updated 9/19/2005 11:57:07 AM ET 2005-09-19T15:57:07

Guest: Robert Strang, Craig Williams, Scott Snyder, Nick Congemi, Daniel Becket Becnel, Ernie Allen, Betty Price, Michael Price, Bill Berger, Raoul Felder, Michael Lewittes

DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, federal money and your donations to Hurricane Katrina victims being used in strip clubs? 


ABRAMS (voice-over):  Those FEMA and Red Cross cash cards with up to $2,000 on them, turning up in topless clubs, Victoria‘s Secret shops, luxury and home electronic stores, and yet apparently there‘s nothing to prevent it from happening. 

And convicted Florida sex offenders who served their time fighting back against proposed laws that restrict their movements.  Now, they‘re saying enough is enough? 

And it seemed it was just another Hollywood marriage ending as quickly as it started.  But why is Renee Zellweger alleging that it was fraud?  What‘s fraud got to do with it? 

The program about justice starts now. 


ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First up on the docket tonight, with the government and individuals pouring money into the Gulf region, you would hope that it would go towards the dire needs of those displaced by Katrina.  But as in the aftermath of 9/11, some low life see disaster as an opportunity.  First there are allegations of just outright fraud.  Barretta Jo Hogg arrested in Georgia for allegedly posing as a hurricane evacuee and accepting about $1,000 in emergency funds from the Red Cross. 

Kent and Monica Gray arrested in Arkansas for allegedly claiming they were victims.  They could also receive thousands of dollars and benefits going to storm evacuees.  I‘m sure we‘re going to see more arrests like these.  But it seems a few of the actual hurricane victims are using some of the money for, let‘s just say less-than-urgent needs. 

The reports started trickling out last week in Atlanta, FEMA debit cards allegedly used to buy $800 Louis Vuitton handbags.  The storm confirmed to us that it happened.  Red Cross records show that this week over $1,000 from one Red Cross debit card meant to be used for basic necessities, the only restrictions, no alcohol, tobacco or firearms, spent at a Best Buy in Kentucky. 

And in Houston where police have set up a task force to catch people trying to scam the system.  Emergency funds have been apparently used at strip clubs.  Now, the term fraud is being thrown around when people talk about the misuse of these cards, but it‘s not really fraud.  There are few restrictions on the card, which begs the question, is there a better way to do this? 

“My Take”—there is no doubt that we have to get money down there to help the victims of this disaster.  And I watched the Red Cross doing incredible work down there.  But we cannot and should not be throwing around hard earned money indiscriminately.  In the end this is taxpayer dollars and as more of these stories of excess surface, I think the American public is going to quickly become furious.  I want to prevent that by trying to figure out how to better dole out the much-needed cash. 

Joining me now, a man who has extensive experience in detecting fraud, first as a federal agent, now as CEO of Investigative Management Group, Robert Strang, and Lieutenant Craig Williams who is heading up the Houston Police Department Fraud Task Force.  Gentlemen thanks very much for joining us.  We appreciate it. 



ABRAMS:  All right.  Mr. Strang let me start with you.  First of all, do you have any suggestions; I mean they‘re going to say, look, we need to get money down there fast.  We need to do it now.  We can‘t do too much to try to prevent people from spending it on this or that and yet, it seems, for example, with food stamps, there are other programs where people figure out a way to give money for a specific purpose. 

ROBERT STRANG, INVESTIGATIVE MANAGEMENT GROUP:  Well, Dan, keep in mind, so far, they‘ve actually distributed ABOUT 30,000 of these cards between FEMA and the Red Cross and they range in about—value of about 1,500 to 2,500 and the problem has been that for the most part, people have been using it for the needed food, needed shelter that‘s required.  But there‘s a few people that have actually gotten in line two or three times, there are small rings down there of people who have actually been you know taking the debit card, giving false Social Security numbers, showing false identification, false driver‘s license, and committing fraud. 

And keep in mind, you‘ve got—the Houston Police Department has put together a task force and I believe they‘ve already arrested 11 people.  The federal government has come in through the Department of Justice and set up the Hurricane Katrina task force to help on the bigger picture because there‘s also not the local fraud, but there‘s also fraud dealing with people who are donating large sums of money to charities.  They‘re setting up phony charities, so you‘ve got a big problem here on the local level and the national level. 

ABRAMS:  Well let me ask you, Lieutenant, do you think that it‘s a greater problem that there are people who are faking it, pretending to be victims or that people who actually were victims are using some of this money for items that I think the government and taxpayers would be ashamed of. 

LT. CRAIG WILLIAMS, HOUSTON P.D. FRAUD TASK FORCE:  I think the bigger problem is the people who are pretending to be victims or who are victims who are now going through the lines multiple times to receive benefits that they‘re not deserving of.  Now, the people who are misusing the benefits to purchase items that they probably should not be purchasing, those are the minority.  The majority of the people are using the benefits for...

