updated 7/25/2007 11:52:01 AM ET 2007-07-25T15:52:01

Guests Len Berman, Jim Gray, John Goodwin, Evan Roberts, Michael Franzese, Brandon Lang

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  We‘ve got breaking news tonight.  NFL superstar quarterback Michael Vick has just been ordered to stay away from the Atlanta Falcons training camp as the league reviews the dog fighting charges against him, which include hanging, shooting, even electrocuting dogs.

Tonight, NFL commissioner Roger Gooddell said in a letter to the NFL, quote, “While it is for the criminal justice system to determine your guilt or innocence, it is my responsibility, as commissioner of the National Football League, to determine whether your conduct, even if not criminal, nonetheless violated league policies, including the personal conduct policy.”  On Thursday, Vick was scheduled to appear both at training camp and in court to be arraigned.

Joining me now is WNBC sports anchor Len Berman.  Len, good to see you.  Len, let me ask you this.  The NFL in a statement just a week ago said the following.  “Michael Vick‘s guilt has not yet been proven, and we believe that all concerned should allow the legal process to determine the facts.”  Now, a week later, they‘re stepping in and saying, No, don‘t show up to Atlanta Falcons training camp.  What happened?

LEN BERMAN, WNBC SPORTS ANCHOR:  Do you think the voice of the people have been heard?  I mean, there have been protests outside the Atlanta Falcons offices today, as well as outside Nike in Oregon, by animal rights groups.  And they‘ve made their voices loud and clear, and I guess the NFL is listening.

ABRAMS:  What do you make of that, though?  I mean, generally, in these kinds of cases, Len, does the league allow the legal system to determine the facts first, or do they step in and take action?

BERMAN:  No, I think—I think what you say is true.  I think, first of all, you have to let it play out legally.  But these are different times in professional sports, and it cuts across the board.  I mean, here you have tomorrow morning, the NBA commissioner has to address the media abut one of its referees accused of gambling by the FBI.  You have the baseball commissioner, Bud Selig, intentionally staying away from San Francisco, where Barry Bonds has a chance to catch Hank Aaron with two more home runs.  So this cuts across the board.  I think the leagues are very sensitive to where they stand.  This is a get-tough commissioner.

ABRAMS:  What does it mean, though, Len, when they say, Don‘t show up for training camp?  I mean, does that mean for now, or does that mean he‘s pretty much done for the season?

BERMAN:  No, no.  I think this is just a “for now.”  He‘ll continue to be paid.  Listen, there‘s an irony here, Dan, in the fact that he was due to be arraigned on Thursday, the same day that the Atlanta Falcons are opening their training camp.  That would look awfully bad, if he‘s arraigned and then shows up on the football field, running around the next day.

I think this is all about image.  The NFL has real problems.  Roger Gooddell has tabbed himself as the get-tough commissioner.  He‘s done it with other players now.  So even though this is not exactly the way things are done in a court of law, I think sports has to take the forefront.  And I‘m really behind the commissioner on this one.

ABRAMS:  Look, I agree.  I think that this notion that somehow, the presumption of innocence means—which is a legal standard, a technical standard that applies to jurors and jurors only, the notion that that has to be applied to everything in life just isn‘t true.

Let me bring in Evan Roberts, WFAN sports radio host in New York, Jim Gray, ESPN and Westwood One Radio broadcaster, as well as Susan Filan, who is our legal analyst here.

All right, Jim, Gray, let me ask you this.  You were on this program a couple of days ago, and you were saying that you think the presumption of innocence ought to apply, that the league and the Falcons, in particular, shouldn‘t take action now.  Do you disagree with this decision?

JIM GRAY, ESPN, WESTWOOD ONE RADIO:  Well, that‘s not what I said.  I said we should give the man the presumption of innocence, Dan.  I also went on to say to your question, when asked—you said, Huh, the team‘s going to allow it—the league‘s going to allow it, and the team won‘t.  And I said, Hey, wait a second.  This is a long way from over.  And exactly that‘s what‘s happened here.

ABRAMS:  So do you...

GRAY:  There‘s been an onslaught of public opinion.  And there‘s just

you know, this is despicable, if these allegations are true.  And I also said that people love their dogs a lot more than they love football, so Michael Vick is in a whirlwind of trouble here.

ABRAMS:  Do you think it‘s the right decision here, Jim?

GRAY:  Absolutely.  You can‘t have this going on.  You can‘t have protests.  Pro football is entertainment.  It‘s also a sport, a competitive sport.  The team can‘t have this distraction.  The league can‘t have this distraction.  And clearly, the fans are irate about this.

ABRAMS:  Well, Susan Filan, look, as a legal matter, when people say the presumption of innocence, that would mean that nothing should happen.  If the presumption of innocence applied, that would mean no action should be taken against Michael Vick now.  But the bottom line is, I don‘t think that that standard has to apply outside a courtroom.

SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  No.  I think you‘re right.  And I think the commissioner took the exact right stance in his statement.  He said, We‘re not interfering with the criminal justice system.  Let it take its place.  In fact, what we‘re doing bears no resemblance to what...

ABRAMS:  Well, what about the argument...


FILAN:  ... doing our own investigation.

ABRAMS:  Susan, what about the argument that this will—this could taint any prospective jurors, if they hear that the NFL wasn‘t letting him come to training camp?  My goodness, that‘s going to impact a jury pool.  It‘s an argument I buy, but a lot of people make it.

