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AMERICAN MORNING

Florida Community Refusing to Give Up Hope; Eighteen People Dead in Massive Hotel Fire in Downtown Paris

Aired April 15, 2005 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning.
The Florida community refusing to give up hope as they continue their search for 13-year-old Sarah Lunde. Has the investigation stalled already?

Eighteen people dead in a massive hotel fire in downtown Paris. Officials now fear that death toll could rise higher.

And going inside the trauma pod where robots save soldiers' lives. The future of war and surgery on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN broadcast center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING with Bill Hemmer and Soledad O'Brien.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning.

A lot to tell you about this morning.

A report coming up from the Vatican -- we've been seeing workers all morning. They're putting up this chimney that's going to have a place in history when the next pope is elected. A lot of people want the last pope, Pope John Paul II, to be given sainthood, and pretty fast, too. We're going to talk this morning with Vatican analyst John Allen about whether he thinks that's going to happen.

HEMMER: We'll all be watching that chimney come Monday, too.

Also in a moment here, part of the illegal drug trade you often do not think about, but very dangerous just the same. We'll talk to the special agent in charge of a massive bust of an illegal prescription drug ring. That's coming up this hour, also.

O'BRIEN: Millions of dollars involved. They ended up bringing in three doctors and a nurse who have been, you know, handing out prescriptions left and right. That's ahead this morning -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: How are you?

CAFFERTY: I'm average.

Coming up in "The Cafferty File," the ratings are in on President Bush's sex appeal and guess what? He ain't no Elvis.

Real estate prices exploding along with the roadside bombs in Iraq.

And the money needed to fight the war in Iraq is being held up in Congress by a shortage of oyster shuckers in Maryland.

HEMMER: It's those shuckers again, isn't it?

Thank you, Jack.

(LAUGHTER)

HEMMER: That's just (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

CAFFERTY: You think I'm going near that you're nuts.

O'BRIEN: We're all waiting for it though.

HEMMER: Close.

Here's Carol Costello with the headlines -- hey, Carol, good morning.

COSTELLO: Wow!

Good morning.

Good morning to you.

Now in the news, a deadly fire to start off. It was at a Paris hotel. Authorities say at least 18 people were killed in the blaze, including several children. Dozens of others are wounded. The flames gutted the six floor Paris Opera Hotel. Officials fear more casualties could be found inside that building.

Leaders from around the world gathering in Monaco today for the funeral of Prince Rainier. They're bidding a final farewell to the longest ruling monarch in Europe. The prince will be laid to rest next to his late wife, the movie star Grace Kelly.

CNN "Security Watch" now. Hundreds of law agencies are working together to root out some of the most wanted fugitives in the country. It's part of a massive criminal sweep known as Operation Falcon. Of the suspects, 162 are accused or convicted of murder, 638 are wanted for armed robbery, 154 are gang members and more than 100 are unregistered sex offenders.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales spoke with us last hour.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have taken off the street 10,000 very dangerous people. More work needs to be done, clearly, Bill. But we now have developed new relationships, new lines of communication, new ways of sharing information that I think will make us more effective.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COSTELLO: Stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.

Amtrak says it is canceling its Acela express lines because of problems with the brakes. The New York-Boston and New York-Washington express trains will be out of service until those brake problems are taken care of. Most of the other Amtrak services to those cities are running without problems. And if you have to reschedule, I just did, 19 minutes on hold. Nineteen minutes. But they'll refund your money. I'm sure that makes you feel better.

Hey, procrastinators, do I even need to tell you the post office is planning to stay open late tonight? That's so thousands of you can file at the very last minute. Yes, today is the all important April 15 deadline. If you're rushing to get your returns done, you are not alone in the rush to file. Nine million won't even make it. They will file extensions. And hopefully they will, because -- you're kidding.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I'm filing an extension, OK? I'm sorry. I was just busy this year.

COSTELLO: That's just embarrassing.

O'BRIEN: It is. It is. But I feel better telling the world.

COSTELLO: I'm sure you do.

O'BRIEN: Thanks, Carol.

COSTELLO: Sure.

O'BRIEN: Well, it has now been a week since the funeral of Pope John Paul II and preparations are now underway for the papal Conclave. You're looking at some live pictures there. The Conclave begins on Monday, but above the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican and some workers there are hoisting a chimney. It's going to emit smoke and that smoke is going to indicate the outcome of any vote among the cardinals.