ABRAMS:  No question.  And please, I hope my viewers don‘t think—I am in no way suggesting that this is some sort of rampant problem at this point.  But if there is a sense—if there becomes a sense out there that it‘s even happening in isolated cases, I think the people are going to get pretty furious about it.

Scott Snyder joins us now on the phone.  He‘s with the Red Cross down there.  Thanks for joining us.  Again, I‘ve said it before, I‘ll say it again, I‘ve watched the Red Cross doing some amazing work while I was down there.  What are you all doing to try to prevent people from misusing the money that you‘re giving them, from spending it at strip clubs or spending it at Louis Vuitton?

SCOTT SNYDER, RED CROSS SPOKESMAN (via phone):  Well as the American -

and thank you for having me on and thank you for the accolades.  We certainly appreciate it.  You know the Red Cross continues to respond to this unprecedented natural catastrophe.  You know our job is really to empower family to make choices.  Our job is to help support them.

Yes, we want people to use the resources for basic needs such as clothing, food, transportation.  You know but really our job is to empower folks, to help make them, make critical informed decisions about what they may need for their family.

ABRAMS:  But isn‘t there some obligation on the Red Cross?  I mean considering—I mean look, I know myself, I know other people are pouring out money to the Red Cross because of all the work you are doing down there.  Isn‘t—doesn‘t that then obligate you all to figure out something a little more than just empowerment, which puts some restrictions on how this money can be spent? 

SNYDER:  Well, you know the financial assistance that we‘re providing here is really not much different than financial assistance we provide every day to disasters all around the country.  You know we are—try to be as actively involved as possible and individuals affected to support their own recovery process.  But really, it all comes down to you know trying to empower people to make informed educated choices and we just are not in the business of dictating to people where they should shop, when they should shop.

ABRAMS:  Mr. Strang, do you think that they should be in the business of doing that?

STRANG:  Well from what I understand is they are actually doing some checks.  When you get and the debit card, you stand in line maybe for four hours, three hours.  Some lines have been longer than that, but when you actually get up and it‘s your turn, you fill out a form, you show an identification and they actually do a check.  They look at your license number.  They check your Social Security verification.  Although it‘s quick, Dan, at least it‘s something, so I think they‘re doing what they can.

ABRAMS:  And I should say that they are restricting—you‘re not allowed, for example, to buy—put up number two if we can...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Alcohol and guns.

ABRAMS:  Yes, the client assistance card is restricted from use with merchants that deal exclusively in prohibited merchandise such as package stores, liquor vendors and gun stores.  The American Red Cross takes its stewardship of the donated dollar very seriously.  Each client assistance card is marked in bold letters, no alcohol, tobacco or weapons.

So do you think, Lieutenant Williams, that if they can do that, that they should somehow take it a step further and say for example it‘s only to go for clothing, for housing, for food and I don‘t know maybe other—some other necessity. 

WILLIAMS:  Well it‘s not my job to dictate to the Red Cross how they should make people spend money.  Generally, when they respond to these disasters, they want people to use the money for what the money was really intended for and that‘s generally personal items, household items, things to get yourself back rolling again.  But you know some people, like I said earlier...


WILLIAMS:  ... have taken advantage of this opportunity and they are using this—these funds, these cards, these checks to purchase items that they shouldn‘t be purchasing and that‘s what‘s happening down here.  But like I said, that‘s the minority of the people.  That‘s not the majority. 

STRANG:  Dan, if I could just follow up. 

ABRAMS:  Quickly, yes.

STRANG:  The thing is, they have street crime too that they‘re dealing with all through Houston, all through the area. 


STRANG:  So not only are the police doing a great job...

ABRAMS:  Yes, I‘m not...


ABRAMS:  Believe me, I‘m not suggesting that the police need to be you know doing more. 


ABRAMS:  I‘m questioning whether there need to be specifically more restrictions on the use of these cards. 


ABRAMS:  That‘s the question I‘m asking. 

STRANG:  It‘s just next to impossible.  It‘s like handing out cash in line.  That‘s the bottom line.

ABRAMS:  All right. 


ABRAMS:  Very quickly.  Go ahead Mr. Snyder.

SNYDER:  Yes, one thing I would like to say in regards to the definition in the literal fraud that we‘re talking about, people trying to apply more than once...

ABRAMS:  Right.

SNYDER:  ... people that aren‘t victims.  You know we are very concerned about those individuals who attempt to apply more than once or have been able to get through and are outraged by anyone who would want to defraud certainly the American Red Cross, certainly the people affected by this disaster and the wonderful people of the country...


ABRAMS:  But the bottom line is people are going to try and do it.  I mean you know...

SNYDER:  Absolutely. 

