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Guns in America; Sex Slave Trade

Aired March 8, 2005 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Welcome. Glad you could join us tonight. I'm Paula Zahn.
What you're about to see is shocking. In the war on terror, even a would-be terrorist has the right to bear arms.


ZAHN: Tonight's CNN "Security Watch": suspected terrorists on the FBI watch list, they can still go out and get guns legally. Even the world's most powerful rifle, no paperwork, no questions, just cold, hard cash.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Should there be any regulations on your guns?

RONNIE BARRETT, BARRETT MANUFACTURING: There should be regulations on criminals.

ZAHN: We got one. Who else is in the market?

And in a brutal world where human beings are bought and sold.

RICK CASTRO, SAN DIEGO SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: These girls will get raped violently and get sodomized, beaten very badly.

ZAHN: A strike force hunts down the slave masters and rescues the victims.

ALEX, FORMER SEX SLAVE (through translator): We were thinking, my God, we're all going to die here.

ZAHN: Searching for a safe haven on a journey of tears.


ZAHN: And we begin tonight on the CNN "Security Watch." President Bush today promised to press on with the war on terror overseas, so we don't have to face terrorists here at home.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When terrorists spend their day struggling to avoid death or capture, they are less capable of arming and training to commit new attacks. We will keep the terrorists on the run until they have nowhere left to hide.


ZAHN: And they better be on the run abroad, because, here in the U.S., dozens of suspected terrorists have been able to legally buy guns, even though their names are on federal watch lists. That's according to a congressional report just out today. It's especially frightening story in light of the story you're about to say.

Drew Griffin found out how easy it is to legally buy a gun so powerful, it can pierce armor from more than a mile away. Don't even think about what it can do to a person.


GRIFFIN: To buy a gun, even a .50-caliber gun, this huge gun, you just need to go to your computer and click on one of the biggest classified gun sites, which, in our case, is, AK-47s, shotguns, pistols, all kinds of rifles.

But we wanted to buy was the biggest caliber rifle you could possibly buy. And that's this category right here, big .50-caliber rifles. This is the gun that is now banned in California. And on this Web site, we have about three dozen of them for sale. But what we're looking for is one that is not being sold by a dealer.

See, where it says federal licensed firearm dealer? We are trying to find one that's being sold by just a private citizen. This is actually the gun we bought. When you finally find the gun you want on this Web site and you're dealing with a private party, you just give him your e-mail and you send him a note. "Let's set up a meeting. I'm paying cash." And the next thing you know, we're going to buy our gun.

(voice-over): But before I shelled out $2,500 to buy this gun, I wanted to make sure I could buy ammunition. That turned out to be as easy as ordering flowers. With just a couple of clicks on my computer, I ordered and paid by credit card for 50 .50-caliber armor- piercing rounds.

They were delivered in a week, shells as long as my hand delivered, no questions asked, by UPS. I could have even bought tracer rounds, if I had wanted. Now it was time to get the gun.

(on camera): What we're about to do is perfectly legal in dozens of states where cash-and-carry is the rule, a private seller, a private buyer. There will be no background check, no government waiting period, no government paperwork at all. In fact, the only paper that will change hands is the money we use to buy our .50- caliber rifle.

(voice-over): The transaction at a house in suburban Houston took about 20 minutes. We walked out with a case holding the gun critics say is the perfect terrorist weapon, a brand new .50-caliber with scope, bipod and directions. We flew home.

Guns are checked as baggage. And when the bags arrived for our flight, I simply picked it up and left. Ronnie Barrett, who manufactures .50-caliber rifles, believes, as an American, it is your right to own one.

(on camera): Isn't that particular gun in the hands a terrorist dangerous?

BARRETT: We're not talking about terrorists. We're just arming here civilians. These laws have nothing to do with terrorism.

GRIFFIN: Barrett's company makes one of the most popular and top-of-the-line .50-caliber rifles on the market, a semiautomatic favored by armies around the world. But Barrett says his company couldn't survive on military orders alone and what keeps all these workers busy is its popularity among recreational shooters. Barrett says it may be effective on the battlefield, but, on the target range, it's just plain fun.

