updated 9/20/2005 9:10:52 AM ET 2005-09-20T13:10:52

Guests: Jamie Stockwell, Clint van Zandt, Geoffrey Fieger, Mike Carter, Maureen Howard, Merlene Maten, Daniel Becket Becnel, Andrew Ross Sorkin

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, what could be a major break in the search for missing Florida college freshman. 


ABRAMS (voice-over):  Police find Taylor Behl‘s car nearly two weeks after she disappeared.  Now they suspect foul play could be involved. 

And a man who was sexually assaulted as a child admits to killing two sex offenders.  He came clean, saying he wanted to be on the dark side when one notorious sex offender arrives. 

Plus a 73-year-old grandma locked up in a state pen for allegedly looting sausages after Katrina.  She‘s out and joins us live. 

The program about justice starts now.  


ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First up on the docket tonight, there is another tropical storm out there already having an impact on New Orleans.  Rita expected to slam into the Florida Keys and then to move west, possibly towards the Gulf region.  So just moments ago New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin announced he has suspended the effort to have some residents return to the city. 


MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS:  Our levee systems are still in a very weak condition.  Our pumping stations are not at full capacity.  And any type of storm that heads this way and hits us will put the east bank of Orleans‘ Parish in very significant harm‘s way, so I‘m encouraging everyone to leave. 


ABRAMS:  It also may be the result of the fact that this weekend FEMA publicly contradicted the mayor advising residents not to return to their homes.  NBC‘s Michelle Hofland joins us now from New Orleans—Michelle. 

MICHELLE HOFLAND, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Dan.  Well the mayor may have just suspended re-entry, but a short time ago we were driving around New Orleans and we saw long lines, miles of cars, trying to get into the New Orleans area.  Also a number of them were still being allowed in the last time that we saw them.  There were trucks and u-hauls, people trying to get in. 

And I‘ll tell you what, they know that they just have a short time, an hour, because there is still a strict dust-to-dawn curfew in this area.  Also, I just spoke with the sheriff in St. Bernard County and he says that he is frankly exhausted and terrified right now because of Hurricane Rita heading this way.  He told me just a short time ago that he plans on having a forced evacuation of his parish or county starting tomorrow.  And they‘re probably about 1,200 people in his parish right now.  That‘s the one that was just about completely destroyed by the last hurricane. 

But there are contractors, there are some homeowners and some environmental consultants were working in that area.  They‘re being told they must leave tomorrow.  What the mayor here in New Orleans has said that the people who have moved back into their homes into some areas around here that have electricity and some water, they‘re being warned, hey, by Wednesday, you are probably going to have to evacuate because of Hurricane Rita.  You could evacuate Wednesday or possibly even earlier. 

Well, we really don‘t have an idea of exactly how many people remain in New Orleans or in the outlying area.  But then also Hurricane Rita, the National Hurricane Center now says that it will be a major hurricane with winds of up to 110 miles an hour.  While the brunt is supposed to hit the Florida Keys, frankly even just an inch of rain in this area could be devastating to people because, first of all, as we mentioned, the weak levee system around here because of the—Hurricane Katrina. 

And then also, Dan, all of these buildings around here, so many of them have the roofs ripped off of them, and just a little bit of rain will come in and destroy everything inside of there.  And also remember it‘s been three weeks, these volunteers, these homeowners, the firefighters, everyone is thoroughly exhausted.  All they want to do is get some normalcy back into their lives. 

And one more thing, just a few minutes ago I flew in a Black Hawk helicopter in with a soldier who just returned from Iraq.  He went to see his home that is in Jackson Barracks down in the St. Bernard Parish.  It had six feet of water inside.  He really wanted to get his wife‘s wedding ring out of there that she requested because she had left it behind accidentally.  When he got in there he also pulled out some—a wedding certificate...


HOFLAND:  ... some birth announcements and things like that, laid them out to dry.  He was planning on coming...


HOFLAND:  ... back there tomorrow to get those, and, Dan...


HOFLAND:  ... he‘s not going to be back...

ABRAMS:  Yes, that is something that is facing a lot of people as they return to their homes.  Michelle Hofland thanks a lot. 

All right, let‘s just be clear about what we‘re talking about here

with regard to Hurricane Rita.  All right, we‘re talking about it hitting -

it is expected to hit the Florida Keys and then head towards the west.

Now you can see, if we can show the expected trajectory of the hurricane, the problem is, as our weather people tell us all the time here, these things are unpredictable.  They have computer models.  They try and figure out which way they‘re going to go. 

The models offer up a number of possibilities and it is possible, possible it will not just go to Texas, but that, as you can see there, that it will hit Louisiana.  So it is impossible to know exactly where it‘s going to hit.  That‘s the problem.  All right.  We will continue to follow that throughout the evening. 