FILAN:  You can‘t stop life because it might affect a jury.  You can‘t conduct life in a petrie dish so as not to affect a trial.  I mean, you got to cure that in voir dire.  Ask the jurors, Have you heard about it?  Will it affect you?  Can put it out of your minds?  It‘s not going to be introduced in a court of law.  It‘s not relevant to the trial.  But this commissioner did the absolute, dead-on right thing, and he did it the right way.

ABRAMS:  John Goodwin is deputy manager of the Humane Society of the United States and has been very involved in this case from the beginning.  He‘s been consulted, et cetera.  John, are you pleased with the announcement tonight?

JOHN GOODWIN, U.S. HUMANE SOCIETY:  I am very pleased with this announcement, and I hope that Michael Vick won‘t be stepping on the football field this year while the legal process does its thing.

ABRAMS:  Jim Gray, does that mean—do you think, as a practical matter, this means that he won‘t be stepping on the field?

GRAY:  No.  I think, Dan, that this is a long way from over.  I think that everybody has to ascertain and get the facts.  I spent some time yesterday with Robert Shapiro, who defended O.J. Simpson, and I asked him a question—we were talking about this case and what we knew of it, what‘s been in the press.  And I said, How come anybody hasn‘t been standing on top of a chair or standing on top of the state capital there in Atlanta and saying, My client is innocent, Michael Vick did not do this?  We haven‘t heard that.

Well, he hired Billy Williams today, of course—Billy Martin, rather, a Washington attorney who‘s been involved with several other sports cases,, including Jason Williams and Monica Lewinsky, amongst others.  But I just find it strange that there has been virtually no reaction from Michael Vick, his agent, the people around him, businesspeople...


GRAY:  ... associates, teammates...

ABRAMS:  I think...

GRAY:  But I think, to answer your question...

ABRAMS:  It‘s good point...

GRAY:  ... this is a long way from over.  Let the commissioner and the league now do their investigation, get the facts together and see what Michael Vick does.  We‘ve yet to hear from the union and Gene Upshaw exactly what they want to do.  So I don‘t think that—I think that this is the first step, and no, I don‘t think that this excludes him from playing.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right, Evan Roberts...

GRAY:  I just don‘t think—obviously, it doesn‘t look very good for him.

ABRAMS:  Evan Roberts...


ABRAMS:  Let me ask you—I mean, this is a big deal.  I mean, it seems to me—someone has a dog barking, which is sort of interesting.  Whoever—it‘s got to be John Goodwin from the Humane Society.

GOODWIN:  That‘s not me.  I‘m at your studio!

ABRAMS:  OK.  All right.  Somebody—anyway...


GRAY:  That happens to be my dog, who‘s...

ABRAMS:  Who is that?

GRAY:  This is Jim Gray.  And I love my dog, and...

ABRAMS:  All right.  Good.  Good.  Good.

GRAY:  Somebody‘s at the door.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Good.  Evan Roberts, how big a deal—I mean, it sounds to me, or to the outsider, when you say, Don‘t show up for training camp—now, that‘s a pretty big statement and a big deal.

EVAN ROBERTS, WFAN SPORTS RADIO HOST:  Oh, I mean, he‘s saying, Don‘t show up to training camp for now.  That‘s the thing about it.  I don‘t—you know, to me, it seems to me like almost the commissioner is saying, Give me another week or two to investigate more and make a firmer decision because he‘s not saying, You‘re not playing this year.  He‘s not saying, Don‘t show up to training camp at all, he‘s just saying, For now, don‘t show up.  And it‘s not like a decision‘s going to be made in a court of law on Michael Vick in the next three weeks, so it almost seems like the commissioner‘s just kind of putting this off for a little bit.

ABRAMS:  But Evan, won‘t it be harder, though, for him now to say, OK, we‘ve taken a week to investigate, and blank.  Therefore, you can go back to training camp?

ROBERTS:  No, I don‘t think he can now.  I mean, how can possibly in a week or so say, Well, we did our research...

ABRAMS:  Right.

ROBERTS:  ... and we came up with, Well, it‘s OK, you can come back to camp.  Now he‘s almost put himself a position where in a couple of weeks, he‘s going to have to say, You can‘t show up.

And I think they‘ve set the standard in the NFL over the last couple of months to where they don‘t need, you know, a conviction to not let Michael Vick play.  Look what happened to Pacman Jones.  I mean, Pacman had a lot of things go wrong in his life, and he hasn‘t been convicted of anything right now.  He‘s just such a bad apple that the NFL wants better publicity, so they‘re telling Pacman, Don‘t show up, and they‘ve suspended him.  So right now, he‘s put himself in a position, the commissioner, where he can‘t two weeks from now say...

ABRAMS:  Right.

ROBERTS:  ... Michael, you can come to camp.

ABRAMS:  Right.  Let me ask Len Berman about that.  Len, I mean, look, we‘re saying this only temporary.  We‘re saying that he‘s waiting on a decision.  But isn‘t it almost impossible for the NFL to say to him, Don‘t come now, we‘re going to continue our investigation, and then—you know, they‘re going to—not going to be able to turn up evidence somehow of his innocence in the meantime, I don‘t think.  Unless they do that, can they have him go back to camp?

BERMAN:  Well, I think it will depend on how the legal proceedings play out.  I mean, if all of a sudden, the court decides, or however—whatever the next step is, that they have to take a break or a time-out or whether this is going to go on for a while, this is going to drag out, the league could certainly say, OK, we‘re going to let you play pending the court action.  But no, I think that once you start this ball rolling, I agree with you, I think it‘ll very difficult to get him back into a football camp this year.