ABRAMS:  ... there are opportunists out there.  They see a disaster.  Most people see disaster, they see opportunity, and I‘m just trying to figure out a way so that people will feel confident that all the money—you know look, there‘s always going to be examples.  There‘s always going to be ways where you can‘t prevent it, but I‘m just trying to figure out a way where maybe you guys can put on some more restrictions in some way or another, the same way you‘re doing with alcohol. 

We‘ll continue to follow this story and we‘ll try and—we‘ll watch how things go down there and we‘ll get you back on.  Robert Strang and Lieutenant Williams, Scott Snyder, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.


WILLIAMS:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  While we‘re talking about spending to rebuild from Katrina, ever wonder what $200 billion can buy?  Well it could buy the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or four nuclear powered aircraft carriers or the homeland security budget for four years doubled or possibly what has been proposed by the president to rebuild in the Gulf.  So the question is where will the money come from? 


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It‘s going to cost whatever it costs and we‘re going to be wise about the money we spend. 


ABRAMS:  Here‘s part of what the president proposed spending it on in his speech from New Orleans last night. 


BUSH:  Federal funds will cover the great majority of the costs of repairing public infrastructure in the disaster zone, from roads and bridges to schools and water systems.  Tonight I propose the creation of a Gulf opportunity zone encompassing the region of the disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama.  I propose the creation of worker recovery accounts to help those evacuees who need extra help finding work. 

I also propose that Congress pass an urban homesteading act.  Under this approach, we will identify property in the region owned by the federal government and provide building sites to low-income citizens, free of charge.  We‘ll not just rebuild.  We‘ll build higher and better. 


ABRAMS:  President Bush also said today that Congress would have to cut spending, but that taxes would not be raised.  Ron Insana anchors the CNBC program “Street Signs”.  So Ron, good to see you.  Look we hear cut spending in every campaign. 


ABRAMS:  Cut spending, cut spending, but is that really going to happen here to pay for the rebuilding effort?

RON INSANA, CNBC “STREET SIGNS”:  Yes, that‘s very doubtful, Dan.  I mean one of the loudest calls for spending reduction that you‘ve heard thus far has come from Arizona Senator John McCain, a Republican who said, listen, you know there‘s $24 billion worth of pork in the highway bill that was recently passed and signed by the president.  Some 6,317 special projects earmarked for different states and localities around the country that many feel could, you know, are spending money that could be better used in the New Orleans and Gulf Coast areas. 

Now there doesn‘t even seem to be a political will for that spending to be diverted towards the region.  So not only will we get that 280 or so billion dollar-spending bill on highways, but we will see more than $200 billion ultimately spent on rebuilding the Gulf Coast. 

ABRAMS:  So the Congress, they just love the other white meat just too much to get rid of it. 

INSANA:  It‘s difficult.  I mean you know, there‘s one bridge they‘re talking about in Alaska that‘s being built that‘s going to cost I believe you know several hundred million dollars...


INSANA:  ... and they don‘t even want to give that up. 

ABRAMS:  So Ron, as a practical matter what does that mean?  I mean we‘re talking about spending the equivalent of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.


ABRAMS:  Where is it coming from? 

INSANA:  Well look, it comes from the federal government.  We‘re just going to go deeper into deficit, so we‘ll borrow more money in order to finance this, Dan, and if the federal government wants to borrow $200 billion more, it can.  There are questions about what the implications of that borrowing might be. 

Now we‘re in a year where the federal budget deficit this year was supposed to approach $330 billion, down about $100 billion or so from last year, a little less than that.  Instead, we may see a budget deficit that will now eclipse again $400 billion over the next 12 months and the Heritage Foundation came out and said that by 2015, our annual budget deficits may top $800 billion.  So if that spending comes through, it could mean higher interest rates, higher inflation, and some economic...

ABRAMS:  And maybe this will put political pressure on many to start making the necessary cuts in other areas. 

INSANA:  Possibly. 


INSANA:  That debate has not been had yet. 

ABRAMS:  Ron Insana, good to see you Ron.  Thanks a lot. 

INSANA:  Thanks a lot.  Thanks.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, she‘s 17 years old -- 73 years old, locked up in a state pen for allegedly looting sausages after the hurricane hit.  She was supposed to be out of jail tonight and join us.  Apparently, she‘s still in the big house.  Her lawyer is here.  She says she didn‘t steal anything. 

And the young boy who lost his father in Hurricane Katrina finally reunited, but there are more than 2,000 children still searching for their parents.

And convicted Florida sex offenders who served their time turning the tables, holding a rally, demanding better treatment from the communities that they live in. 


ABRAMS:  A 73-year-old grandma, a church elder, from Louisiana will walk out of jail this weekend after a 16-day prison odyssey.  She was arrested the day after Hurricane Katrina hit for allegedly ransacking a deli.  Merlene Maten allegedly caught stealing sausages.  She says they were just some of the food she packed when she evacuated her home from the floodwaters in New Orleans. 