In Rome, calls for sainthood for the late pope are already growing.

So will the church follow the popular push for sainthood?

John Allen, who is a CNN Vatican analyst, he's live at the Vatican for us this morning -- hey, John, good morning to you.

JOHN ALLEN, CNN VATICAN ANALYST: Hey, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: A five year waiting period, actually, before -- traditionally, before you can make somebody a saint.

Why the waiting period?

ALLEN: Well, the idea, Soledad, is to make sure that this is a considered judgment, that they don't simply rush into something without having adequately thought it through. And, of course, it's not just that they have to wait five years. I mean once that five years is over, then they have to begin a very complicated process, actually, of collecting testimony. I mean essentially a book linked study of the candidate's life has to be written, which ordinarily takes several years.

Then that has to be submitted to the Congregation for Saints here, studied, debated and so forth. That results, if it's successful, in declaring that this person lived a life of heroic virtue. And then, of course, they have to begin looking for miracles. One miracle for beatification, that's the penultimate stage; and then finally another miracle for Canonization.

Now, the pope does have the authority to waive that five year waiting period, as happened under Pope John Paul II, for example, for Mother Teresa. And what we know for a fact is that several cardinals in their general Congregation meetings, that is, those meetings they're having every day, have signed a petition requesting that the next pope would, in effect, fast track the cause of Pope John Paul II.

O'BRIEN: Let me jump in and ask you a question. So the cardinals have the support, but there's obviously lots of call -- public support, as well. I mean we saw at the funeral the calls for Santo Subito!, you know, sainthood right now.

Will the public support make a big difference?

ALLEN: Oh, absolutely. I mean actually, Soledad, this is exactly how the process is supposed to work in the Catholic Church. Making a saint is supposed to be the most democratic process of all. It starts with a kind of strong following at the grassroots, what in Latin they call fama sanctitatis, that is, the Fame of Sanctity, the idea that a person has a reputation by the people to whom he or she was known for having lived a holy life. And then the church comes in in a kind of after the fact way and ratifies this.

And I think if there were any doubt that John Paul had the Fame of Sanctity, I think those chants you referred to during the mass of "Santo! Santo!" and those banners saying "Santo Subito!," I think they removed any such doubt.

O'BRIEN: You know, I was talking to an analyst during the funeral and he said when the president of Israel shook hands with the president of Syria, well, that's one miracle toward beatification. He, of course, was being facetious.

Are there miracles that are attributed to Pope John Paul II?

ALLEN: Yes, actually, in some respects, those reports are beginning to pour in. And one of them, for example, which has actually been on the record for a few years, there's a Mexican cardinal who works here in the Vatican by the name of Lozano Barragan who believes that a young Mexican boy was healed from a fatal disease by virtue of contact with the pope in a public square during a trip to Mexico in the early 1990s. And Cardinal Barragan says his mother, that the boy's mother told him that the boy was diagnosed as being, in essence, terminal, and then after this contact with the pope, miraculously he recovered.

Now, of course, you know, what will happen is that if the process moves forward, and I think everyone assumes that it will, eventually there will be a panel of physicians that work here, work for the Vatican, work with the Vatican, who will sort through these things. What they always seek to establish is that the cure was immediate, it was spontaneous, it was lasting and there is no medical explanation for it. And if they are able to establish that, either in the case of this young Mexican boy or in the dozens of other cases that we're hearing about, at least accidentally, then you'll have your miracle.

O'BRIEN: Give me a yes or no answer, John, on this.

Pope John Paul II will be a pope one day -- will be a saint one day?

ALLEN: I thought that was going to be the ultimate softball question, Soledad, because he obviously was a pope. Yes, listen, I mean I would -- if I had $5 in my pocket I would bet that one day, and not in the too distant future, Pope John Paul II will be declared a saint.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I think you're right on that.

John Allen is our CNN Vatican analyst, joining us this morning; also the author of a book called "Conclave," which describes what is happening right now as the cardinals get ready to meet.

Tonight, "NEWSNIGHT" is going to take a special look at the Conclave, the preps, the politicking and all the rest of the intrigue that goes into picking the next pope. That's "NEWSNIGHT," 10:00 p.m. Eastern, on CNN.