(on camera): Should there be any regulations on your guns?

BARRETT: There should be regulations on criminals.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Gun control advocates want a federal ban on this weapon. Their reasoning, anything that can hit a target at 1,000 yards with the bullet the size of a small artillery shell could certainly pose a major threat to aircraft.

(on camera): But the question at most of the nation's airports is not what you could do with a .50-caliber gun at 1,000 yards. Here at LAX, a would-be terrorist could get within less than 1,000 feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop. Turn the machine off.

(voice-over): This week, at a police gun range, I found out what this gun could do to the emergency exit door of a Boeing 727 fired from 1,000 feet away. The gun is very heavy, not easy to maneuver, but took only a few moments to set up. The first time I fired it, I missed. After adjusting for the sight, round after armor-piercing round went straight through the door.

But just about any gun could pierce the thin aluminum skin of the airplane. What scares law enforcement is what else this round can do when fired from this gun.


GRIFFIN: This is a 1-inch thick piece of steel plate, more protection than almost any armored car. The .50-caliber goes right through the aircraft door and right through one-inch steel.

(on camera): Wow. Right through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right through it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right through it, baby.

GRIFFIN: That's where it came out. That's where it went in, 1- inch steel plate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unbelievable. Just unbelievable.



ZAHN: The power is just extraordinary, Drew Griffin reporting.

So, could a bullet from a .50-caliber rifle bring down a commercial airliner? Probably not, but it could be enough to cripple one. And that was enough for California to ban sales of .50-caliber rifles. Well, now, even some members of Congress want to make that ban national.

We're going to change gears now. If you think slavery went away in the 1800s in America, think again.


ALEX (through translator): We were working 24 hours. It didn't matter if we were sleeping. They would get us up.


ZAHN: Unbelievably, right here in the United States, in the year 2005, slavery for sex. Coming up next, you'll meet some of the people fighting to stop it.


ZAHN: Coming up, the shocking story of women and children held as slaves of the sex trade and the people trying to rescue them.

And then, a little bit later on, a courageous young woman. She's blind and she's racing in the Iditarod. Good for her.

First, it's about a quarter after the hour now. It's been a very busy news day. Let's turn to Erica Hill at Headline News for the hour's top stories.


A U.S. investigative team will look into just exactly what happened in the death of an Italian security agent killed by American forces in Iraq. The agent was shot to death Friday while transporting an Italian hostage who had just been released. The U.S. military says their car rapidly approached a checkpoint and ignored repeated orders to stop. But Israeli's foreign minister says he's been told their car was not speeding and was never ordered to stop before U.S. forces opened fire.

Russian military commanders say they've killed rebel Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov. He is the man Russia blames for the massacre of 330 people at a school last year. Authorities say Maskhadov was killed during a special operation in the northern sector of Chechnya. Defense attorneys for Michael Jackson got a chance to grill his accuser's brother today in court. The boy admitted on the stand that the adult magazine that had been entered into evidence was not the one he claimed Jackson showed him. Lawyers also raised doubts about the boy's account of Jackson molesting his brother. And the boy admitted on the stand he had lied during a civil suit deposition.

Six months after undergoing heart bypass surgery, former President Bill Clinton will undergo another operation Thursday. Doctors will remove scar tissue and a rare buildup of fluid in his chest. In an appearance at the White House today, though, Clinton said he feels fine and said he will only be out of commission for a week or two.

I'm Erica Hill -- now, Paula, back to you.

ZAHN: Thanks, Erica. We'll be back to you in about 30 minutes.

You should know that our next story deals frankly and graphically with an international crisis.


ALEX (through translator): The woman who brought me here told me I would work in a restaurant and I would pay her off with my labor.


ZAHN: The labor was worse than she ever imagined. She was forced to be a sex slave and lived to tell about it.


ZAHN: You might have thought slavery ended in the United States with the Civil War. Well, it didn't. It is still going on in different forms underground. Because of that, numbers are very hard to come by. One estimate from the State Department says more than 17,000 people were smuggled into the U.S. to be slaves in 2003.

