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Police in Miami Searched for Escaped Serial Rapist; Report Shows Discrimination in Housing for Katrina Victims

Aired December 22, 2005 - 08:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get right back to Kelly Wallace. She's got an update for us. Hey, Kelly, good morning.

A little bit of movement to tell you about. Both sides in New York's transit strike meeting separately with a mediator. All this before a court appearance that's set to begin at 11:00 a.m. Eastern today. The city is expected to request a temporary restraining order against union workers over the strike to try to get everyone back on the job. That's on top of the $1 million a day fine the judge has already ordered against the union.

Fair to say most New Yorkers are already growing weary of the heavy traffic and the walk to work in the cold. Of course, we'll be following the story throughout the morning here on AMERICAN MORNING.


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Well, let's go to Miami now. Police in Miami are asking the public to help find an accused serial rapist who escaped from prison. Reynaldo Rapalo escaped Tuesday by climbing down a rope made of bed sheets. Miami's police chief tells AMERICAN MORNING the escape has left them with plenty of questions, but very few answers.

Christopher King is live at the Miami police headquarters. He's been following the story for us. Christopher, what do you got?

CHRISTOPHER KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Rick. What people down here in Miami want to know is just how did this man, an accused rape suspect, break out of jail? Now police say Reynaldo Rapalo broke out of his cell at a corrections facility just outside of Miami. He's accused of raping seven victims, ages 11 to 79.

Rapalo was awaiting trial when he broke out. Police believe he crawled out through an air duct in cell, then scaled his down a wall using bed sheets tied together. Now, the big question police are trying to sort out is just how did he get out?

Police chief John Timoney spoke with AMERICAN MORNING earlier. Here's what he had to say.


CHIEF JOHN TIMONEY, EARLIER ON AMERICAN MORNING: There are two separate investigations. One, obviously, to get this guy off the street. And then the second one is how did the escape take place, who was involved, how's the facility constructed, how was he able to get -- we know he had certain tools that assisted him in the escape? How did he get them?


KING: Now, police have launched a massive manhunt for Rapalo. They're checking airports and bus terminals. Police believe he's still in Miami. Now, Chief Timoney says he has a hunch that Rapalo is getting help from the outside and that Rapalo has not left town, he says. Now, police also say Rapalo may be armed and they say he's dangerous. Rapalo stands about 5'4" and weighs 140 pounds -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: What happened to the other fellow who tried to escape with him?

KING: Now, that's Idanio Rodriguez (ph). He tried to escape with Rapalo, but he broke his leg in his attempt to escape. He's now in police custody and police are hoping he'll cooperate with the investigation -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Christopher, we thank you so much for bringing us up to date on that -- Soledad, over to you.


O'BRIEN: We've got a disturbing new report of discrimination against Katrina evacuees to tell you about. These, of course, are folks who are desperately searching for a place to live. Well, federal complaints filed this week against landlords accusing them of turning away blacks. And here's the bigger picture. A housing watchdog group estimating that whites are favored over black applicants two times out of three.

Shanna Smith is the president of the National Fair Housing Alliance. She joins us from our Washington bureau this morning. And, of course, these are tests that were conducted by your organization, Shanna. Thanks for being with us.


O'BRIEN: Let me just run down some of the numbers to kind of bring everybody up to speed. Sixty-six percent of the tests conducted found that white people were more likely to get an apartment who were looking than black people. How did you do the tests? How did it work?

SMITH: Well, we had white person call different apartment complexes in 17 cities across the U.S. and find out if apartments were, in fact, available. And then an African-American called and another white called and we measured what information they were all given. We found so often that the African-Americans were told outright lies about the availability or they were not given the same incentives that the white testers who posed as Katrina victims received. O'BRIEN: Well, if people -- the landlords or potential landlords never saw the candidates, are you saying that people were identified because they sounded black or sounded white?

SMITH: Yes. We used something called linguistic profiling. And the African-American testers, some of them were actually people who were harmed by the hurricane in New Orleans, so they had the regional dialect. And we had whites and blacks who called. And you could tell by their phone voice as well as their names their race.

O'BRIEN: In every case, the conversation sort of went the same way, right? I mean, they were -- everybody was looking for a two bedroom, everybody had two kids, everybody a job with a company in that city, is that correct?

SMITH: Yes. This testing was done with middle income working class families. And the issue is, this is a business transaction, so why wouldn't a manager just tell the truth about the availability of an apartment and allow the person to be judged based on their qualifications rather than their race?

O'BRIEN: You've now launched complaints, five complaints against four companies. And I want to read to you the responses from these four companies.

The first, Hubbard Properties, which is the owner of the Eagle View Apartments in Birmingham, Alabama, they declined to comment all together. Hold on for the Gables, which is what you're looking at right now. Then we have the Michaelson Realty Group, which is the owner of the Saddlebrook Apartments in Dallas, Texas. They failed to get back to us at all.

Then the Gables. This is our first response here. "The company is surprised," they wrote, "and dismayed by this allegation. This is not how we do business. The Gables Associates volunteered over 2,000 hours to relief efforts. In addition, the Gables donated $50,000 to the Red Cross designated specifically to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts." That's what they said to us in their response.

And we have the Mid-America Apartment Communities and they're talking about the Paddock Club in Gainesville, Florida. Let's run through what they said. "We take these allegations seriously. Our associates take fair housing training to make sure we have followed the appropriate guidelines and treat everyone with respect. We will respond to this complaint, touch base with our folks in Gainesville, understand what happened, how to resolve it. We provide housing for everyone and we don't discriminate. We are committed to fair housing guidelines."