Now to developments in the case of missing college freshman Taylor Behl.  This weekend an off-duty police officer found Behl‘s car about a mile and a half from the spot where she was last seen.  The car‘s original Virginia license plates were removed and replaced with Ohio plates, apparently stolen months ago from another car in Virginia, leading authorities to suggest that foul play could be involved in the 17-year-old‘s disappearance. 

Behl had just started her freshman year at Virginia Commonwealth when she vanished on September the 5th.  Authorities didn‘t classify the case as a criminal investigation until about a week and a half later.  Police also executing search warrants, interviewed a number of people, including an ex-boyfriend, and a 38-year-old photographer who took pictures of Behl last year. 

Joining me now “Washington Post” reporter Jamie Stockwell, who has been reporting on the story.  And MSNBC analyst and former FBI profiler Clint van Zandt, and criminal defense attorney Geoffrey Fieger. 

All right, Jamie, let me start with you.  Let‘s lay out the facts as we know them now.  So they find this car, this is definitely her car, and it had someone else‘s license plates on them that had been stolen? 

JAMIE STOCKWELL, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Yes, that‘s correct.  It was found Saturday morning by an off-duty police officer who was walking his dog.  And even though it didn‘t have the Virginia license plates that had been posted throughout the last couple of weeks on every media outlet and all over campus, it did look similar enough to the lookout vehicle.  So he checked the VIN and sure enough it was the same one.  The tags had been stolen from Richmond about two months prior to her disappearance. 

ABRAMS:  So what about these search warrants that have been executed?  What do we know about them?  And can we make anything of the fact that search warrants have been executed? 

STOCKWELL:  Well, it‘s one more tool they can use since it was upgraded to a criminal investigation last Thursday.  The police have said since then that they were going to do everything that they could, including executing search warrants.  One was done Friday at Taylor Behl‘s Vienna home here in Northern Virginia.  From that house a computer was taken.  There was also a search warrant executed in her dorm room.  Her computer was also taken from there.  And a search warrant was executed Friday at the home of a 38-year-old photographer who had taken photographs of her...

ABRAMS:  Do we know anything more about that, about the photographs and who this guy is, et cetera? 

STOCKWELL:  Well it was apparently a friend of hers and her family has said that they had relationship of sorts.  It‘s unclear where they met or how they met, but they both have profiles online at MySpace.com, a popular social networking Internet site and they‘re friends of each other, at least on that site. 

ABRAMS:  All right, I mean we‘re talking about a 38-year-old and a 17-year-old, but they may have just been friends online though as far as we know, right?  We don‘t know the extent of the friendship, et cetera.

STOCKWELL:  Well and he‘s also one of the last persons who is believed to have seen her...


STOCKWELL:  ... before her disappearance. 


STOCKWELL:  So they had met you know in person and he did take photographs of her...

ABRAMS:  Right.  Right.

STOCKWELL:  ... at some point. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Jamie, if you could stick around for a moment.


ABRAMS:  Clint, the fact that they found the car with stolen plates...


ABRAMS:  ... from someone else‘s car, and that this is her car, I mean I heard her mother say at one point that she actually viewed this as possible good news.  Any way to see this as possibly news that she‘s alive and OK in some way? 

VAN ZANDT:  No, that‘s—to say she‘s alive is a stretch, Dan.  The good news from an investigative standpoint is number one, we know these Ohio tags were stolen two months ago.  So somebody more than likely in the Richmond, Virginia, area had stolen the tags and held on to them, for what purpose we don‘t know.

Now we have two weeks ago Taylor goes missing, her car goes missing, but the car is found a mile and a half from her college campus.  So that says probably from an investigative standpoint whoever moved the car perhaps whoever had something to do with her disappearance was from that local area.  So that keeps everything centered right in Richmond...

ABRAMS:  But why does the person, Clint, want to change the license plate?  I mean if someone is going to abduct her, right, and take her car...


ABRAMS:  ... why—I mean what, that means that they were driving around with her possibly in the car.

VAN ZANDT:  No.  For me, Dan, it means somebody wants to dump the car and...

ABRAMS:  Why do you dump the car a mile and a half from where she was last seen?

VAN ZANDT:  Well because if you dump the car a mile and a half away, that could mean you switched her to another vehicle or did something with her in that distance, but you don‘t want the car to be found because perhaps it had something that might incriminate you to that car. 

ABRAMS:  But if you don‘t want it to be found, why don‘t you dump it you know 50 miles away.  Why do you dump it a mile and a half where everyone in the community knows that she‘s missing? 