Well, for the women you're about to meet, the American dream turned into a prison without walls. They had hoped for a better life, but they were literally enslaved, forced to work as prostitutes. But some Americans are fighting to help them by tracking down the criminals who traffic in human beings.

Here's Thelma Gutierrez.


THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a hidden crime.

ALEX (through translator): Yes, I believe we were slaves.

GUTIERREZ: From secret residential brothels in the city.

ALEX (through translator): They wouldn't let us leave or go anywhere.

GUTIERREZ: To brothels in agricultural fields.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of these women, they are here against their will.

GUTIERREZ: Women are being bought and sold.

HEIDI RUMMEL, ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: It's a very lucrative crime. And that's why people are willing to exploit other human beings.

GUTIERREZ: It's called human trafficking. And only drugs and guns generate more money for organized crime. Meet Alex (ph).

ALEX (through translator): The woman who brought me here told me I would work in a restaurant and I would pay her off with my labor.

GUTIERREZ: Instead, Alex was forced to pay off her debts with her body. We can't show you her face because she's a federal witness in the case against her captors.

ALEX (through translator): We were thinking, my God, we're all going to die here.

GUTIERREZ: Alex was smuggled from Mexico through the desert to a house here in Los Angeles, where her dreams were shattered.

ALEX (through translator): They didn't tell me what was going to happen. They just told me, you're going to go with this man.

GUTIERREZ: It was a frightening realization. The restaurant job was a farce. Alex and a dozen others, including two 14-year-old girls, were forced to work as prostitutes.

ALEX (through translator): We were working 24 hours. It didn't matter if we were sleeping. They would get us up. If we were hungry, there was no time to eat. All that mattered was their money. 9 UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are the drop-off sites.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coming in this way.

GUTIERREZ: Sheriff's Deputy Rick Castro leads a small strike force against human traffickers. We follow the team as they conduct ongoing surveillance of an agricultural a field in the suburbs of San Diego.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They got more activity out there.

GUTIERREZ: Deputy Castro and Sergeant Marcos Ramirez told me it's common for traffickers to set up brothels for migrant workers.

CASTRO: Only the customers will be coming in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here, we watched from atop a mountain ridge. CASTRO: The girls will generally bring in little pieces of carpet.

GUTIERREZ: On this night, our camera captures several people running into the field.

CASTRO: These kind of operations are pretty common.

GUTIERREZ: Deputy Castro is an expert in trafficking. He says, in the past three years, he has noticed a marked increase in traffic victims and they're not easy to identify.

CASTRO: Unfortunately, when I first started interviewing some of these victims, I didn't know what human trafficking was. And I let a lot of victims -- when I think back, I let a lot of victims go.

GUTIERREZ: It is a transient operation, where women are brought to the fields. They disappear into a grove of trees. This is where business is conducted, through the bush and on the ground.

SGT. MARCOS RAMIREZ, SAN DIEGO SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: They're out there in this Bush doing it because they have to.

GUTIERREZ (on camera): And if they don't want to or if they try to run away?

RAMIREZ: They'll be dealt with severely by the persons who are basically the ones that we're after.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Castro says punishment for running away is brutal.

CASTRO: These girls will get raped violently. They'll got sodomized, beaten very badly. And in one case specifically I remember that the female was beaten with a clothes hangar for about two hours. And just by witnessing this torture for two hours, those girls will have that lasting impression for the rest of their life. And they will never, ever go against that trafficker.

RUMMEL: The youngest girl at this house was 14 years old.

GUTIERREZ: Heidi Rummel is an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles.

RUMMEL: October, she had 80 clients, in November, 91, in December, 97.

GUTIERREZ: She shows us the journal of a young victim who was forced to prostitute herself here in a house without windows.

(on camera): Why do you think it was important to keep these journals?

RUMMEL: Because the defendant had promised them that, when they left, he would pay them for the clients they had serviced. They didn't receive money during the time that they were working here. GUTIERREZ: Over four months, the girl was forced to have sex with 274 clients. Her trafficker, Sammy Chung (ph), is now serving 12 1/2 years in federal prison.