Police say she looted $60 worth of goods from a nearby deli.  They brought her to jail.  She was later transferred to a state pen, held on $50,00 bond.  Merlene Maten was supposed to join us tonight, but she now won‘t be released until this weekend.  And her release doesn‘t mean she‘s be free.  Maten will still have to face the looting charge in October. 

Joining me now is Merlene Maten‘s attorney, Daniel Becnel, III and Police Chief Nick Congemi with the Kenner Louisiana Police Department, who handled the arrest.  Gentleman thanks very much for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

All right, Chief, let me start with you.  As you know, there‘s been a lot of attention on this story as of late.  Peopling suggesting this is overkill.  Even if—I mean she denies that she stole anything, but even if she stole some sausages in the aftermath of Katrina, we kept hearing people say well look, if people were taking food and necessities, that‘s very different from the real kind of looting.

CHIEF NICK CONGEMI, KENNER, LA POLICE DEPT. (via phone):  Yes, I understand that scenario, if that‘s what took place, and we‘re not sure that that‘s what took place.  The only thing that we know is the police officers were dispatched to that particular location in response to a looting call and when they arrived, they caught Mrs. Maten and a 16-year-old juvenile exiting the building with sausage and beer. 

If she had taken the sausage and beer from her house, I have no idea why she brought it into the check in/check out to bring it out again.  You know it‘s very confusing what her explanation would be. 

ABRAMS:  Before I ask her lawyer that very question, have you been bringing forward for prosecution—look, I know you don‘t ultimately make the decision about who gets prosecuted and who doesn‘t.  But have you been bringing to the prosecutors in your area cases of people who stole food?

CONGEMI:  Yes, we do.  It‘s up to the district attorney to prosecute and prefer charges.  We have a very specific mission in the criminal justice system where we arrest people and make reports to the district attorney based on our observations.  The district attorney then makes a decision whether he prosecutes or not.  There is no provision and state statutes to determine if someone—age is a factor other than if they are under the age of 17, which is a juvenile in the state, and she was accompanied by a juvenile. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  Look, I have to tell you, I‘ve been following this issue of looters.  I think it‘s a serious issue.  When I went around New Orleans, seeing what was happening, I was saying that I think they should enhance the punishments for these people who are looting, but I do see a difference between stealing food and necessities versus stealing jewelry and electronics and lots of the clothing we saw, et cetera.

All right, but let‘s get to the facts of this.  All right, Mr. Becnel, your response.  Look, the chief is saying that your client was caught, not just stealing sausages, but stealing beer as well and you know this case has now gotten a lot of attention.  He‘s effectively saying, look, this is a pretty straightforward case and this wasn‘t just a woman who just happened to be driving along with some sausages in her car. 

DANIEL BECKET BECNEL, III, ATTY FOR 73-YEAR-OLD ALLEGED LOOTER:  Well, the facts and circumstances that I‘ve talked to the witness is absolutely dispute what the chief is saying.  Number one, she followed the mayor of New Orleans evacuation order by evacuating with her invalid husband.  She paid for her hotel room in Kenner, Louisiana, brought food as the mayor ordered and asked people to do for two to three days, was traveling to her car in the parking lot, and the police pulled up to the convenient store across the street and watched African Americans, young African Americans looting and could not catch them so they caught one 16-year-old and they snapped her up.  These sausages that they allege she stole are not even sold by that convenient store.  So when you look at the history of this woman, she is a 73-year-old deaconess in a church...

ABRAMS:  Well look, that...


ABRAMS:  ... that seems to me that would clear her.  I mean Chief, do you know—I mean if that‘s true, that the store doesn‘t even sell the sausages, then it seems to me case closed. 

BECNEL:  I believe it is case closed, but obviously we‘ll have to prove that in court...

ABRAMS:  Let me ask the chief about that.  Chief, do you know anything about that? 

CONGEMI:  No, I don‘t.  The only thing that I can tell you is based on report.  The officers saw her exiting the building with a juvenile and you know, and Dan, I‘ll be perfectly honest with you, I feel similar to the way that you do.  If a person was starving and needed food and the only thing that separated them from that food was a plate of glass, I can understand someone going into a building to steal food, and we‘ve seen that take place before, and I do make that distinction. 

However, in this particular situation, this location, this building that you‘re looking at on television right now is probably less than 50 yards away from the Kenner Police Department and if you look to the far right, which you may not be able to see in this photograph, you‘ll see a huge four-story police complex.  And if she was hungry, all she had to do was walk next door and we would have been glad to provide her with the food.  That particular location was flooded at the time of this incident taking place, so she had to get through the water in order to get to that building. 

This was less than 24 hours after Katrina when the water had not subsided nor was it pumped down at that time.  Now you know I‘ll be perfectly honest with you again, I don‘t know if these are all the facts.  This is what is reported by the police.  I have no way of disputing them.  I have no way of disputing this lady.  If she thinks she has been wronged and we have a great system here where she can report it to the Internal Affairs Division, we will thoroughly investigate the incident.  If the officer did something wrong, obviously we will take action against the officer...