VAN ZANDT:  Because I don‘t want to be in that car too long if it‘s been reported as missing, Dan.  I want to get myself out of that car and any connection with her as quick as I could, so I dump the car as soon as I can, I switch the plates.  Now the key in this though, when she went missing, as you know, she went to her dorm at 10:00 at night.  Her roommate had a guy there, so Taylor turned around and took her cell phone, some cash, car keys and left.  She hasn‘t been seen since.  If she had that cell phone, Dan, did she call somebody and say hey, I can‘t go to my room tonight.  Can I stop by your house, your dorm...

ABRAMS:  Well I would assume they have the cell phone records at this point, right? 

VAN ZANDT:  They would have the cell phone...


VAN ZANDT:  ... records and the e-mail records, so you know hopefully that‘s going to lead them somewhere. 

ABRAMS:  Geoffrey, search warrants, all right, we know that these search warrants have been executed.  What does that tell you as a legal matter?  I mean what standard did they have to survive to be able to get a search warrant? 

GEOFFREY FIEGER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Basically just probable cause.  If they can find a judge, usually a friendly judge, Dan, based on any suspicion literally that the officer can enunciate in an affidavit, they‘ll get a search warrant.  They really don‘t have to meet a very high standard in this day and age. 

The probability is, I agree, this is something—all the hallmarks of something untoward having happened to her.  She didn‘t change her own license plates.  I would suggest to you also that the perpetrator is in the community and is a member of that community, or else he would have absconded with the car and gone much further away. 

ABRAMS:  Here‘s her mother, Janet Pelasara, talking. 


JANET PELASARA, TAYLOR BEHL‘S MOTHER:  I can‘t imagine that she would meet someone at that time of night and just go off with them, without her purse, without clothes.  I mean she‘s not the type to just run off.  I mean she told her roommate she was coming back.  She didn‘t have her purse, it‘s just—none of it makes sense.  None of it. 


ABRAMS:  Jamie, are the authorities holding out hope or is this—was this a very discouraging discovery? 

STOCKWELL:  Well, they haven‘t used the term “discouraging” but what the police chief, Rodney Monroe, from Richmond did say yesterday was that the finding of the vehicle has led them now to suspect that perhaps Taylor Behl did meet with foul play or was abducted when—before they had been repeatedly saying that they didn‘t think that was the case at all. 

ABRAMS:  And, Clint, she had only been at this college for less than a week, so it‘s not as if she knew an enormous number of people at the college either. 

VAN ZANDT:  Well it‘s interesting though that she had, like many young people her age, Dan, she had this very large circle of friends on the Internet.  Remember, she‘s known this photographer in the Richmond area for at least a year, so one might suggest she had some type of connections down there.  That‘s the challenge, is running everybody down, all the way from Vienna in Northern Virginia, down to VCU where she went to school in Richmond, trying to tie it all these together and see who might have some knowledge of her.  But, again, whoever had something to do with her disappearance comes from that local community...


VAN ZANDT:  That‘s where they have to keep the investigation. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  We‘ll continue to follow it.  I was just down in Richmond and I can tell you that everyone there is certainly puzzled by this case. 


ABRAMS:  Jamie Stockwell, thanks a lot.  Clint and Geoffrey...

STOCKWELL:  Thanks Dan.  Appreciate it.

ABRAMS:  ... are going to stick around.  If you‘ve got any information about Taylor Behl, please contact the Richmond Police Department, 1-877-244-HELP or the Virginia State Police at 1-800-822-4453.

Coming up, he was sexually assaulted as a child.  Now he apparently admits killing two sex offenders, hoping they‘d get on the dark side so when one notorious sex offender arrives he‘s there to welcome him. 

And she was arrested in the days after Katrina hit for allegedly looting sausages, then thrown into a state pen for over two weeks.  Now the 73-year-old grandma is out, still facing charges.  She‘s joining us live. 

Plus the CEO who brought the world the $2-million toga party was convicted of stealing 150 million from his company, is sentenced today to some serious time. 

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I respond at the end of the show.


ABRAMS:  Pedophilia victim Michael Mullen admits to killing two released Washington state sex offenders and asked for the death penalty, so he can wait in the afterlife and seek revenge on the man whose crimes he says drove him to kill, Joseph Duncan.  Mullen used a sex offender notification Web site to identify his hit list of offenders.  He interviewed three men, hoping to learn why they committed their crimes, and according to a letter Mullen wrote to “The Seattle Times”, one of them showed remorse, so Mullen says he spared him his life.  The other two he said he killed execution style. 

Joining me now is “Seattle Times” reporter Mike Carter, who respected the letters from Mike Mullen, the paper did, University of Washington law professor and former King County prosecutor Maureen Howard, and back with us MSNBC analyst, former FBI investigator Clint van Zandt, and Geoffrey Fieger. 

All right, let me start by reading one of these letters, Michael, that the paper received.  Basically saying, “I myself have a boy and a girl, Dylan and Shasta‘s age.  Of course Dylan was killed and Shasta survived, and God help the man who even hurts them.  My goal is to beat Duncan to death so I can be there when he arrives.  It was clear from these letters, was it not Michael, that he is both confessing to the murders and providing a motive? 