From Texas to New Jersey to California, international trafficking rings have been busted across the country. As of February of this year, the Justice Department has 203 open trafficking investigations.

ALEX (through translator): I would get sad at times, because I would imagine my dreams escaping like water through my hands.

GUTIERREZ: Alex is convinced that many of the clients knew that she and the others were being forced to sell themselves, but didn't care.

ALEX (through translator): To the men, I have so little to say. I hope they will take a step back and think, especially if they have children or daughters. I don't think they would like to see their daughters in those places.

GUTIERREZ: For her traffickers, Alex was a reusable commodity who could be used over and over again, just like the women we see here running across the field on a degrading journey that may have no end.


ZAHN: And, as if that journey wasn't disgusting enough, sex slavery doesn't involve only women. Unbelievably, slave traffickers are preying on children sometimes as young as 11 years old.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The woman took me home with her and fed me. Within a week, I learned it was brothel. I had nowhere to go, so I stayed there.


ZAHN: But now there is some hope for the children caught in a hellish existence just across the border in Mexico.


ZAHN: Welcome back.

On to our next story of slavery in the 21st century and those who fight against it. You may or may not believe in guardian angels, but Thelma Gutierrez found one south of the border in a town where too many children are caught up in a hellish life.


GUTIERREZ (voice-over): His voice echoes through this neighborhood in Tijuana, Mexico. It is a song without words, only melancholy, haunting sounds from a child who was once bought and sold. Tijuana sits on the U.S.-Mexican border. On the weekend, Americans flock here to party. Just five blocks away is a dark side few outsiders have seen. This is what police call the tolerant zone. It is a maze of dark alleys lined with small bars and young prostitutes. In this zone, prostitution is legal, but sex workers must be at least 18. Many don't look a day over 15 and some may be even younger than that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I don't like it, but what can I do? I started this a year ago when I was 17.

GUTIERREZ: It's hard to know just how old this teenage prostitute really is, because they all say they're at least 18. We can't show you her face, because she'd be in danger from the men who control this zone and who enforce strict discipline on the young prostitutes who work for them.

The teenager says she was lured to the border from another state in Mexico and that she's doing this to earn money to send to her family. Trafficking experts say young women like her would be even more profitable commodities in the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I've had guys ask me to go with them. I would like to leave here if I could. Some people have even tried to take me to the United States.

GUTIERREZ: This is how international traffickers lure young women into the underground world of sex slavery, where they might disappear forever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People will be promised different jobs or different opportunities to come here to the United States or they will actually be literally kidnapped and forced to come over here.

GUTIERREZ: Federal authorities say Mexico is predominantly a source country, where human beings are found, bought and sold by traffickers. According to CIA estimates, nearly 18,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year. A third are from Latin America. And no one knows how many are minors.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They range from ages 14 to 18, and maybe younger. They got a lot of makeup on. They're being surveilled by -- by their pimps.

GUTIERREZ: Marisa Bava (ph) is a human rights activist who works with other groups to protect the most vulnerable, street children who work in the sex trade.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They have no place to go. So, they roam the streets. They do survival sex. They do other things that you don't want to mention, because they don't do them because they're bad, but because it's a need.

GUTIERREZ: The main thing children need is a place where they can feel safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a sleeping area. We have three sleeping area.

GUTIERREZ: We were granted rare access to this government-run shelter in Tijuana, where sexually exploited boys are counseled, educated and given a second chance at childhood.

Jorge Bedoya is the director.

JORGE BEDOYA, SHELTER DIRECTOR: We are the -- most of the time full, because we have the problem of the street childrens and...

GUTIERREZ: It was here at this shelter, where I first met the boy with the voice, who sings songs that only have meaning to him. We'll call him Tomas.

TOMAS (through translator): When I sing, I forget everything, all the hurts, the rejection and the abuse. I express my feelings by singing.

GUTIERREZ: Tomas also expresses his feelings by writing. He showed me his journal. Inside is the tragic story of a mother who did not want him and the life of abuse that led him to the streets when he was only 11.