ABRAMS:  Susan Filan, there really is no—no legal break that‘s going to occur, is there?  I mean, is there going to be any legal out here, I guess is what—is what Len is talking about.  Is there a legal out whereby...

FILAN:  You mean, is there going to...

ABRAMS:  ... in the process...

FILAN:  Is there going to be a break for a commercial?  Absolutely not!

ABRAMS:  No, no, no.  No, but I don‘t want to...

FILAN:  Once this ball starts rolling...

ABRAMS:  I don‘t mean to mock it.  No, but I mean seriously, is there going to be any time...


ABRAMS:  ... whereby something could happen, whereby the NFL could say, Aha, here‘s an opportunity to say let‘s let him back in?

FILAN:  No.  We‘re on track now in court.  Now, there‘s going to either be a guilty plea, not guilty, acquittal after a jury finding or a hung jury.  That trial is not going to happen today, tomorrow or the next day.

ABRAMS:  Let me tell you—let me tell you...

FILAN:  And I don‘t think he‘s ready to plead out.

ABRAMS:  Let me tell what I think was important, as well.  And I‘m not saying that this has necessarily influenced it, but this kind of statement.  This is Democratic senator Robert Byrd, talking on the Senate floor about what this case meant to him.


SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA:  The training of these poor creatures to turn themselves into fighting machines is simply barbaric.  Barbaric.

I am confident that the hottest places in hell are reserved for the souls of sick and brutal people who hold God‘s creatures in such brutal and cruel contempt!


ABRAMS:  Evan Roberts, how much does the NFL respond to statement like that and the response from the public?

ROBERTS:  Oh, they respond to the people and the public.  There‘s no

doubt about that.  And they respond to the fact that PETA‘s been protesting

and they respond to the fact that—you know, public opinion pretty much

says nobody wants Michael Vick to play.  People love their dogs.  They‘re

disgusted by these accusations against him.  And I think the NFL, who‘s had

so much bad publicity over the last couple of months and last couple of

years with, you know, a lot of players doing terrible things off the field

very sensitive to it.  I mean, this is a bad time because of the fact they‘ve had so many terrible things happen off the field that they‘re extra-sensitive than they were, say, five years ago.

GOODWIN:  That‘s exactly right, Dan.  A quarter of a million people sent e-mails to the NFL through Humanesociety.org.  They received over 1,000 phone calls.  That‘s is an immense outpouring of public support for the pro-animal—the anti-dog-fighting position.

ABRAMS:  And real quick, Len, as we wrap this up.  You know, let‘s be real clear that Michael Vick is a major player here.

BERMAN:  Yes, he is.

ABRAMS:  We‘re not talking about just any player in the NFL, right?

BERMAN:  Oh, absolutely, a star quarterback.  This is really a big, big thing, and you know, if I had to make a guess right now, I would assume that you‘re not going to see him playing football for a very long time.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Len Berman, Evan Roberts, Jim Gray, John Goodwin, Susan Filan, you know, I appreciate all of you coming together, so last-minute because this really happened at the last minute.  Really appreciate you guys taking the time to talk about this.  Thanks a lot.

FILAN:  You bet.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, another scandal rocking sports world, a former NBA ref accused in a betting scam involving the Mob.  I‘ll tell you why it could turn into the downfall of the NBA.

Plus, new developments in the case of missing mom leading a secret life as an escort.  Police have named a person of interest in the case, a man who may have one of Paige Birgfeld‘s clients.  We‘ve got the very latest on that investigation.

And later: The U.S. military and many police departments across the country cracking down on those with tattoos.  Men and women willing to die for their country, but they can‘t have tattoos.  We debate with one of the stars of the show “Miami Ink,” coming up.


ABRAMS:  Tonight, a former NBA referee accused of betting on his own games and working for the Mob fears for his life.  Tim Donaghy called police to his Florida home Sunday after receiving what he said were two life-threatening phone calls.  “The New York Post” reports today, quote, “His family is even urging him to enter the federal witness protection program because they think he‘ll be killed for ratting on the Mob.”  Donaghy plans to surrender to authorities later this week and cooperate with the FBI, possibly giving up the names of other refs or NBA players, if there were any other involved in any kind of gambling ring.

The NBA, for its part, is in full damage control mode tonight.  League commissioner David Stern plans to hold a press conference tomorrow morning.

My take.  This could quickly move from a small investigation into a rogue ref into the downfall of the National Basketball Association and maybe beyond.  This is the worst sort of allegation, that one of the arbiters, the judges, the individuals with the power to decide right from wrong may have been corrupted by money and the Mob.  Sure, throughout history, there have been documented cases of players, even teams accused of playing or not playing for an illegal payoff, from the 1919 (INAUDIBLE) White Sox to the 1951 college hoops point shaving scandal to the ‘85 Tulane basketball team.

But this is different and potentially far more damaging.  If it turns out a fix was in and that more than just this ref was involved—if—and they that were actually making decisions to achieve a particular outcome for money, then the current NBA could land a place in history and ignominy alongside the quiz show “21” as one of the most compelling and yet corrupted games in American history.

Joining me now is Michael Franzese.  He‘s a former mobster with the New York Colombo crime family.  He now counsels NBA and major league baseball rookies, warning them about the dangers of gambling.  Professional sports handicapper Brandon Lang.  And still with us is former prosecutor, MSNBC senior legal analyst Susan Filan.  Thanks to all of you for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

All right, Michael, look, I know you can‘t know specifically about this case, but with your time in the Mob, did they try and infiltrate pro sports?