MIKE CARTER, “THE SEATTLE TIMES”:  Well, he had confessed previously. 

He had made no secret about his desire to seek the death penalty as well.  He had—after Hank Eisses and Victor Vazquez, the two sex offenders, were found dead, there were letters sent to other media as well as the police department by a man calling himself “agent life”, confessing to the crimes and saying that there were others on the hit list.  Mike Mullen has clearly confessed in this letter and confessed in Internet postings and confessed in open court. 

ABRAMS:  And yet now he‘s pleading not guilty, right? 

CARTER:  Well, that‘s true, he pled not guilty last week in a hearing but you also have to remember that in Washington under state law the prosecutor in a capital—in an aggravated murder case like this one, the prosecutor has 30 days to determine whether or not he will seek the death penalty. 

ABRAMS:  Right. 

CARTER:  During that timeframe you can‘t plead guilty to the crime until the prosecutor has expressed whether or not they plan...


CARTER:  ... to seek the death penalty.  So it—to some degree that plea may have been pro forma.  I don‘t think we really know what is in Mike Mullen‘s head right now.  We know what was in his head on September 11 when he wrote us.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  One more part of the letter.  I interviewed all three occupants and out of the three only one showed remorse or guilt.  He‘s the one I let go.  Also I wanted one alive to spread the message that we will not tolerate our children being used and abused.

Professor Howard, is this a possible defense? 

MAUREEN HOWARD, UNIV. OF WASHINGTON LAW PROFESSOR:  Well, I don‘t think that what we‘ve heard yet would rise to a level of a mental defect for that sort of a defense.  In other words, not guilty by reason of insanity.  There‘s nothing I‘ve read that shows any sort of a psychiatric history, any sort of personality disorder, any sort of fantastical ideation.  It sounds more like a cut-and-dried revenge killing, an execution-style cold-blooded premeditated killing. 

ABRAMS:  But, Geoffrey, there might be some level of sympathy from jurors.  And, again, when I say some level of sympathy, I don‘t mean the jurors are going to say it‘s OK.  But for example...

FIEGER:  Oh, yes they will. 

ABRAMS:  Well, a lesser conviction for example.  They might say oh you know this spurred this memory in him and he decided he needed to go get these guys.  You think it‘s a defense that might work? 

FIEGER:  Yes, because he did exactly what the society is encouraging people to do, maybe not directly, but indirectly.  What do you think these sex lists, these open lists that are available to everybody on the computer are for?  They‘re for vigilantism...

ABRAMS:  Well...

FIEGER:  ... in one form or another, if—you know, they‘re for the community to identify these people.  Now, of course, our society would say, of course we just want to shun them.  But the potential for violence against people...


FIEGER:  ... who have been convicted of a crime...

ABRAMS:  But that‘s a political statement...

FIEGER:  No...

ABRAMS:  Yes it is.  Sure it is...

FIEGER:  ... it‘s not simply political...

ABRAMS:  It is.  It is.

FIEGER:  ... it‘s factual. 


ABRAMS:  But let‘s do it now as a legal matter, all right...

FIEGER:  I am.  I‘m telling you...

ABRAMS:  Bring me into the courtroom...

FIEGER:  ... when I‘m picking a jury...

ABRAMS:  ... you‘re his lawyer, what are you going to say? 


FIEGER:  There‘s going to be sympathy for this guy because he killed two people that people wouldn‘t mind having killed themselves if they could do it and I‘m aware of that.  And so that‘s not a legal defense, but I‘m aware the jury would be inclined—I‘ll find people who will sit on the jury who would be inclined to look the other way, and therefore, because they‘re inclined to do that, they‘re inclined to find lesser offenses and to do things that they might not otherwise do because of the identity of the victim. 

ABRAMS:  Professor Howard, does it matter, again, as a legal matter what happened to him as a child?  Can he say this stirred up members and therefore possibly get you know manslaughter maybe instead of murder? 

HOWARD:  I don‘t think it does in the sense of rising to a level of mental defect, although I agree with my esteemed colleague, that with jury nullification—in other words, if you can raise the passions of the jury that they can disregard the law and say I‘m sympathetic to the defendant.  I disagree that these facts are going to compel any jury to have that kind of a sympathy.  It‘s not the same as an aggrieved parent in the courtroom with the offender who has tortured and killed their child, who pulls out the gun and shoots him. 


HOWARD:  It‘s not the same kind of sympathy evoking situation, I don‘t think so at all.

ABRAMS:  All right, let me ask Michael Carter how exactly did he get into these men‘s homes?  How did he do these interviews with them?  Did he sit there and talk to them?  Did he do it via the Internet? 