TOMAS (through translator): My mother and stepfather threw me out of the house. I was crying on the street, and a man came and took me home.

GUTIERREZ: Tomas ran away from a series of child molesters, until one day, he says, he met a women with whom he thought he'd be safe.

TOMAS (through translator): The woman took me home with her and fed me. Within a week, I learned it was brothel. I had nowhere to go, so I stayed there. The woman gave me things. In exchange, I had to prostitute myself.

GUTIERREZ: Tomas says he was forced to wear makeup and dress as a girl for clients, some of whom were American men. He says he lived this twisted existence for four years as a child prostitute, until he learned he was about to be trafficked.

TOMAS (through translator): I found out they wanted to sell me to the person. He offered to buy me, but I said no.

GUTIERREZ: This time when he ran away, he managed to find his way to Jorge's shelter.

Sister Dora (ph) says there's no shortage of exploited children in her shelter either. She bought it and runs it with money she made in California real estate.

This was a socialite who once owned beachfront property in San Diego and 120 pairs of designer shoes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And here, we're going to show you the bedrooms. GUTIERREZ: A far cry from how she lives now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In here we have three beds, sort of crammed together, as you can see.

GUTIERREZ: She has space for six kids, but 16 live here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We actually are hoping and started praying for a center that would house as many as 80 to 100 children.

GUTIERREZ: Sister Dora (ph) says it was a calling from above that compelled her to dedicate her life to the children.

With her own money, she pays tuition, so that each one can go to school. For many here, it's the first time in a classroom.

She says every boy and girl here has a story of heartache and stolen innocence, stories she's heard for 10 years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I cannot fathom or even understand how any man, whether it's your child or your present wife or what, that you would violate her. I cannot understand that. And it just breaks me up terribly. How, how horrible. How unjust. And what it does to their lives. They're just absolutely in shambles, and this is why we have so many that do attend, going to prostitution for that reason. They say, well, I'm not worth anything.

GUTIERREZ: In the tolerance zone, child prostitutes learn the tragic lesson, that the value of their lives is ultimately measured in the desires and wallets of strangers.


ZAHN: As disgusting as all that is, I guess we should all be heartened by the fact that we have found some angels out of that darkness.

Thelma Gutierrez, Tijuana, Mexico. One more note about Tomas -- he says his dream is to become a writer. For now, he remains in the boy shelter with a future that is anything but certain.

Not all slavery in America is for sex, however. It also is a source of cheap labor.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a hugely profitable industry, the selling and buying of human beings.


ZAHN: Stay with us, and enter the secret world of sweatshops, restaurants and even mansions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: So tonight we have all just seen how the sex industry is a trap for modern-day slaves. But it is not the only one. And as Thelma Gutierrez found out in her final report, there are people helping the tens of thousands of victims, even those in the most desperate situations, like that of an immigrant mother whose dream of life in America became a nightmare.


GUTIERREZ (voice-over): From New York to Los Angeles and most every major city in between, a secret labor force is hard at work. In the fields, garment shops, restaurants, and even in some homes -- we're not just talking about undocumented workers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Slavery is alive and well. Trafficking of slaves is alive and well.

GUTIERREZ: We're talking about modern-day slaves, living and working in this country, without pay and against their wills.


GUTIERREZ: 47-year-old Thonglim Kamphiranon is a mother of two from Thailand.


GUTIERREZ: Nena Ruiz is a mother of three from a small village in the Philippines. Both struggled to eke out a living in their own countries, but like so many others who live in poverty, Nena and Thonglim were easy targets for traffickers looking for slave labor.

And this is their story.

KAMPHIRANON: Because my family is poor, right? They want to make money, and then they want to take care of my son and my children, make them happy.

GUTIERREZ: Thonglim dreamed of giving her kids the education she never had, and believed the only way was to leave Thailand and everything she loved behind.

KAMPHIRANON: I only want a job, and want to make money.

GUTIERREZ: So when this woman, Sopiwan Rapal (ph), a Thai socialite living in the United States, offered Thonglim a job in a restaurant in California, she thought her prayers were answered.