ABRAMS:  Let me just give—let me give Mr. Becnel final word on this and then I‘ve got to wrap it up...

CONGEMI:  Sure.  Sure.

ABRAMS:  Go ahead.

BECNEL:  Well I think again what we‘ve seen is another victim from Hurricane Katrina.  We‘ve had victims lose their lives, victims lose their homes, their employment.  Well Ms. Maten lost her freedom...

ABRAMS:  All right.

BECNEL:  ... because for 17 days now, she‘s been in a different facility in the state...


BECNEL:  ... housed for hardened criminals and has been unable to make bond because there are no bonding companies...


BECNEL:  ... no court employees and no judges in Jefferson Parish. 

ABRAMS:  It does seem like high bond, I have to tell you, even for the allegation of $60.  Fifty thousand dollar-bond sounds very high to me.  All right, Daniel Becket Becnel, thank you very much.  Chief Congemi, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it. 

Coming up, an emotional reunion between a young boy and his father separated during Hurricane Katrina.  And we ask what‘s being done to reunite the 2,000 children who still don‘t know where their families are.

And what‘s fraud got to do with it—I like that song—when it comes to the latest Hollywood marriage going caput?  Be right back.


ABRAMS:  Coming up, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf more than two weeks ago, still more than 2,000 children are alone.  What‘s being done to reunite them with their families?  First the headlines. 


ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  In the wake of Katrina, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children fielded more than 17,000 calls in less than two weeks. As of noon today, 2,812 kids have been reported missing.  The parents of 760 of those kids, many whom are not old enough to say their own names, have been found.  But that means that more than 2,000 kids are still missing or without their parents.  Today, first lady, Laura Bush visited the national headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia and shared some of her own stories of family reunions.


LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY:  Another great story they told was about a little 2-year-old who wouldn‘t talk to anyone and when their team went up to her in the shelter, they took her picture with a Polaroid and they handed her, her own picture, the picture of herself and she said her name, Gabby.  And when she did that, then they knew one thing about this 2-year-old and they were able to—because of just knowing her name was Gabby be able to find her and find her mother. 


ABRAMS:  Joining me now is Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  Ernie thanks again for coming on the program.  Look, you were on the program on Monday.  We talked about this problem; you said that there was progress being made.  Give us an update. 

ERNIE ALLEN, PRES., NAT‘L CTR. FOR MISSING & EXPLOITED CHILDREN:  Well we‘ve made great progress.  There have been an additional 300 children identified, recovered, reunited with their families.  The numbers of calls have increased.  The number of children in the shelters separated from their families has dropped to very few, maybe 50 in Louisiana, comparable number in Texas.  So we think we‘re making real headway, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  What do you do with the children who are too young?  I mean you heard that story about Gabby who‘s 2.  What do you do with the children who are simply too young to say or know their names?

ALLEN:  We‘re taking their pictures; we‘re showing their pictures to the public by television and NBC and MSNBC have been wonderful partners in that effort.  We‘re trying to reach out to anybody who knows we‘re working with law enforcement, social services, following whatever tiny clue we can develop like little Gabby saying her name. 

ABRAMS:  Are you concerned that with some of these kids, their parents may have died? 

ALLEN:  Absolutely.  We know that some of these 2,000 cases are going to have tragic endings.  Our open is that, that number is as small as possible.  But we also think that many of these kids, there may be innocent explanations—a neighbor, an extended family member who has the child and because the parent is somewhere else, we just haven‘t been able to bring them together yet. 

ABRAMS:  Ernie, what can you do or what are people doing to make sure that these kids are actually the children of someone who comes forward?  Someone walks in and says oh, you know I saw this—the name on the Web site.  That‘s my child.  I want to take him home.  How do you make sure it‘s parent-child?

ALLEN:  Dan, you validate and verify.  We are working very closely with social services agencies in these states, with law enforcement.  They are pursuing every bit of information they can to be sure.  Just yesterday, a judge in Houston heard a case where a family had lost all of its custody, all of its documents before turning that child over, so we‘re doing everything we can to do due diligence. 

ABRAMS:  Here‘s how you can help or if you need help, here‘s what you can do.  Go to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children‘s Web site, www.missingkids.com or call the Katrina missing persons hot line at 1-888-544-5475. 

Thanks a lot.

ALLEN:  Thank you Dan.

ABRAMS:  One New Orleans father reunited with his son two weeks after being separated by Hurricane Katrina.  The reunion happened in the studios of our Knoxville affiliate WBIR.  Here‘s Dan Farkas.



DAN FARKAS, WBIR REPORTER (voice-over):  Right now, the world‘s strongest man couldn‘t separate Arnold Leaderson, II from Arnold Leaderson, III (ph).


FARKAS:  But Hurricane Katrina did just that two weeks ago.