CARTER:  He posed as—what he called an off-duty FBI agent.  He went to their front door and he was wearing a cap with the FBI initials on it.  He said he was an FBI agent.  That he was checking on registered sex offenders in the area because there had been—the FBI had received some information that there may be a hit list or they may be in some sort of trouble and he needed to talk with them about it. 

He then essentially invited himself into their homes, sat down with them, drank a few beers, had a conversation.  One of the three went off to work, came home later in the evening, actually ran into Mr. Mullen leaving the home and left again, came back at 3:00 in the morning and found his two roommates shot to death in a bedroom.  One other thing that you mentioned, you know, Victor Vazquez, one of the victims in this crime was accused of raping his daughter repeatedly back many years ago. 

We‘ve received and we‘ve written about Eva Vasquez (ph)  having forgiven her father.  She‘s frankly devastated by this crime.  That her father has now been taken away from her for a crime that she had forgiven him and that they had reconciled over.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  I‘m not suggesting that therefore he deserves to die, but the fact that his daughter was repeatedly raped has come to sort of accept it to me doesn‘t make him any better.  But that‘s not what you‘re saying, I know, but...

CARTER:  No, that‘s not what I‘m saying at all. 

ABRAMS:  I know.  I know.  I know...

CARTER:  We‘ve also received a fair amount—and we wrote about it this weekend --  a fair amount of input from the public, and, again I think that what we‘re hearing is certain sympathy for Michael Mullen‘s motives, if not his methods. 

ABRAMS:  Professor, if he wants to be executed, his position is I want to be dead when Joseph Duncan gets executed so in the afterlife I‘m there to arrive to effectively beat him up in the afterlife.  All right, putting that aside for a moment, as a legal matter, if he wants to be executed, is it—how hard is it to get executed?

HOWARD:  Well as a legal matter there has to be a confirmation that he‘s mentally competent to make that decision to waive his right to exhaust all of his appeals.  But he can do it and there have been other people that have done it, Wesley Allen Dodd, for example.  But I think you‘re noting his motive to be executed cuts against the sympathy factor in this case. 


HOWARD:  The fact of the matter is these men that were executed, we might all agree they‘re bad guys in the sense that they were convicted for doing...


HOWARD:  ... terrible, terrible crimes, however, whether real or perceived, the reason he killed them was because he was angry about it. 


HOWARD:  And how different is it - what I‘d argue as the prosecutor to the jury is, how different is that than the husband who kills his wife who leaves him and says she was whoring around on me, she‘s a bad woman.  The Bible says o, I‘m going to kill her, or the postal employee who goes in and shoots everyone at the office?  The revenge killings because of the perception the victim is bad, and whether real or imagined, it can‘t be tolerated, it‘s an execution-style killing. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, I don‘t know—I think that argument could be a little controversial only because I think that they—that these guys are even—are much less likeable and have, you know, even more to dislike about them than, you know, a woman who is sleeping around. 


ABRAMS:  I don‘t think the jury is going to have (INAUDIBLE) they‘re going to say, what, are you kidding me? 

HOWARD:  No, absolutely, Dan.  But the problem is, do we want our citizens walking around the country...

ABRAMS:  No, of course, of course...


ABRAMS:  Look, I‘m not—look, this guy is going to go away.  He‘s going to get executed just as he wants.  Clint, the investigation is over, right?

VAN ZANDT:  Well the investigation is over but wait a minute.  You know let‘s—I don‘t want to give Geoffrey a complete pass right now.  You know there‘s a good purpose for the national sexual predator list.  I talked to a woman yesterday, Dan...


VAN ZANDT:  ... I talked to a woman yesterday...

ABRAMS:  I don‘t want to have a debate about the predator list.

VAN ZANDT:  ... who told me she used that list to help identify a guy across the street.  She‘s just going to watch her kids. 

ABRAMS:  Right.

VAN ZANDT:  She‘s not going out looking to kill him...

ABRAMS:  But we‘re not having a debate about the predator list...

VAN ZANDT:  She‘s just going to watch her kids. 

ABRAMS:  The bottom line is you know look, I‘m not going to blame the predator list.  Geoffrey may blame the predator list for this...


ABRAMS:  ... but it‘s not like this is happening everywhere where people are going and shooting sex offenders because they‘re on a predator list. 


ABRAMS:  So...

VAN ZANDT:  No, it‘s a good thing to have and you know the case is closed but we‘ve still got to prove the case.  And you know if he happens to beat this guy to hell, so be it.

ABRAMS:  I‘ve got to wrap it up.  Mike Carter, Clint van Zandt, Geoffrey Fieger, and Professor Howard, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it. 


ABRAMS:  Coming up, a 73-year-old grandma locked up in a state pen for allegedly looting sausages after Hurricane Katrina.  She‘s out—there she is.  She joins us live, up next. 