MICHAEL FRANZESE, FMR MOB CAPTAIN, COLOMBO CRIME FAMILY:  Oh, sure.  I mean, guys in the Mob, you know, we live to gamble and we‘re in the business of gambling.  And of course, if you can get around a sports figure or somebody associated with the game, I mean, you know, you‘d love to have that situation, no doubt.

ABRAMS:  Now, the allegation, Michael, is that he—they knew he was a gambler.  He may have owed some money, et cetera.  And then they started making demands on him for information.  Again, is that the way the Mob would work in a case like this?

FRANZESE:  That‘s the way it would go down.  If he was into a bookmaker and he had no other way to pay the money back, I mean, they would demand that he paid it back someone.  And I‘m sure either the offer was made or the suggestion was made that he do it in a game.

ABRAMS:  With the—with the knowledge that he may be talking now, do you think his life is in danger?

FRANZESE:  Well, I think he‘s got to be concerned, obviously.  The more high-profile the case becomes, I think the less you would have to worry because, you know, people are looking at him, and guys certainly don‘t want to do those things and get in trouble for it.  But I would say he has to be concerned, yes.

ABRAMS:  And why do you think that they would go after a ref, as opposed to a player?

FRANZESE:  Well, I mean, a ref, especially in basketball, certainly, you know, has the power to influence the outcome of a game.  And I don‘t think they went after him, so to speak.  You know, there‘s a fallacy out there that maybe Mob guys go looking for this situation.  It seems to me that he was gambling with a bookmaker, probably wasn‘t gambling in Vegas, where people would notice him.  He was gambling with a bookmaker, got in deep.  Bookmakers have contacts and connections with people in organized crime.  Most of them are controlled by Mob guys.  And his name got out, and they went to him and said, Hey, this is the deal.  You‘re going to pay us or else.

ABRAMS:  Were you ever in the position of going and threatening someone in that kind of situation?

FRANZESE:  Well, look, I mean, I got to be honest.  I was heavy into gambling, and that‘s one of the reasons why the league selected me, because I‘ve had that experience.  I had a number of bookmakers who worked with me.  We had a number of people in sports betting with us.  And yes, if they didn‘t pay, you know, they had to—they were forced to compromise a game or to—you know, to do something else.  They had to go get the money somehow.

ABRAMS:  And did you yourself—were you yourself involved in those kind of threats?

FRANZESE:  I was, yes.

ABRAMS:  Brandon, what you make of this about going after a ref as opposed to a player?

BRANDON LANG, PRO SPORTS HANDICAPPER:  Well, it‘s funny.  I was on national TV a year-and-a-half ago, and I was asked if players would fix games in this day and age.  And I said, You can‘t because the marquee players make millions of dollars.   It‘s not in their interest.  And I said point blank it wouldn‘t surprise me in the next couple of years if we saw an NBA or college official be in this position.

I agree with Mike from the standpoint that he probably got in deep with a bookmaker, and his only way out was to, of course, shave points or fix games to save his butt.  The amazing thing to me is, is that his colleagues didn‘t know.

There‘s a game in question on February 26.  The Knicks were at home against the Miami Heat.  They were a four-and-half-point favorite, meaning the Knicks had to win that game by five.  In that contest, there was a foul called with eight seconds to go that put the Knicks at the line, two free throws.  They won the game by six.  In that game, the Knicks shot 39 free throws to the Miami Heat‘s 8 free throws -- 31 free throw differential in that contest.

You‘re telling me that his colleagues walking off the floor, the other two refs, weren‘t scratching their heads saying, There‘s something fishy about this?  He had an officiating crew that he officiated with.  I‘m surprised that this did not come out earlier.  Two years this has been going on.  His colleagues had to know to a certain degree.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me take a break here.  When we come back:

We‘ll hear from the NBA in the morning.  There are reports tonight the NBA was investigating Donaghy for months.  So the question, of course, is why did they let him keep working?  We‘ll also talk to Mike a little bit more about what was happening in his world.

And later: Call it the morning snooze, an anchor asleep on the air. 

That‘s next in “Beat the Press.”


ABRAMS:  Today “The New York Daily News” reports that the NBA knew of referee Tim Donaghy‘s gambling problem and hired a private eye to investigate him 18 months ago, decided to let him continue to officiating games anyway.

We‘re back with former Mob member Michael Franzese, pro sports handicapper Brandon Lang and MSNBC senior legal analyst Susan Filan.

All right, Susan, so we know now at least the broad allegations.  We know they‘re bringing him in to talk.  We know that he may offer up information and may help.  He has called the authorities now twice apparently with some sort of death threats.  Do you think it‘s more likely that the death threats are coming from Mob members or members of the public who are angry about him ruining the reputation of the NBA?

FILAN:  No, I don‘t think it‘s from the public.  I mean, I think this guy has legitimate reason to be very, very concerned, and I think he is between such a rock and a hard place now that he has to go to law enforcement, who‘s going to have to punish him for his involvement because that‘s better than dealing with the people that are after him.  I mean, rock and a hard place—you know, lose your life or go to prison.  He‘s—you know, he‘s picking to work with the law enforcement officials to save his skin.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Brandon, how big a deal is it that the NBA knew of something a while back?

LANG:  It‘s absolutely huge.  I mean, you can‘t get by the fact that if they knew and allowed this man to continue to officiate, that just shows me that they knew about it, they tried to sweep it under the carpet.  How can you handle a situation like this while the regular season is going on?  It would have been a nightmare.  But sweep it underneath the carpet, let‘s get this season over with, and then maybe we can handle it on the interior.  And it has blown up very bad for the NBA.