FARKAS:  Arnold stayed behind in New Orleans.  He ended up in South Carolina after mandatory evacuations.  Neither knew how the other was doing. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) first time we‘ve been separated in the last two years.

FARKAS:  Several phone calls, coupled with a donated plane brought Arnold Sr. here to Knoxville. 


FARKAS:  His son had no clue that dad was on the way. 


FARKAS:  Dad tried to stay calm as his son was in the very next room. 

Their story being told on TV. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ms. Myers‘ (ph) son, also Arnold‘s dad, helped get them to higher ground when the water started to swell in New Orleans.  They haven‘t seen him since. 

FARKAS:  A mix of pride and anticipation swelling like the banks of the waters that separated them two weeks ago.  It‘s a separation that‘s just about ready to end.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘ve got a surprise for you.  Thanks to one of our (INAUDIBLE) owned stations in Columbia, South Carolina and a company called Angel Flight, we have flown in your dad. 


FARKAS:  After some face time and some playtime, their 15 minutes of fame ended.  Their new life together just beginning.  Stronger now than ever before. 


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD:  Off the chain. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Off the chain.

FARKAS:  In Knoxville, Dan Farkas, 10 News.


ABRAMS:  Hope we get to see a lot more of those smiling faces.  Boy, that is—that‘s a good one to see. 

Coming up, sex offenders in Florida come out at a rally.  They‘re rallying, saying new restrictions on where they live and work aren‘t fair.  One of those convicted sex offenders joins us next.

And Oscar winner Renee Zellweger is calling it quits with her husband of four months, country singer Kenny Chesney.  She‘s asking for an annulment claiming fraud.  Fraud? 


ABRAMS:  Coming up, a sex offender rally?  It‘s coming up.


ABRAMS:  They are not exactly the most popular lobbying group.  But that didn‘t stop sex offenders in Palm Bay, Florida from putting up a fight for their rights.  They‘re protesting a proposed law they way will hurt their chances of living a normal life and ruin the lives of their children. 

Dan Billow with our Orlando affiliate WESH has the story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m talking to Jessica‘s family.  I didn‘t commit that crime.

DAN BILLOW, WESH REPORTER (voice-over):  William Wyatt Caska (ph) says he‘s done his time, 18 years in prison for child molestation.  He says stiff new restrictions being considered in Palm Bay might prohibit him from making a living. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have families.  We have babies.  I have a family. 

BILLOW:  Palm Bay‘s police chief is proposing an ordinance to require employers to supervise sex offender employees and notify certain customers. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If you‘re going to go into somebody‘s home that there are children present, a person has to a right to know who‘s going into their home. 

BILLOW:  Wyatt Caska (ph) and other offenders say they plan to let the city council know of their objections. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We need something that‘s going to be uniform throughout the state and I believe we‘re headed in that direction. 

BILLOW:  And the head of Florida‘s House Judiciary Committee says he wants a statewide standard to take the place of cities and municipalities whose ordinances only hold up within their boundary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We need to look at something like 2,500 feet or 3,000 feet from a school, 2,500 or 3,000 feet from a park.  That‘s what we need to be worried about, not the city limits. 


ABRAMS:  That was Dan Billow with our Orlando affiliate.  Joining me now on the phone is Chief Bill Berger of the Palm Bay, Florida Police Department, registered sex offender Michael Price joins us and in Tampa is Michael‘s wife, Betty Price.  Thank you all for joining us.

All right, Betty, you were actually at the rally yesterday.  Let me ask you this.  Was it hard to get these people out rallying?  I mean as I said at the top, this isn‘t the most popular lobbying group, et cetera.  I‘m sure that some of these people don‘t want to bring more attention to themselves. 

BETTY PRICE, WIFE OF REGISTERED SEX OFFENDER:  It‘s very hard.  Actually, we expected 200 people to show and we had about 30 to 35.  I‘m sure fear was a major factor.  I‘m sure there were probably some that drove up and saw the protestors and decided to just keep on driving.  But my husband and I feel that with fear, we have no life. 

ABRAMS:  And Michael, you wanted to attend but couldn‘t? 

MICHAEL PRICE, REGISTERED SEX OFFENDER (via phone):  Yes, I couldn‘t. 

I was forbidden by the probation department. 

ABRAMS:  And what were you convicted of? 

M. PRICE:  I was convicted of attempted capital sexual battery in 1988 for incidents that happened in 1987. 

ABRAMS:  Chief, does this law that you‘re proposing distinguish between people who have been convicted of assaulting children versus someone, for example, who is an 18-year-old who‘s dating a 16-year-old and somebody says, (INAUDIBLE) you know, I‘m angry about it and they have to go in and prosecute them and that person‘s considered a sex offender? 

CHIEF BILL BERGER, PALM BAY, FL POLICE DEPT. (via phone):  Well Florida --  yes, Florida you know goes ahead and lumps those folks together as a sex predator.  But ours is specifically going to look at predators.  These are individuals that are the worst of the worst.  These are individuals the state of Florida has said specifically, they are twice convicted minimum and they have a propensity to have crimes against children. 