KAMPHIRANON: Tell me if you want to come back to Thailand to work for me like four years.

GUTIERREZ: Thonglim didn't understand what she was in for, until she landed in Los Angeles, with no money and no friends. Sopiwan (ph) even took her passport away.

Thonglim says she was forced to work around the clock, seven days a week.

KAMPHIRANON: Almost like 18 hour or 19 hour a day.

GUTIERREZ: When her day ended at the Thai restaurant, her second job would begin at Sopiwan's (ph) home, where Thonglim and seven other Thai women worked as house servants.

She says she will never get over the humiliation she felt when Sopiwan (ph) forced her to serve meals and perform other chores on her hands and knees as a sign of submission.

And then there was the broken dream.

KAMPHIRANON: I come here, everything I pray.

GUTIERREZ: Thonglim hoped to send money home to her children, but her salary was only $240 a month. From that, all of her living expenses were deducted, leaving her with nothing.

When she complained or talked about leaving, she says she was threatened.

KAMPHIRANON: If I run away and tell police, my family will suffer.

GUTIERREZ: And so she kept silent for nine long years without seeing her children, until one day she and another woman escaped. That's when the FBI and immigration authorities got involved.

Nena Ruiz was a teacher in a rural village in the Philippines. She thought she was coming to the United States to work as a travel companion to an elderly woman. Instead, she says, she ended up in Los Angeles, working here, in the home of then Sony executive Judd Jackson and his wife, Beth, whom she was to refer to as Sir Judd and Ma'am Beth.

RUIZ: I started to work at 5:30, then end at 10 at night.

GUTIERREZ: Nena says the Jacksons had strict daily, weekly and bi-weekly schedules for her to follow, which included meticulous care of the couple's two dogs, Andrew and Stella.

RUIZ: I had to brush the dogs' tails, clean their ears and even give them vitamins everyday, but I was forced to sleep on a dog bed.

GUTIERREZ: Nena says she slept on the floor of this dining room. And because her passport was taken, she couldn't escape. She said she was charged room and board. And by the time her living expenses were deducted, she had nothing. And she claims on several occasions, she was hit.

RUIZ: They would say, you didn't follow instruction. I followed instruction. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

GUTIERREZ: A neighbor finally called the police. No criminal charges were filed against the Jacksons, but civil rights attorney Dan Stormer filed a civil lawsuit against them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Jacksons owned stature within the community. This is a man who was vice president of corporate legal affairs for Sony. The jury found under the laws of this country that she had been held, falsely imprisoned, held as a slave, had her rights violated.

GUTIERREZ: After the verdict, Judd Jackson was let go from his job at Sony.

Neither of the Jacksons agreed to be interviewed for this story, but their attorney, Jack Daniel, says his clients never physically abused Nena.

JACK DANIEL, ATTORNEY: She certainly wasn't an indentured servant. She had free access to leave anytime she wanted to. All she had to do was walk out the front gate and turn a knob.

GUTIERREZ: In the 12 months and three weeks she worked for the Jacksons, Nena says she was paid $300. At trial, the jury awarded her $825,000 in damages.

As for Thonglim, her trafficker, Sopiwan Rapal (ph), is serving an eight-year sentence in prison for harboring illegal aliens and violating involuntary servitude laws.

Thonglim now has a real restaurant job, and she's able to send money home to her family.

KAMPHIRANON: I want everything like American people.

GUTIERREZ: As for the dream that she could one day educate her children...

KAMPHIRANON: I love America.

GUTIERREZ: ... she did it. By scraping together meager funds, she managed to send her daughter Pin (ph) to a university in Thailand. And now, the little girl Thonglim left behind years ago is the first in her family to become a university graduate. A very American dream come true.


ZAHN: I was hoping that story would have a happy ending.

Thelma Gutierrez tells us federal investigators are seeing a new trend: more victims like Nena Ruiz filing civil lawsuits about those who they say enslaved them. Meanwhile, the U.S. attorney's office is looking into Nena's case. She now works in a nursing home in Los Angeles.