ABRAMS:  All right, Michael, now, give us the behind-the scenes angle here from the Mob perspective.  As you point out, this is now a high profile case.  They‘re probably meeting and talking about this, any people who are possibly connected here.  What are they saying?

FRANZESE:  Well, it‘s damage control at this point, you know?  And I agree with the prosecutor, it‘s most likely that he did get these threats, if they occurred, from guys on the street.  And right now, they‘re saying, Hey, what are we going to do?  This is all about damage control because if he cooperates to help himself and to protect his life, then those guys potentially have a serious problem also.

ABRAMS:  Real quick, when you‘re counseling rookies in these leagues, what are you saying to them?

FRANZESE:  You know, I let them understand, number one, main thing is you‘re in a gambling situation, it going to put you around the wrong people, these type of people.  You‘re gambling with a bookmaker, most likely, they‘re connected.  People start to know you‘re a gambler, they‘re going to want to get around you, try to, you know, befriend you, try to get you in the hole so that you can possibly compromise the outcome of a game.

And I agree with Brandon.  Our pro players today, it makes no sense for them to try to throw a game.  If they lose money, they have enough money to pay their bookie or pay off their debt.  But it‘s our college athletes that you really have to be concerned about because they get themselves into a situation where they can‘t pay the tab, and the only way to make up the difference is on a game.

ABRAMS:  All right.  There‘s a press conference tomorrow.  We‘re going to stay on top of this story.  Thank you, Michael Franzese, Brandon Lang.  Susan Filan‘s going to stick around for another topic.

Coming up: More a third of people under 30 have tattoos, but now the military and some law enforcement agencies are cracking down, limiting the tattoos their members are allowed to display.  We debate with one of the stars of “Miami Ink” coming up.


ABRAMS:  Tattoo crackdown.  The military and police now limiting the number of tattoos its rank-and-file can display or even have.  The new policies follows a recent federal court ruling that says tattoos are not protected by the First Amendment. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  At the beginning, I was naive.  I really didn‘t know I was marking myself as a low-class slut, murderer, horrible, nasty person.  I was like a hippy artist.  Oh, it‘s so pretty.  I feel so pretty.  Don‘t you think it‘s pretty?  Oh, I can still find a husband and find a job and, you know, live a normal life.  I didn‘t realize it was like a lifestyle and from then on I was marking myself as someone who won‘t necessarily take orders. 


ABRAMS:  My take, sure, some regulation makes sense.  A cop with a visible swastika tattoo or a naked woman on his forearm shouldn‘t be permitted to display it, but (INAUDIBLE) aware, according to a recent poll, 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 26 and 40 have at least one tattoo.  It seems pretty outdated to say people can‘t them.

Now, look, I‘ve never had a tattoo, never even considered getting one, but some of the military policies are downright arcane.  The Marines say tattoos must be documented and that visible sleeve tattoos aren‘t allowed.  The Air Force prohibits tattoos that cover more than 25 percent of exposed body parts and any above the collar bone.  I like the Army‘s policy.  It‘s simple and permissive.  Recruits can have tattoos, unless they‘re offensive. 

Joining me now is Darren Brass, a tattoo artist who appears on the TLC show “Miami Ink.”   He received his first tattoo on his 18th birthday.  And Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels, who supports serious regulation. 

All right, Curtis, you know, there all these different policies out there.  You want to just say, what, no to tattoos for anyone in the military, any cops? 

CURTIS SLIWA, RADIO HOST:  Well, I‘d say, Dan, first off, if you are in the service or if you‘re a civil servant providing public safety, you shouldn‘t be going out and getting the tattoos to begin with.  But, if all of a sudden you took the test to be the best or you decided to join Uncle Sam, you may have to buff off some of those tattoos.  You may have to get laser surgery.  You may have to do a number of things...

ABRAMS:  Why? 

SLIWA:  ... because most tattoos don‘t say, “I Love Mom” anymore.  I mean, you see that Chinese language up and down, you know what that‘s saying?  And, by the way, when you have...


ABRAMS:  You do?

SLIWA:  That‘s like skywriting at night.  It‘s ridiculous!

ABRAMS:  You do?  Translate for me.  What does the Chinese lettering say?

SLIWA:  Well, I see many of the NBA ball players with Chinese lettering up and down, and it looks ridiculous.  But if you‘re a civil servant or if you‘re in the military and serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, Muslim and Jews, as you know, they don‘t believe in tattoos. 

ABRAMS:  Curtis, look, you choose to wear an outfit, right, publicly, every time you‘re on television, et cetera.  No one says to you, “Curtis Sliwa, you shouldn‘t be allowed to wear that outfit” or “You look ridiculous” or “I wouldn‘t hire you,” et cetera.  So why are you making judgment on these people, particularly military and police, who want to express themselves?

SLIWA:  Dan, oh, yes, tattoos are like junkies shooting up.  You don‘t just stop with one.  You get one, two, three, four.  And where do you stop?  “F.U.” on your knuckles?  Or maybe the mama baby‘s name on the side of the neck?  Come on, Dan, you have to have some rules and regulations.  I would say, if you‘re going to have a tattoo, make sure that it‘s going to be covered by some apparel and certainly make sure that it‘s not offensive to any people that you‘re going to have to be interacting with. 

ABRAMS:  I agree with that.

But, Darren Brass, go ahead. 