ABRAMS:  All right, so if that‘s the case, Mr. Price, do you have a problem with it?

M. PRICE:  That‘s not true.  That‘s what they try to put out (INAUDIBLE) and make the sex offender out of somebody that goes (INAUDIBLE).  The drunk that urinates behind the dumpster outside the bar, a group of youths skipping school and skinny-dipping, our Romeo and Juliet, like you had just mentioned before, the 19-year-old dating a 17-year-old, and they classify them with the same as John Couey...

ABRAMS:  But the chief...


ABRAMS:  But the chief is saying not for the purposes of this new provision that‘s being proposed.  He‘s saying that new provision is specifically going to apply to predators. 


M. PRICE:  If the chief (INAUDIBLE) doing you‘ll be the first in the state to do so. 

ABRAMS:  Chief... 

M. PRICE:  Everybody else (INAUDIBLE) I don‘t want them in my neighborhood, I don‘t want them in my town.  I‘m going to put up a 2,500-zone around everything to drive you out and in Palm Bay, especially with the employer having to take and basically baby-sit a sex offender to make sure that he doesn‘t have any chance of coming around children, I foresee that there‘s going to be an awful a lot of sex offenders in Palm Bay that is going to lose their job. 

ABRAMS:  Well Betty, let me—I‘m going to give the chief a chance to respond in a minute.  Betty, you‘re a parent, right? 

B. PRICE:  Yes, I am. 

ABRAMS:  Do you have any—you understand, don‘t you, the way these parents feel about the fact that they want to protect their kids, right? 

B. PRICE:  Actually, I, myself was molested as a child and I feel that it‘s more of a parent‘s responsibility to supervise their child that the—they‘re—actually, they just changed this to predator.  When this first came out in July...

ABRAMS:  Right.

B. PRICE:  ... they were saying sex offenders...

ABRAMS:  Right.

B. PRICE:  ... and predator. 

ABRAMS:  Right, but they‘ve changed it now.  But you‘re not actually saying that parents are always responsible if their kids are molested, right? 

B. PRICE:  No, no, no, no, I didn‘t say parents are always responsible if their children are molested.  I said that a lot of this is parental supervision that is the reason predators are being able to get to our children. 

ABRAMS:  All right, that may be the case, but do you—I mean as a parent, do you understand why there are, you know, as your husband just said, the vast majority of people out there are saying look, I don‘t want them near my kids.  I‘m going to do whatever I can to keep them away from my kids. 

B. PRICE:  No, I do not understand that.

ABRAMS:  Really?

B. PRICE:  No, I do not understand that and my daughter, also, who has children does not understand that.  She feels that—well, she reads and she sees that 90 percent of these offenses occur by someone known to the family, not by the predators. 

ABRAMS:  Right, but you know, I think you would agree that you‘re probably in the vast minority there, right, on the fear factor. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And they have no record. 

ABRAMS:  I‘m sorry, what—Mr. Price, what did you want to say? 

M. PRICE:  And the 90 percent that she is talking about do not have a record. 

ABRAMS:  Right, but I‘m talking about...


ABRAMS:  Look...


ABRAMS:  The chief is talking about predators here, right, and they‘re the ones that I‘m particularly concerned about, too.

B. PRICE:  We agree with predators being watched.  Yes, we do. 

ABRAMS:  You do? 

B. PRICE:  We agree with predators being watched.  This rally was set up based on sex offender families and their rights being taken away...

ABRAMS:  Well look...

B. PRICE:  ... not sexual predators‘ rights. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well, look, Chief, it sounds like you‘re not getting a lot of dispute even from the sex offender community. 

B. PRICE:  No...

BERGER:  Yes, it appears that way and certainly all we‘re trying to do is protect those that cannot protect themselves, period. 

ABRAMS:  All right...

B. PRICE:  And that‘s what we are concerned with as well.  We want the children protected. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  All right.  Well, it looks like we‘ve all reached agreement.  Maybe you didn‘t even need the really.  Chief Berger, Michael Price, Betty Price, thank you all for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

B. PRICE:  Thank you. 

BERGER:  Thank you Dan.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, what does it mean Renee Zellweger is seeking an annulment, claiming fraud?  Be right back. 




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Let‘s just say that we suffered from fatal incompatibility.


ABRAMS:  Fatal incompatibility.  Renee Zellweger is describing a break-up in the movie “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason”.  Now dealing with a breakup of her own.  After four months of marriage she and country crooner Kenny Chesney are calling it quits.  Now Zellweger filed the papers for an annulment this week citing—quote—“fraud”, fraud.  She was duped into it or something? 

Joining me now is famed divorce attorney Raoul Felder and “Access Hollywood‘s” Mike Lewittes.  All right, so Raoul, let‘s start with the legal issues here.  Fraud, does that mean that he was not who he seemed to be? 