Well, we have seen the worst in human nature tonight, but in a few minutes, you're going to see the absolute best.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JERRY SCDORIS, RACHAEL'S FATHER: Rachael never gives up. She's an indomitable spirit.


ZAHN: Please stay with us and meet a young woman whose courage and determination are an inspiration to others and will be to you, as well.


ZAHN: In a few minutes, the story of a courageous young woman. Look at her. She's blind and she's taking on the challenge of a lifetime. But, first, it's about a quarter till the hour, time to check in once again with Erica Hill at Headline News.

HILL: Thanks, Paula. A federal grand jury has indicted three people in what is considered to be one of North America's largest counterfeit credit card scams.

The suspect allegedly stole credit card numbers and rung up millions of dollars in purchases over four years. Now if convicted, each suspect could get up to five years in prison and have to reimburse the money stolen from banks and lenders. In addition, they would face fines of a quarter million dollars.

The FBI has received hundreds of leads in the killings of a federal judge's mother and husband, but so far no arrests. DNA tests have been performed on cigarette butts taken from the Chicago home where the bodies were found. But the FBI says the DNA didn't match any sample that's already on file. A $50,000 reward is being offered in the case.

Russell Crowe, an al Qaeda target? It sounds a little far fetched. But a federal law enforcement official confirms to CNN Crowe's name did come up in intelligence about the possible kidnapping of celebrities in what was called a cultural destabilization plan.

Now Crowe reveals in this month's issue of "GQ" magazine he was surrounded by FBI agents at the Academy Awards in 2001. And just a note, he actually won that year, taking home the Best Actor statuette for "Gladiator." Crowe grew up in Australia.

Contract talks are stalled and now some 2,800 union machinists in a Lockheed-Martin plant outside Atlanta are on strike. The workers in a dispute with the company over pay, health care premiums and retirement insurance benefits. The plant builds fighter and transport planes.

Gas prices may hit a record high this spring. The government says the national monthly average could reach $2.15 a gallon. Prices for the busy driving season, which runs from April through September, could run 20 cents per gallon more than last year.

President Bush welcomed former presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton to the White House today. The two former presidents talked about relief efforts for tsunami victims in South Asia.

And that's going to do it for us at the Headline News desk. I'm Erica Hill. Paula, back to you.

ZAHN: Thanks, Erica.

Please stay with us for a story that I know will make you smile.


RACHAEL SCDORIS, IDITAROD MUSHER: I've been doing this my entire life. I've been planning this forever.


ZAHN: She's 20. She's legally blind, and today, she's racing a dogsled across Alaska. You don't want to miss this one.


ZAHN: They call it the last great race, the grueling dogsled mush through the Alaskan winter along the Iditarod trail. This year, 79 teams are competing in the 1,100-mile race from Anchorage all the way to Nome, across some of Alaska's most rugged wilderness.

The winner typically makes it in about 10 days. For the rest, if they finish, it can take up to 17 days. So far, just three days into the race, the leaders are about 400 miles into the course.

Six Iditarod champions are racing this year, as well as one very special rookie: a 20-year-old woman, who is legally blind.


ZAHN (voice-over): The Iditarod, it's a test of strength, endurance, and most of all, will.

R. SCDORIS: I've been told that in Iditarod you will experience the best times of your life and the absolute worse times of your life, and it's funny because those can be two minutes apart.

ZAHN: For Rachael Scdoris, it is the end of a long race of her own that has finally gotten her here to the starting line.

R. SCDORIS: I've been doing this my entire life. I've been planning this forever.

ZAHN: Rachael is only 20 years old, so forever means since she was a young girl growing up in Oregon. Her father Jerry raced and bred dogs himself, and at an early age she felt the call of the wild.

R. SCDORIS: I was kind of born into the sport. It wasn't my fault. But you know, when you grow up with 40 to 90 dogs in your front yard, and your Dad's best friends are dog people who come around and tell you all these great stories about Iditarods, you know, you can't help but get a little interesting. ZAHN: But first Rachael had to overcome a great obstacle: her vision. She suffers from a rare eye disorder, and although she can make out shapes, she has only a vague sense of depth and detail.