DARREN BRASS, TATTOO ARTIST:  I just want to say that some of the statements that I‘ve just heard out of Curtis are some of the most ignorant, borderline racist statements I‘ve heard in quite some regarding tattooing.  I mean, to even compare it to a junkie or to compare it to, you know, someone who isn‘t or shouldn‘t be an authoritative figure in society is just plain ignorance.  It‘s a very narrow-minded way of viewing tattooing.

If someone wants to express themselves, and by expressing themselves it doesn‘t get in the way of anything they do or their purpose at hand, then what‘s the problem with it?  It‘s because of ignorant statements like Curtis‘ or ignorant thinking like that that, when I walk into a restaurant or that I walk into a hotel, I‘m occasionally asked, “Sir, are you in the right place?”  What do my tattoos have to do with anything?  Again, it‘s borderline racism, is what he‘s talking about.

ABRAMS:  But I think it applies even more so when you‘re talking about people who are willing to put their lives at stake. 

BRASS:  Exactly.

ABRAMS:  I mean, when you‘re talking about our military, men and women who are choosing, who are saying, you know what, I‘m willing to give up myself for my country, and then the country says back to him, “OK, that‘s great, except I don‘t the fact that you have a flower on your arm.”  That seems to me to be a problem. 

BRASS:  It seems to be a major problem.  I mean, if someone‘s willing to give themselves and they perform to a level where there shouldn‘t be a problem with anything, where is the tattoo going to get in the way of their performance or in the way of them protecting us, protecting society?  Most of the tattoos I‘ve done for the military or men in the military are patriotic tattoos.  What‘s wrong with that?

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you that.  Do you feel like you‘re doing a lot of tattoos for military and police? 

BRASS:  Absolutely, I mean, that‘s a large part of our clientele, our military, our policemen, our firefighters.  And it‘s been that way in society for ages.  And does that make all those people bad people?  Are they doing a wrong thing?  Are they going—I mean, maybe they‘re going against the grain.  They still to adhere to society and to laws.  I mean, what does the tattoo have to do about that?

SLIWA:  You guys couldn‘t be more hopelessly naive.  You pointed out, you walked into a hotel and immediately you got profiled because years ago...

BRASS:  Exactly, I got profiled.  Why?

SLIWA:  ... people who got tattoos would be part of a freak show. 

Guys in prison have tattoos.  Gang bangers have tattoos galore.  Why do the most negative elements of society, like bikers, 1 percenters, Hells Angels, why do they have tattoos all over?  Because they‘re antisocial.  They‘re enemies of society.  They want to project that...


ABRAMS:  Curtis, 40 percent of people 26 to 40 now have tattoos, 40 percent!

SLIWA:  Yes, but you know where some of those tattoos are.

BRASS:  Are they all criminals?

SLIWA:  Have you ever looked at the backside of a gal and see where those tattoos go down?  Now, would you want somebody in law enforcement or in the military having that kind of tattoo?  Come on.  It should be buffed off, lasered off.  The technology can do it.

ABRAMS:  Let me play a piece of sound.  This is from a woman who

working at Bloomingdales talking about—I‘ll let you get back in, Darren

talking about discrimination here. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When I worked at Bloomingdales, I was working in sales.  Sell, you know, a skirt and tie every day, suit, behind the watch counter, being like, you know, like real soft spoken, and then sometimes I‘d have to reach for something, and they‘d see the little arm peak out, and you see them nudging somebody, you know, “Look at his arm.”  And I kind of just usually ignore that stuff.


ABRAMS:  Obviously, that was a man in that shot.

Go ahead, Darren. 

BRASS:  I just think it‘s unfortunate that a society views things in the narrow-minded, ignorant sense that they do and that Curtis backing here.  You know, again, and like he said, I‘m going to be profiled?  I‘m profiled because I‘m tattooed?  I‘m an upstanding citizen.  I have a show that‘s broadcasted internationally for what I do and for the service that I provide people.  I don‘t think that a network like Discovery Network would back somebody who is a bad person, who isn‘t—or someone that society should look down upon.  And I mean, who is Curtis to judge?  It‘s just one man‘s opinion.

SLIWA:  You‘re an exotic.  You‘re an eccentric, but that doesn‘t necessarily mean you should be flashing tattoos if you‘re 5-0, if you‘re a police officer, or if you‘re a member of the military.

ABRAMS:  All right, Darren Brass and Curtis Sliwa, we‘re going to wrap it up there.  Be share to catch “Tattoos: Skin Deep,” airing August 1st at 11:00 p.m. right here on MSNBC.  Thanks to both of you very much for coming on the program.  Appreciate it. 

Time for tonight‘s “Beat the Press,” our daily look back at the absurd and sometimes amusing perils of live TV.  First up, long nights and slow traffic reports can sometimes make even the morning news anchor a little groggy.  Here‘s anchor Bob Bruce of Pittsburgh‘s WPXI during the traffic report. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... pushing back toward the Churchill interchange, and we also have a traffic light along Route 28, we have right now, along Route 28, heading into the city of Province...


ABRAMS:  I‘m not saying he was sleeping.  I don‘t know.  It kind of looks like it. 

Next up, our friend, Campbell Brown, said goodbye to NBC and the “Today” show this weekend.  She will be missed by everyone here. 


CAMPBELL BROWN, “TODAY” SHOW:  This is my last weekend on the show.  I‘m leaving the “Today” show and NBC News.  I‘m going to be pursuing a new opportunity in television that I‘ll talk about at a later time. 


