance near McAllen, Texas, must be smiling again. 75% percent of their patients are on Medicare or Medicaid.

The speaker's office did get back to us and took offense to any suggestion political donations influenced any votes in Washington. "The House has on several occasions passed provisions strongly opposed by these doctors and any attempt to ignore this fact is nothing more than a cynical ploy to reach a conclusion that is simply false," Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said in a statement to CNN.

As for the payments to doctors treating Medicare patients, the rules apply to all doctors, the speaker's office told us, not just those she was pictured with in McAllen.

picture above: Courtesy www.EdinburghPolitics.com

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Special Investigations Unit


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February 8, 2010

US-Toyota-Recalls

Posted: 07:06 PM ET

By Drew Griffin, David Fitzpatrick and Steve Turnham

Some experts blame electronic throttle controls for Toyota's automotive problems.
Some experts blame electronic throttle controls for Toyota's automotive problems.

COLLEGE PARK, Maryland (CNN) - In his hectic, noisy laboratory at the
University of Maryland, Michael Pecht is wary when it comes to assessing
whether Toyota's suggested repair of sticky gas pedals will have any real
impact.

"They are in a bit of a quandary," Pecht, a professor at Maryland's Clark
School of Engineering, told CNN. "If they announce that electronics is a
problem, they are probably going to be in a lot of trouble, because nobody's
going to drive the car. So at this stage , they don't want to announce there is
any electronic problem."

For more on this story go here

Also check out this test video by the NHTSA

Filed under: Special Investigations Unit


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February 2, 2010

Judge seals videotape in Taser case

Posted: 04:52 PM ET

By David Fitzpatrick and Drew Griffin

WINNFIELD, Louisiana (CNN) - A judge has sealed a potentially explosive
videotape taken in the aftermath of a racially charged incident in this small
central Louisiana town two years ago.

On January 17, 2008, an unarmed man - wanted on what police said was an
outstanding arrest warrant - was struck by a 50,000-volt Taser nine times
within the space of 14 minutes.

The suspect, Baron "Scooter" Pikes, was handcuffed during each separate
Taser incident, according to the Winnfield Police Department. The officer who
fired the Taser, Scott Nugent, is white. Pikes, who was pronounced dead on
arrival at a hospital, was black.

CNN's account of the incident in the summer of 2008 relied on interviews
at the time with the local parish coroner, the police and an attorney for the
family of the victim.

Winn Parish Coroner Dr. Randy Williams told CNN that in his opinion,
Nugent had violated every police procedure for using a Taser on a suspect.
Moreover, contrary to initial police reports, Williams told CNN that there was
no trace of drugs in Pikes' system. The coroner ruled the death a homicide.

Subsequently, the officer was fired following a long civil service hearing and
is now on trial for manslaughter in Winnfield.

At the time, a lawyer for Nugent, Phillip Terrell, told CNN that his
client had, in fact, followed proper procedure and that Pikes was resisting
arrest and had fought with Nugent before being struck by the Taser.

The video sealed Monday by the judge shows the aftermath of Nugent's
Taser use, according to sources who have seen the tape. They told CNN that it
runs about 17 minutes and was shot by Nugent himself.

The tape begins with Pikes handcuffed to a chair in the Winnfield Police
Department, the sources said. He had already been hit by a so-called "direct"
stun - a Taser fired directly into his chest rather than from a distance –
and eight other Taser shots.

Off camera, voices can be heard taunting him, shouting the "N" word and
demanding to know if he was high on drugs, the sources said. The tape also
shows Pikes foaming at the mouth and struggling to breathe. He later slumps to
the floor and is ultimately taken to an emergency room with shackles around
both of his ankles. CNN has seen still photographs of the lifeless body, still
in leg shackles at the hospital.

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Special Investigations Unit


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