She was that pretty little girl in Coke bottle glasses who wasn't allowed to forget that in school.

R. SCDORIS: The assumptions were that it was OK to -- to run up behind me and spin me into lockers and think it was so funny when I was, you know, trying to figure out which direction I was going again.

ZAHN: Being with the family dogs was an escape for Rachael, a place where she could be in control. Her father quickly noticed that she had what it took to lead a dog team to victory on her own.

J. SCDORIS: She's had some major obstacles in her young life but just needed to address. Most of us couldn't even dream it would be possible that we'd have to qualify ourselves, you know, on a daily basis. And so in a lot of ways, this stuff's really easy.

ZAHN: Rachael started racing competitively at the age of 11, her sights always set on the Super Bowl of dog racing, the Iditarod.

But not everyone was comfortable with the idea of having her on the trail.

R. SCDORIS: People always just want to focus on, well, you can't see, so therefore, you can't -- you obviously don't know how to take care of your own dogs. And some people actually said because of my eye condition I was more susceptible to the cold.

ZAHN: The debate over whether Rachael should run the Iditarod with a guide led to a fierce argument in the tight-knit mushing community. Race director Stan Hooley helped to find a solution.

STAN HOOLEY, IDITAROD EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: The first shot at trying to make everyone happy involved a proposal that involved snow machines that would accompany Rachael. The board of directors just didn't feel like that was the right approach, and we looked at a second proposal, which was for her to be accompanied by another dog team.

ZAHN: After several months' negotiation, a compromise was reached that allows Rachael to communicate by two-way radio with a visual guide on a sled just ahead of her, to warn about potential dangers.

R. SCDORIS: Just let me know what obstacles are coming up, and that's all the assistance I need out there.

ZAHN: Everything else Rachael must do herself: negotiating the course, caring for her dogs and caring for herself.

R. SCDORIS: Man, the pre-race jitters!

ZAHN: Two nights before the start of the great race, all 79 of this year's entrants gather with well-wishers to draw for their starting positions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Out of Bend, Oregon, Rachael Scdoris.

ZAHN: A low number but not too low. It's considered a good start and perhaps a good omen for what's to come.

R. SCDORIS: No. 10.

ZAHN: At the banquet, Rachael is the bell of the ball.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you sign this for me?

R. SCDORIS: And she graciously obliges, by now familiar with the visual challenge of signing her name. But with all this celebrity comes stress and more questions about her disability.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are legally blind.

R. SCDORIS: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is phenomenal.

R. SCDORIS: I was the nerdy blind kid in school, and now I'm the blind musher. And I was kind of hoping that would change, but it's not going to.

ZAHN: Her family keeps a watch over her, and so do some of her heroes.

LIBBY RIDDLES, IDITAROD WINNER: Leave her alone! Leave her alone!

R. SCDORIS: Like Libby Riddles, the first woman ever to win the race, who sweeps Rachael away when the scrutiny becomes too much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you get any sleep last night?


ZAHN: And Rachael will also have friends out on the trail, like Terrell Seavey, who at the age of 20, has already finished this grueling race once before.

TYRELL SEAVEY, IDITAROD MUSHER: Rachael has more challenges, and I would say she'll tough it out. She'll hang in there. Eventually, she'll finish. But this year, next year, what does it really matter? She's out here learning and experiencing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From Bend, Oregon, Rachael Scdoris.

ZAHN: Who knows whether Rachael Scdoris will cross the Iditarod finish line in Nome? The race is notoriously tough on rookies, even those racing without an additional challenge.

But in all her years of racing, she's never finished last. She says she sees only possibilities. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: The last we heard, three teams had already dropped out, but Rachael is still in it, in 74th place. We're rooting for her.

That's it for all of us tonight. Tomorrow night, please join us at 8 p.m. Eastern for an encore broadcast of our special hour with people who have taken on and beaten breast cancer.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next. He'll be talking with heart disease survivors and look ahead at President Clinton's upcoming heart surgery.

Again, thanks for dropping by tonight. Have a good night.


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