ABRAMS:  All right, that new opportunity is over at CNN, where the CNN president, Jon Klein, proclaimed today, “Our ratings are moving exactly in the right direction.”  The right direction?  MSNBC has beaten CNN for the past two weeks in the all-important sales prime period of 7:00 to 2:00 a.m.  What they really mean, Campbell, is, “Help us, please!”  Good luck, Campbell.  They need it. 

Finally, it‘s a sad day here at “Beat the Press.”  This week, the paper that bills itself as the world‘s only reliable newspaper announced its final edition.  “The Weekly World News” will cease publication next month.  Those of us who searched long and hard for the real stories about real people will now be forced to look elsewhere for our news.  Some of their headlines will undoubtedly remain journalistic milestones:  “Bat Boy Leads Cop on Three-State Chase,” “Two-Ton Alien Hairball Found in Australia,” “The Moon is Made of Green Cheese, But What About Mars?”, “Discovery Proves Cavemen Invented Rock Music,” and, of course, a personal favorite, “Angel of Death Visits Earth.”  The final collector‘s edition of “Weekly World News” will be out on August the 3rd

Still ahead, police now have named a person of interest in the case of a missing mom leaving a double life as an escort, and he may have been one of her clients.  The very latest on the search for Paige Birgfeld, next.

And later...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Stop this!  Stop this right now!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Have a nice day. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (Bleep) you.  Have a nice day, my (bleep). 


ABRAMS:  You remember this attack on an unsuspecting reporter, all caught on tape?  Now, the man beating him up has been sentenced and he is one of our big losers.  Tonight, we‘ll be talking to the reporter, coming up. 


ABRAMS:  There‘s a big development tonight in the case of that missing Colorado mom who led a secret life as an escort.  Police now have named a person of interest.  He‘s Lester Ralph Jones.  He works in an auto repair shop, close to where Paige Birgfeld‘s burned-out car was found.  His number was discovered on her cell phone.  Police have searched his house twice.  Birgfeld has been missing since June 28th when she disappeared shortly after missing with her ex-husband.  Massive search effort, investigation have come up empty so far, but some of her belongings, including checks and a video rental card, were reportedly found strewn along a highway, not far from her home in Grand Junction, Colorado. 

Birgfeld has three children and sold kitchenware, but she also had an alias.  She went by Carrie on the “Naughty Night Life” Web site, where she advertised her escort services.  She even wrote that clients could fly her in for a visit via chartered jet. 

Joining me now is Jon Leiberman of “America‘s Most Wanted,” and former prosecutor and MSNBC senior legal analyst Susan Filan.

All right, Jon, what do we know about this guy? 

JON LEIBERMAN, CORRESPONDENT, “AMERICA‘S MOST WANTED”:  Well, it‘s not looking good for this guy.  I‘ll tell you, he is just a person of interest right now, but his criminal history speaks to violence against women.  This guy was sentenced to 10 years in prison for violating a restraining order against his ex-wife, then kidnapping her, threatening to kill her, and forcing her to have sex with him.  That is not a good picture for this guy.  They‘ve searched his house twice.  They‘ve gotten bags and bags of potential evidence, including evidence like a bed liner, a mattress liner.  They‘re clearly looking for some physical evidence to link him to this crime. 

ABRAMS:  Do we know that he was a client of hers? 

LEIBERMAN:  We‘re being told that he was, indeed, a client.  And some local media there in Grand Junction is reporting the same.  We‘re also being told that his cell phone number did pop up on Paige‘s phone the day that she went missing.  And, I might add, she apparently told her ex-husband, who she spent the day with, that she was visiting with at least one client on the night that she went missing. 

ABRAMS:  So she admitted to her ex-husband what she was doing? 

LEIBERMAN:  Yes, she admitted to her ex-husband.  He kind of had an inkling of it, but she told him pretty much straight up, “I‘m meeting with one client tonight,” and that was the last that we heard from her. 

ABRAMS:  Any other persons of interest that have been announced, Jon? 

LEIBERMAN:  Well, you know, police have called both of her ex-husbands persons of interest, but that‘s pretty much standard.  Those two guys have pretty much rock solid alibis.  So as of right now, this is the most serious person of interest that they have in the case. 

ABRAMS:  Here is her father, when he was on this program, and he said he knew nothing about her secret life.  And he said—let me read this—

“If she broke both her legs five miles away, she‘d crawl back on her elbows to her kids.  This is not a runaway.” 

And, Susan Filan, the fact that this car was found, also on fire, her car, and some of her personal items strewn on the side of the road, they can‘t be particularly helpful? 

SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  No, and he was a car mechanic, a car repairman, and the burning car was found at his car repair lot.  What I think is significant is generally we do look to those close to her, an ex-husband.  She‘s got two ex-husbands.  Police have said that they are fully cooperative, that their alibis check out, and that they‘re not seriously considering them. 

She was also reconciling with one of her ex-husbands.  They were getting back together.  He said that he considered that they were in a committed relationship, and yet she did tell him, “I‘m meeting with one, possibly two, clients tonight,” and now we‘ve never heard or seen from her again.

ABRAMS:  Let me play this piece of sound from the father when he was on this program, then I want to ask Jon a question. 


FRANK BIRGFELD, MISSING COLORADO MOM‘S FATHER:  I know nothing about that life and certainly nothing about those people.  Having said that I would say it is a nice fertile area to look at, keeping in mind that, who knows, maybe she was just a victim of a robbery or carjacking.