Former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski sentenced to serious time today.  In the end it wasn‘t the $6,000 shower curtain or the $2 million toga party that did him in. 


ABRAMS:  A 73-year-old grandma arrested in New Orleans for allegedly looting sausages, she was released soon after our show on Friday night.  She joins us live after the headlines. 


ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  On Friday we brought you the story of Merlene Maten, 73-year-old grandma, a church elder, who spent 16 days in prison, held on a $50,000 bond for allegedly looting $63 worth of goods from a deli near New Orleans the day after Hurricane Katrina hit.  Maten‘s attorney told us she didn‘t steal anything, that the food was—that she was caught with were just part of the supplies that she took when she evacuated her home. 

Still, she‘s going to have to appear in court in October to fight the looting charge.  Merlene Maten was released from prison late Friday, too late to join us, but she is with us now, along with her attorney, Daniel Becket Becnel, III. 

Thank you both for joining us.  We appreciate it.  All right, we heard, Daniel, you laid out the case for Merlene on Friday.  Merlene, let me just hear it from you.  Tell me what happened when they arrested you.

MERLENE MATEN, 73-YEAR-OLD ARRESTED FOR LOOTING:  On Tuesday after the hurricane, they had a lot of water, we was lodging at Motel Six, and they had a lot of water out there.  I first went down to get some water to flush the toilet.  I went back down again and there were a lot of people out there, so I went to my car to charge my phone and to get some sausage out of my car, the trunk of my car. 

Well, I saw people scattered around but I didn‘t know what was going on.  So as I got my sausage and I looked down and there was a policemen there.  And he called me, come here, and I went over to him.  I looked up first, and I went over to him, and he said that that was out of some store and I was looting. 

First of all, I didn‘t know what looting meant, you know, so I said, I didn‘t go to any store.  I didn‘t break into any store.  And so God as my witness, I did not go to any store, I didn‘t  break in any store.  You know I‘m a diabetic and why would I go kicking a store, go take something out of a store? 

ABRAMS:  Merlene, let me let you hear what the police chief had to say and I want you to respond to what he said about the incident.


CHIEF NICK CONGEMI, KENNER, LA POLICE DEPT.:  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 just—it‘s very confusing what her explanation would be. 


ABRAMS:  So what is your explanation, Merlene? 

MATEN:  I don‘t drink, number one.  I had no beer.  I always have—I have a ice chest in my trunk.  I always bring food in my trunk.  Everyone that knows me know I keep food in my trunk when I‘m going somewhere.  I went to get the rest of the food so that I could feed my husband.  I have an 80-year-old husband that I left upstairs and when they arrested me I didn‘t see him anymore until Friday. 

ABRAMS:  Tell me, you spent 16 days in a state pen.  Tell me about that. 

MATEN:  No, they brought me to Gretna where I stayed, I think about a week from Tuesday to Tuesday to Gretna.  From there they brought me to the Greyhound Bus Station or the train station, and I slept on the ground that night.  From there they just wouldn‘t tell us where—they wouldn‘t tell me where I was going.  They just kept transporting me.  They put me—the next morning they put me on a bus and that‘s when they brought me to Saint Gabriel, and I stayed there until Friday. 

ABRAMS:  How was the—what was the experience like there? 

MATEN:  It could have been better.  It was devastating, but it could have been better. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Mr. Becnel, 30 -- $50,000 bond, what was the explanation for that? 

DANIEL BECKET BECNEL III, ATTY FOR 73-YEAR-OLD ALLEGED LOOTER:  Well, I‘ve talked to the duty judge and the duty judge said that there were over 30 to 40 people arrested for looting that day and they were all given the same $50,000 bond...

ABRAMS:  Wait, no matter...


ABRAMS:  ... no matter if they were accused of stealing jewelry or if they were accused of stealing food, same amount of bond? 

BECNEL:  That‘s correct. 

ABRAMS:  (INAUDIBLE) all right, go ahead. 

BECNEL:  As you know, the courthouse was closed.  The bail bondsmen were closed.  The judges were evacuated so that‘s what made this such a difficult case, is we couldn‘t get in touch with anybody to reason with them and tell them the facts and circumstances.  And luckily once I was able to get in touch with Judge Wicker (ph) and she heard the circumstances and the facts she found it uncompassionate and was reasonable and allowing her on her recognizance to be released. 

ABRAMS:  And...

BECNEL:  And that took another 24...

ABRAMS:  And your position is...

BECNEL:  ... another 24 hours.

ABRAMS:  Your position is that the sausage that she had isn‘t even sold at the deli that was looted, correct? 

BECNEL:  That‘s correct.  And also that they piled up other items, the police did, and if you had seen the items, there‘s no way Mrs. Maten could have handled all of those items. 