And Monday, as the papal Conclave meets for the first time, AMERICAN MORNING focuses on the process of choosing a new pope. That's Monday, 7:00 a.m. Eastern, 4:00 a.m. on the West Coast.

HEMMER: Now nine minutes past the hour.

The leader of the search for a 13-year-old girl missing in Florida is now disappointed that authorities have not made more progress. Sarah Lunde was last seen late Saturday night by her brother. There's now a $10,000 reward to find her.

CNN's Susan Candiotti is live in Ruskin, Florida, just south of Tampa -- Susan, at this point, where do police say that investigation stands?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're saying that they remain confident even though so far, as you've pointed out, they haven't had any very solid tips. And they're a bit surprised and taken aback by that, because based on his experience, Sheriff Gee, as he told you not long ago, says he's a bit surprised that they haven't had more leads coming in.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF DAVID GEE, HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FLORIDA: It has not reached a dead end. I mean, there's a lot of things that are being done out there right now and a lot of things behind-the-scenes that I have not been able to discuss publicly that are being done. And, of course, it just takes time and we'll just continue to chip away at this thing and hopefully get a break in the case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: Now, we have just learned a little while ago that authorities have been telling searchers now to start looking for Bud or Bud Lite beer bottles as they comb through the woods, the river areas, the ditches, the roadways. And that's because police say it might have a connection to David Onstott. You might remember that he is a convicted sex offender who broke off a relationship with Sarah Lunde's mother a few months back.

Now, Onstott, according to Sarah Lunde's brother, was at the Lunde home early Sunday morning and picked up a beer bottle from inside the home before leaving. Why is unclear.

Now, police have questioned Onstott. They have said he had been cooperating. He was arrested on unrelated charges on Tuesday night and is being held without bail on a dui charge out of Michigan. There's a hearing about that today.

In the meantime, as we said, bloodhounds will continue to go out there, searchers will be assisted by volunteers and they expect a very, very long day.

Little Sarah Lunde, you'll remember, is 13 years old and she disappeared some time late Sunday night after returning home from a weekend church outing. And she was reported missing on Monday by her mother, who had been gone for the weekend, when Sarah didn't show up for school on Monday -- Bill.

HEMMER: Susan Candiotti in Ruskin, Florida.

Susan, thank you.

We'll be in touch in Florida.

In the meantime, though, a check of the weather on a Friday.

Checking in with Chad Myers.

What do you think, man?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I think it looks good.

HEMMER: Oh, nice. We'll take that.

MYERS: Yes.

(WEATHER REPORT)

MYERS: Finally, some good weather for the PGA.

HEMMER: Yes, they need it, too.

MYERS: Yes.

HEMMER: Did you see this thing last night in Boston?

MYERS: I did. Sheffield?

HEMMER: Another ugly incident, Chad.

MYERS: Yes.

HEMMER: And what else is there...

MYERS: Carol called it a roundhouse, but it was really only just a jab.

HEMMER: Oh, yes? Well, here's what happened. In the middle of the eighth inning last night, Varitek rips a shot down the line in right. It turned out to be a triple. The wall there is very short, only three feet high. As Gary Sheffield of the Yankees goes after the ball, he gets hit in the face by a fan. Sheffield says he was punched. He hit back even before he took the ball and threw it back to the infield. Two runs score. The Red Sox win the game. Sheffield starts back toward the stands but says at that point he thought about Ron Artest of the Indiana Pacers and that basket brawl with the fans in Detroit.

Now, the fan was thrown out. Some of the others in the stands say he was only going for the ball and not Sheffield. The Red Sox won the game 8-5.

O'BRIEN: It kind of looks like he was only going for the ball.

HEMMER: Yes?

O'BRIEN: I mean I was leaned over because I was trying to get a better look at this. I mean the guy kind of -- if you were going to punch someone, you just punch him. He kind of did this swoop. It looked like he kind of -- yes, well, you could hit somebody that way. It's kind of the point.

MYERS: I'll tell you what's interesting now. Mid-July, the Yankees go back to Fenway Park.

O'BRIEN: Right.

HEMMER: I mean these folks can't get along, can they?

O'BRIEN: No. They -- no.

HEMMER: But, you know, they make it interesting.

O'BRIEN: Why can't everybody just get along?

HEMMER: You have to say it is so good when they play against each other.

O'BRIEN: That's true.