ABRAMS:  Jon, was she telling her ex-husband that she was going to be an escort, meaning have sex with men for money?  Or was she saying, “Oh, I‘m involved in this acupuncture business, massage, et cetera”? 

LEIBERMAN:  Yes, it sounds like she indicated that it was more than just acupuncture, but she didn‘t come out with all the details.  And, look, that makes this investigation that much harder, because normally you have a circle of people that are very small with a person, but when you have a whole secret life, police keep peeling away layer after layer.  They‘re finding all these people that she could have had contact with.

FILAN:  And, Dan, I think that one of the reasons she said that her marriage, which lasted about three years, went on the rocks is because she really wanted to be a stripper.  And her husband had a little bit of difficulty with that, but eventually she did start stripping.

ABRAMS:  Shocker.

FILAN:  It led to more.  And he did eventually know about that.  When they were reconciling, that was going to become part of how they were going to live together, because that was something she wasn‘t willing to give up. 

ABRAMS:  All right, so you see there, this is the ad that she put up with the details of what she was offering.  “Tired of chopped meat showing up when you ordered filet mignon?” 

All right, let me put up the picture of her.  This is Paige Birgfeld, age 34, 5‘4,” weight 110, hair, sandy brown, eyes hazel, she was last seen on June 28th.  All right, Jon and Susan, thanks a lot, appreciate it. 

FILAN:  Night, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Up next, Harry Potter is finally legal.  A group of bikini-wearing lawn mowers is barely legal, and a couple finds out that beating up a reporter is just plain illegal.  But are any of them arresting enough to be tonight‘s big winner?  That‘s next.



ABRAMS (voice-over):  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” for this 23rd day of July 2007.

The first loser, the Department of Agriculture.  A new report reveals that, over the course of seven years, more than a billion dollars in department funds went to dead farmers. 

The first winner, the agricultural efforts of Tiger Time Lawn Care company for trying to keep both lawns and libidos alive.  They‘re offering up a team of beauties ready to mow your lawn in bikinis. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s also good for a tan, which I need.

ABRAMS:  The second loser, adult country crooner Mindy McCready, whose childish behavior earned her a battery charge on Saturday.  McCready reportedly got into a scuffle with her mother and ended up with a gash on her nose. 

The second winner?  Child star Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter, who wouldn‘t have to scuffle with his parents over allowance anymore.  He‘s 18 today.  That means big party, and he finally gets access to nearly $40 million he‘s earned.  Now, the boy wizard may decide to have that lawn mowed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Absolutely fantastic.

ABRAMS:  But the big winner of the day, French long jumper Salim Sdiri, who‘s still standing tall after being nailed from behind by a javelin.  A Finnish athlete slipped before throwing.  Sdiri was injured but appears to be OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And it‘s actually hit an athlete.

ABRAMS:  And the big loser?  Sam Suleiman, who‘s now serving a year behind bars for nailing a TV reporter.  FOX‘s John Mattes also recovered.  He was investigating a real estate scam involving Suleiman and his wife when they attacked Mattes on camera.  His wife will have to perform 30 days of community service. 


ABRAMS:  So those sentences enough for this guy?  Joining me from San Diego is the reporter who suffered cracked ribs at the hands of Suleiman, FOX News 6 investigative reporter, John Mattes.  John, thanks for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.  All right, is it enough?

JOHN MATTES, FOX NEWS 6, SAN DIEGO:  He‘s off the street.  That‘s the important thing.  For the victims, for the people that he‘s terrorized over the year, I was just one of many.  He is off the streets.  He‘s incarcerated.  So was his sentence enough?  From a pragmatic standpoint, yes.  Obviously, from the standpoint of all the victims, perhaps not. 

ABRAMS:  Let me play a piece of sound.  This is him talking in court, and he still seems unwilling to say, “You know what?  It was my fault.  I was wrong.”  Here‘s what he said.


SAM SULEIMAN, ATTACKED JOHN MATTES:  As much as (INAUDIBLE) I think he manipulates his job.  I think he uses a microphone as a deadly weapon.  (INAUDIBLE) but he said everything that he possibly could to destroy my career, and he succeeded. 


ABRAMS:  Is this guy out of his mind?  I mean, what‘s the matter with this guy?

MATTES:  Well, he‘s obsessed with me.  He was attacking my reporting.  He doesn‘t know me from Adam.  What he was upset about was my reporting on allegations of mortgage fraud.  And I stand by those reports that I did.  And I continued to report on him.  Sadly, I didn‘t know it, he was stalking me for three weeks and bushwhacked me.

ABRAMS:  What do you make of his wife getting 30 days?  I mean, she‘s going to be out there.  Are you nervous, seriously, that they might come after you?

MATTES:  Well, certainly I do look over my shoulder, and I have taken precautions, but with his wife and with him when he comes out, they‘re going to be under strict court supervision.  They‘re going to be on probation, and the court will then have a handle on them and be able to bring them in if they cross the line. 

ABRAMS:  I don‘t know.  This guy seems a little frightening.  He talks about, you know, he sent letters to your station and nobody responded.  He left messages.  Why would anyone respond to him? 

MATTES:  Well, I mean, why would he call me in the middle of the night and threaten me?  Why would he tell me that he was going to hunt me down?  That‘s what he was doing for three weeks.  And he did, unfortunately, find me and rip my face apart. 

ABRAMS:  John, we‘re glad to see you look good.  Thanks for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

MATTES:  Thanks.

ABRAMS:  That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  Up next, “To Catch a Predator.”  Tonight‘s investigation in Sonoma County, California, yields one of the largest turnouts ever.



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