RAOUL FELDER, DIVORCE ATTORNEY:  Well, yes, the ground movement of all these annulment suits are fraud that‘s intrinsic to the marriage.  The most common one in America is refusing to have children.  Before marriage he said he wanted to have children.  After marriage, he said no, I kidded you.  I really never want to have children.  But you can have any sort of fraud.  You know there are a series of cases where husbands claim to be noblemen, the Duke of Wellington, and then they got married.  He was a (INAUDIBLE) of Brooklyn. 


FELDER:  ... fraud too.

ABRAMS:  Well Renee Zellweger issued a statement today, saying the term is simply legal language and not a reflection of Kenny‘s character.  Mike, what do you know behind the scenes as to what‘s going on here? 

MICHAEL LEWITTES, “ACCESS HOLLYWOOD”:  Well, Renee was afraid that when she used the word fraud, people would create all different sorts of scenarios about him, about her, and she jut really wanted to clarify the fact that you know what?  They met, they went out for four months.  They got married very quickly and it didn‘t work out.  They realized this all within one year. 

ABRAMS:  But Raoul, as a matter of law, it seems that people want an annulment as opposed to a divorce, I understand for religious reasons sometimes people want...


ABRAMS:  ... an annulment.  But it‘s not so easy to get an annulment and to just claim oh you know what, that‘s legal language.  An annulment is supposed to be a big deal. 

FELDER:  Yes, it‘s a big deal and she went to a different law school than the rest of the American lawyers.  Annulment is hard to get.  Many states like New York, you have to have corroboration.  California, you don‘t have to have it but it is a serious thing.  It says somebody has perpetrated a fraud on me.  I would say there‘s one annulment probably for every 10,000 divorces in America. 

ABRAMS:  All right, here are the grounds for annulment in California.  One of the parties was under age.  Not an issue.  One of the parties was already married.  Mike, not an issue here, right?

LEWITTES:  Not at all. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Someone was of unsound mind.  Not an issue.  The marriage was entered into by force.  Mike, also not an issue, right? 

LEWITTES:  Not an issue. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  One of the parties suffered...


ABRAMS:  What?  Go ahead.

LEWITTES:  She needed to point to something.  You know this is a form.  She needed to put a check next to something and since they are of legal age and they aren‘t married to other people, she needed a reason, so she chose the word fraud.  But then quickly enough, she put out a statement saying, you know, just because I used the word fraud doesn‘t mean he‘s a fraudulent individual. 

ABRAMS:  But Raoul, there‘s something about this that‘s just disturbing.  That we sort of rely on these sort of legal terms and say oh you know, I didn‘t really mean anything by it.  But there should be an additional burden, shouldn‘t there, to get an annulment versus a divorce?

FELDER:  Well yes, Dan and Mike, there is.  And that‘s why there are so few annulments.  You know it really means nothing—annulment as opposed to a divorce except you go to a cocktail party and say have you ever been married, honey?  No, I‘ve never been married.  But on all the applications for the government that said how was your prior marriage ended.  So you can‘t get away with saying I‘ve never been married.  I think she—they didn‘t think it out and then they didn‘t realize when it gets out, they‘re going to have the word fraud and my guess is he‘s cooperative with her and there was a deal beforehand, that he‘s not going to oppose a fraud. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Mike, bottom line is sometimes particularly in celebrity cases, they don‘t think about the legal terms that are going to be used, right? 

LEWITTES:  They don‘t think about these things at all.  They just fall in love very quickly and unfortunately in Hollywood, these very hot romances flame out quickly as well. 

ABRAMS:  Oh, so sad.  Mike Lewittes and Raoul Felder, thanks a lot. 

FELDER:  Thank you Dan.

ABRAMS:  Be right back.


ABRAMS:  It‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Last night we reported the state of Mississippi filed suit against major insurers trying to force the insurance companies to pay billions to residents who did not have flood insurance.  Many of you outraged. 

Lois Casson in Florida, “Is it my fault that people ignore their risks or remain uninformed about their coverage?  Why should my rates increase because of other people‘s failure to accept responsibility for their own property?”

From Florida, Catherine Barrett, “Anyone who has a home in a hurricane area should know that the water is the worst part and that flood insurance is available.  If these people get the benefit of flood insurance through FEMA, even though they didn‘t pay the premiums, then why am I paying?” 

Peggy Davis from Mississippi says “There‘s nothing left of my house but a shell.  I don‘t even live in a flood zone.  My mortgage company didn‘t require me to purchase flood insurance.  My insurance agent told me I didn‘t need it.”

And she said “what, am I supposed to get meteorite insurance, too?”  Send your e-mails abramsreport—one word -- @msnbc.com.  We go through them at the end of the show.

Thanks for watching.  Have a great weekend.  Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.



The Abrams Report each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET


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