HEMMER: The Red Sox win.

O'BRIEN: Tom DeLay says he's done answering questions about the ethics scandal dogging him. Is that a good way to try to put out the fire? I'm just done. "Gimme A Minute" takes a look ahead this morning.

HEMMER: Also, very interesting story here. The future of battlefront medicine. No doctors, no nurses, just a remote control and a robot with a very soft touch. We'll talk about that.

O'BRIEN: And coming up next, the Feds shut down an alleged pill mill. They say 11 seconds with a doctor is all that it took to get a dose of highly addictive painkillers.

HEMMER: Also, another reminder, on Monday, I'll be live in Oklahoma City, the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.

AMERICAN MORNING continues right after this on a Friday morning live in New York City.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: After years of investigating, federal agents in New Orleans busted a so-called pill mill this week. Several doctors and a clinic operator were arrested, accused of running an illegal prescription drug ring.

Bill Renton is the special agent in charge.

He joins us from Batare (ph), Louisiana this morning.

Nice to see you.

Thanks for talking with us.

BILL RENTON, DEA SPECIAL AGENT: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Give me a sense of what your investigation found overall.

RENTON: Soledad, our investigation found that a number of pain clinics had opened in the very New Orleans office. And we had seen a large increase in the number of overdose deaths from prescription drugs.

You may know that the Drug Enforcement Administration now considers the abuse of medication, legal medication, as the second highest class of abused drugs after only marijuana. We initiated an investigation and used undercover operatives to go into these physicians' offices and pain clinics and they purchased prescriptions from doctors for no medical reason and outside of the course of a normal practice.

O'BRIEN: Give me a sense of when your undercover agents went in, what kind of interaction were they having with the doctors that were later arrested?

RENTON: The doctors would walk in the office, say bend over, ask how they felt. The undercover operative would say, "Fine." They would hand them a preprinted prescription that the clinic had printed with three highly addictive drugs on one prescription. The name was filled out by a staff member and the physician at that point merely signed the bottom of the thing, the bottom of the prescription, and gave the prescription to the undercover operative.

O'BRIEN: How much money do you think these clinics were making?

RENTON: Well, in this particular investigation, the clinic's owner purchased three large spacious buildings in Louisiana, in the greater New Orleans area, in the suburbs, each of which cost over a million dollars. We have seized from proceeds traceable from this operation $5 million worth of real estate, $4 million plus in bank accounts in various banks down here and from -- on the Tuesday of this week, we executed a search warrant at the owner of the clinic's house, Cherlyn "Cookie" Armstrong Prejean, and we seized $1.6 million in cash from inside of her bedroom.

O'BRIEN: Wow! In cash.

Your investigation started back in 2000.

Why did it take so long to finally get to the point where you were able to arrest people?

RENTON: These are very complicated cases. There was an initial investigation back in 2000. An arrest was made. It was to be prosecuted in the state. Ms. Armstrong is a registered nurse and the nursing board took some action against her. And frankly the Drug Enforcement Administration is, tries to give physicians, and certainly people that are running medical facilities, every opportunity to comply with the Hippocratic Oath and to do good.

In this particular case, the operators of this clinic and the physicians involved chose not to do the right thing and the investigation continued.

O'BRIEN: Do you think that the clinic created drug addicts or do you think that drug addicts essentially just found the clinic and leveraged what they could get out of the doctors?

RENTON: I think a combination of both occurred. I know of, in the criminal complaint we used, there's a specific incident mentioned where an 18-year-old boy had migraine headaches, was being seen by a neurologist, went to this clinic and saw a physician who was an oncologist by specialty. The oncologist started him on a regimen of controlled substances, including hydrocodone, Alprazolam, which is known as Xanax, and Carisoprodol, which is known as Soma, a muscle relaxer. They gave him an anti-anxiety, a muscle relaxer and a highly addictive opiate pain medication.

The young man used these drugs as prescribed by the physicians for 18 months and recently committed suicide. There's a lot of people that were addicted to drugs as a result of these particular clinics dispensing them on a regular basis.

O'BRIEN: Special Agent Bill Renton joining us this morning.

Thanks for that update.

Appreciate it.

RENTON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Bill.