ABRAMS:  My guess is...


ABRAMS:  My guess is that these charges are going to be dismissed, but we will follow this case.  Merlene Maten, thank you for taking the time.  It‘s, you know look, this sure sounds like a case where they were just—there was a lot of mass confusion there at the time and my guess is—and you know we‘ll see as this case moves forward—my guess is that they‘re going to dismiss the charges and that Merlene Maten may be cleared of all of this and maybe even get an apology.  But we‘ll see.  Look, we got keep following this.  Thank you both very much for coming on.  Appreciate it. 

MATEN:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Just a note, we did put in a call to the Jefferson County D.A.‘s Office and they did not return our call. 

All right, coming up now, the man behind this lavish toga party for his wife now behind bars at Rikers.  Former CEO of Tyco was sentenced today. 

And it‘s been three weeks since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans.  I say it is now time to start the—quote—“blame games”.  It‘s my “Closing Argument”.

And in our effort to reunite families split up in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we are highlighting missing children posted on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Web site in the hopes of getting them back with their loved ones.

Ashley Brown, age 12, Harvey, Louisiana, missing since August the 27th.  Hannah Ellis, age 5, from Kiln, Mississippi, missing since August 29.  If you know where either of them is, please call the Katrina Missing Kids hotline at 1-888-544-5475.


ABRAMS:  Coming up, some hard time handed down as two highflying executives from the ‘90‘s sentenced today in New York.  They‘re facing a lot of years in tough state prisons, coming up.


ABRAMS:  From the big bash to the big house, the $2-million birthday party Tyco chief Dennis Kozlowski threw for his wife has become a symbol of excess corporate greed.  Now after being convicted of stealing $150 million from Tyco, Kozlowski and Chief Financial Officer Michael Swartz facing some hard time.  They won‘t be spending it in Kozlowski‘s New York apartment with the $6,000 shower curtain Tyco paid for either. 

Today New York State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus sentenced both men to serve eight and a third to 25 years, along with fines and restitution of 240 million.  Even with time off for good behavior, Kozlowski and Swartz will each spend almost seven years behind bars, time they could wind up serving in Attica or one of New York‘s other tough state prisons. 

Andrew Ross Sorkin is “The New York Times” reporter who covered the case.  He joins us now.  All right, Andrew, good to see you.  So why the tough prisons?  We‘re always hear in these federal—generally federal cases...


ABRAMS:  ... that white-collar criminals go to these club feds? 

SORKIN:  No club fed here, right?  The situation is this.  This was not a federal case, it was actually brought by Robert Morgenthau in New York State and as a result, you go to the state system and the state system happens to be a pretty difficult one.  Attica is one of the maximum-security facilities.  If you get sentenced usually for more than five years, you go to a maximum-security facility because they don‘t have places for non-violent offenders for less than that, because typically those type of sentences don‘t exist. 

ABRAMS:  So it‘s not the crime, it‘s the time that determines...

SORKIN:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... which sentence...

SORKIN:  Exactly.

ABRAMS:  ... which prison you‘re going to? 

SORKIN:  Exactly.  He‘s off—both Mr. Kozlowski and Mr. Swartz are off to—not to Attica rather, but to Rikers Island probably by the end of this week to be processed for the first month and then they will find out where they will be placed. 

ABRAMS:  Wow.  Do you think they were surprised? 

SORKIN:  You know, I can‘t say that their lawyers were surprised but I think for them, just watching their expressions, their faces, having talked to them prior to the sentencing, I do think they were surprised.  There was a kind of dumbfounded look on both of their faces, almost expressionless as in oh my God, I can‘t believe this just happened to me.  And I think their family also—it can be that they‘re just trying to disbelieve what was coming, but I do think this was an unbelievable experience for them. 

ABRAMS:  Very quickly, eight and a third to 25, what does it really mean? 

SORKIN:  It really means pretty much eight and a third at minimum.  There‘s no chance they really get 25, but as long as their good behaviors, they should be out in about eight and a third years, which is less than people like Bernie Ebbers of WorldCom who‘s going for a full 25 years, but a lot more than people like Michael Milken from the 1980‘s who was only in for about two years. 

ABRAMS:  Andrew Ross Sorkin, as always thanks a lot.

SORKIN:  Thank you Dan.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, why I say it is time to start playing the so-called blame game as a result of the mess in New Orleans. 

And many of you writing in furious that federal money and your donations to hurricane victims ended up in strip clubs. 

More now on our effort to reunite families split up in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Cody Leard, age 12, from La Place, Louisiana, has been missing since August 30.  Jessica Edwards, age 12, from New Orleans, Louisiana, missing since August 29. 

If you know where either of them is, please call the Katrina Missing Kids hotline, 1-888-544-5475.  Back in a minute.


ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—in the first couple of weeks after Hurricane Katrina, I agreed it wasn‘t productive to focus on the so-called blame game with so many people in need of immediate help and support.  I thought assessing blame was a way to primarily cover various behinds but not the most productive use of the limited time and resources.  Well the time has come, not just so we can learn lessons, but in order to help solve problems that exist there today. 

We need to know exactly who is supposed to be doing what, particularly now that another hurricane appears to be on the way.  This as the mayor of New Orleans exchanged jabs on national TV with the Coast Guard vice admiral running the federal relief effort.  The issue, whether some residents should be returning to New Orleans now.  Vice Admiral Allen said no.  The mayor said yes for parts of the city until late today as tropical storm Rita threatened to hit the area. 

If we had a sense of who exactly was supposed to do what and when, it might help residents better assess what to do now.  Who is responsible for assessing whether the water is drinkable for the people returning?  Who is best suited to determine which neighborhoods will be rebuilt versus which are beyond repair?  And who will make the all important decisions about the levees and do we really want to trust some of the officials who made such horrible decisions three weeks ago to be in charge now? 

We need to assess blame to clean house, especially as millions of dollars funnel into the region, billions.  Accountability will be crucial in assuring the right people get what they need.  The “Florida Sun-Sentinel” this week examined 20 natural disasters over the past five years, found that FEMA awarded more than 330 million to areas that weren‘t impacted by storms.  A lot of that money either irresponsibly allocated or taken by fraud.  The paper reports FEMA ended up footing the bill for funerals of people not even killed by hurricanes or for brand new home appliances for some who hadn‘t lost anything in storms. 

That sort of information may help determine where the precious resources go this time, now.  We need answers.  Look, blame game is a loaded term, but I‘m toward play it if it means that we can better allocate money and resources today supervised by people we can count on.  And yes, it may also help prevent this mess from ever happening again. 

Coming up, some of you defend having federal money and donations for Hurricane Katrina victims ending up in strip clubs.  


ABRAMS:  Cool new graphics we have (INAUDIBLE).  I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  On Friday we reported how in certain cases your donations and federal tax money given to Hurricane Katrina victims on FEMA and Red Cross debit cards have been used at strip clubs, Best Buy and even Louis Vuitton.  Apparently with few restrictions on the cards, there‘s really nothing to do to prevent it from happening.  We asked is there a better way to do it? 

Katrina W., “I‘m furious.  How dare some of these people take the money that we, their fellow Americans, donated and the government has given them to help them get back on track and on their feet, buy a damn Louis Vuitton bag.  This is an item that I couldn‘t afford at any point in my lifetime and someone had the nerve to use a FEMA card.”

From La Mesa, California, Diana Strain, “Why do you want to keep the evacuees in a helpless state and monitor their behavior?”

Loretta Jacobs from Greenbrae, California, “I don‘t care how they spend their $2,000.  They were trying to be polite, referring to the Red Cross, and tell you it‘s not their job to watch how people choose to spend their few pennies, and I could not agree more.  Give it a rest.  Get off your high horse.  These are people in crisis.”

Red in Louisiana, “I work in a casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana.  We have had people come in to the casino to try and gamble.  It really makes me feel like some are taking advantage of the situation.  I see the people from New Orleans and the casinos spending the money they have instead of finding a place to stay for three children.  We have to deal with them every night.”

Lynn from California, “If the Louis Vuitton bag makes someone happy, then what‘s wrong with that?  These people have lost everything they own.  Most, if not all of the people have post traumatic stress and their thinking is probably very emotional and distorted.”

From Columbus, Ohio, Joe Sommer, “I don‘t think it‘s necessarily a bad thing that some evacuees might spend some of their relief money at strip clubs.  It‘s a scientific fact that sexual gratification has a tranquilizing effect, can reduce stress, and lift depression.  Those people surely need all three.”

Say it ain‘t so, Joe. 

S. Mitchell, “I‘m tired of people yelling about racism.  My family donated $5,000 to hurricane relief.  Why should I continue to give when this is the gratitude we receive?”

Cindy S. in New York, “You‘re absolutely correct, Americans are not going to open their wallets to the Red Cross or FEMA when they aren‘t responsible enough to restrict how these funds are spent.”

Finally Myla Reson from Los Angeles, “This type of irresponsible reporting contributes to a pervasive lack of understanding about the very real problem of poverty in this country.”

Your e-mails abramsreport—one word -- @msnbc.com.  We go through them at the end of the show. 

I really like these new—this new look.  It seems like every time we do anything different, everyone writes in complaining if they like—the number of complaints we used to get about our music, all the time.  And I‘m sure now everyone is going to say what happened to that wonderful ‘70‘s music you guys used to groove to at the end of the show? 

All right.  That does it for us tonight.  Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  See you tomorrow.


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