HEMMER: In a moment here, so-called scientists outsmarted by a bunch of gibberish from some college students. We'll explain that in a moment here, right after this on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEMMER: One of the most popular stories on our Web site right now, running at cnn.com, is this hoax by MIT students. They got a scientific conference to accept a study full of computer generated gibberish. The students were taking aim at what they consider to be these bogus computer science conferences, and their paper complete nonsense. The title, get this, "Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy."

CAFFERTY: What?

O'BRIEN: Sounds good to me.

HEMMER: Those crazy college kids.

O'BRIEN: Those MIT students.

HEMMER: You know, I bet by noon today, the most popular story on our Web site is going to be this Yankees/Red Sox game last night.

O'BRIEN: It's a great story.

CAFFERTY: Why isn't that guy...

HEMMER: We -- during every commercial break all we're doing is talking about it.

CAFFERTY: They should have put that guy in jail.

O'BRIEN: Because he wasn't trying to hit him. He was going for the ball. HEMMER: Come on, they kicked him out. They kicked him out of the park.

CAFFERTY: They should have put him in jail.

HEMMER: You know what is the -- you know what's the truth, though? This is the best this rivalry has been.

CAFFERTY: What, now the fans are slugging the players?

O'BRIEN: No. You know...

CAFFERTY: That's great. Well, we're moving forward here.

(CROSSTALK)

HEMMER: The Yankees and the Red Sox are two of the best teams in baseball.

CAFFERTY: Maybe by Series time, they'll have guns. I mean what the hell are you talking about?

HEMMER: I'm saying that they're the two best teams in baseball for years now and this rivalry just continues to get better and better.

O'BRIEN: But he wasn't trying to hit him...

HEMMER: These games are about...

O'BRIEN: He was going for the ball. He kind of swooped and went like that and got him.

HEMMER: Do you believe that?

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes, I accidentally put my hand in the middle of your face.

O'BRIEN: Well...

CAFFERTY: I mean the ball was on the ground.

O'BRIEN: And he was going for it.

CAFFERTY: Um-hmm.

O'BRIEN: A fan. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) wall.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

We've got to move along here or McDonald's will be 51 years old.

They're 50 years old today. Ray Kroc invented it all. They serve 50 million people a day in 30,000 restaurants and we want to know if you think it's a good idea, in retrospect. W.R. writes: "It seems as though the first American owned company in any new foreign market has been a McDonald's. Whether or not you agree with the lack of nutrition in the food, McDonald's has been a missionary of capitalism."

Dave in Maryland writes: "One of the ugliest things I've seen in a long time was a McDonald's restaurant perched atop the Brenner Pass on the highway that takes you from the Austrian to the Italian Alps. McDonald's has its place in the world, but sitting in that beautiful setting isn't one of them."

Tom in Minnesota writes: "Many people in this country like to play the victim and blame McDonald's and other food companies for our obesity problem. Americans should face the fact that they have always had a choice of what they eat."

Tom in Rhode Island writes: "McDonald's was a better idea than 24 hour news channels."

O'BRIEN: Ouch!

HEMMER: Apparently Tom's watching those.

O'BRIEN: Ow!

CAFFERTY: I don't know, I think I'd rather work here. Don't you think?

HEMMER: You want fries with that?

CAFFERTY: Hmmm? That's why.

HEMMER: Hey, are you going to do this thing here?

O'BRIEN: You've got to feed...

HEMMER: This says, "Jack, read."

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes, identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America, so now a number of companies are offering consumers I.D. theft insurance policies. But when your bank account has been emptied by someone using credit cards in your name, how much will an insurance policy help?

Join me this weekend on "In The Money" when we take a closer look. That is Saturday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

O'BRIEN: That was said with such meaning and such feeling.

HEMMER: What, you want viewers?

CAFFERTY: Hmmm?

HEMMER: You want viewers?

CAFFERTY: I don't care.

HEMMER: Your enthusiasm is effusive today.

CAFFERTY: I just want to go home. I'm tired. It's Friday.

O'BRIEN: Oh, stop already. We're not even halfway done.

CAFFERTY: You've been picking on me all week. I'm worn out.

O'BRIEN: Oh!

HEMMER: Hey, mission accomplished.

O'BRIEN: Yes. We did it.

HEMMER: Congressman Tom DeLay says that's it. He's finished answering any questions about ethics scandals dogging him. Could that strategy backfire? "Gimme A Minute" tackles it, after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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