What do you want HUD -- H-U-D, the Housing and Urban Development group where you filed the complaints -- what do you want them to do?

SMITH: Well, they will send out investigators. They'll look at the evidence of our testing and then they'll look to see what racial composition is of those communities. You know, I'm pleased that these apartment complexes are saying that they want to follow the fair housing laws.

There are ways for companies to monitor what they do and doing self-testing and continuing education is critical. So these companies should be in the business of trying to make money and not discriminate because of the color or the disability or the gender of the person applying for an apartment.

O'BRIEN: All right, well, thanks very much for joining us, Shanna Smith with the National Fair Housing Alliance. Appreciate your insight on this.

SMITH: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Of all the things to go missing, a baby penguin, no less, missing since Saturday night and believed stolen from an English zoo. There's been a tip today. This is from an anonymous caller. The police were told that 3-month-old Toga has been dumped in a dockyard inside a plastic bag. That doesn't sound good, does it?

One theory about what happened has to do with the documentary "The March of the Penguins." It's popular in England right now, as it here.


DEREK CURTIS, OWNER, AMAZON WORLD; I think this has been stolen not for money. I think this has been stolen because someone's seen this cuddly little baby animal that looks lovely and someone thought this is going to be great for my girlfriend. This is the kind of present you don't get for Christmas.


SANCHEZ: Well, zoo keepers do say this: time is running out for Toga. Baby penguins won't take food from human beings and they say the penguin's parents are inconsolable right now. A reward of at least $17,000 has been offered to get Toga back and e-mails of support and concern are coming in from all over the world. This is the kind of story that has the breakout quality.

O'BRIEN: It is so sad. I mean, why would you take a little penguin?

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" COLUMNIST: Helpless baby penguin.

O'BRIEN: Helpless little baby, 3-month-old furry little penguin.

SANCHEZ: They are cute, though, aren't they?

SERWER: They are.

SANCHEZ: I haven't seen the movie, though.

O'BRIEN: It's a good movie.

SANCHEZ: They make terrible pets, I'm told. Did you hear that? O'BRIEN: Yes. Because they're penguins and they don't -- they're not pets. Get a cat, for God's sake.

SERWER: They're not domesticated. You don't want to have a penguin in the house, I'm afraid.

O'BRIEN: Moving on, let's talk business. Andy, what do you got?

SERWER: The battle about drilling for oil in Alaska rages on. Plus, student loans are slashed. We'll tell you about that coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: Happy Birthday, Robin. Happy Birthday.

SERWER: Do you think Kanye likes the Bee Gees?

O'BRIEN: Sure. I think he probably does.

SERWER: Because they had them on that show a couple times.

O'BRIEN: Happy birthday Carl Swietzer (ph), our producer. Happy birthday, Kelly Wallace, who didn't tell us that her birthday was yesterday. I swear to God, talking birthday is today.

Let's talk about this, though. First, most people are just hoping they got the right gift for their dad or their mom or their uncle or their aunt. You know, the whole list. But in Florida, of course, a very different story. Holiday shoppers are really taking a different take on gift-giving and John Zarrella has a look on that.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): How about a two burner stove or this TV/lantern combo? Forget a partridge and a pear tree in South Florida. The hottest selling Christmas gifts are things you need when the power goes out: coolers, flashlights that don't use batteries.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So how does it work if you don't...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just hit the magnet -- it's a strong magnet -- and shake it.

ZARRELLA: And propane powered stoves.

BILL BEDNARZ, OUTDOOR WORLD: We've had people come in here and actually buy for their kids, three, four, five different types of stoves and they're going to give them as Christmas gifts.

ZARRELLA: When the grinch, aka Hurricane Wilma, raced across the state, it knocked out electricity to 3 million power company customers, some for more than three weeks.

ANA CAMP, SHOPPER: My husband went into withdrawal without having a TV or anything like that. So one of the things I'm getting him is the TV/lantern.

ZARRELLA: Ana Camp is buying three of these and 30 -- that's right, 30 -- lanterns. A year ago, Christmas shoppers say they would have been embarrassed to give these as gifts. Not anymore.

CAMP: From what I hear, the hurricane season is just going to be getting worse the next 10 or 20 years, so this is something that they can use.

ZARRELLA: They can use the "Storm Gourmet Cookbook," too, if you can find it. This was the last copy at Barnes & Noble in West Palm Beach.

DAPHNE NIKOLOPULOS, COOKBOOK AUTHOR: What do is we add chipotle chilies, which are nice and hot. It has a nice Latin flavor, of course, which we like.

ZARRELLA: After her electricity went out, author Daphne Nikolopulos realized she could still prepare good meals without power.

NIKOLOPULOS: Like everybody else, we were very ill-prepared because, you know, we had a few things that were canned, maybe some potato chips, bread and peanut butter. Well you can only eat that for so long.

ZARRELLA: The book contains recipes for dishes like chipotle tacos, stuffed avocados and for desert, a raspberry peach tort.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have to wait for a hurricane to have this. Mmm, this is good.

ZARRELLA: Whether a cookbook or a stove, a whole lot of people in Florida will be getting presents this Christmas they won't open until the next time the lights go out.

John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.


O'BRIEN: Well, you know, those gifts are going to come in handy. Experts say we could keep seeing these busy hurricane seasons for another ten years or so. Ten years. I don't know if people can take that.

SANCHEZ: That's an awful lot, is it?

Well, Alaska's arctic landscape is going to go unchanged for now and over here, future college students...

SERWER: Alaska is that way, Rick.

SANCHEZ: Which way is Alaska, by the way?

O'BRIEN: That would be your camera right there.

SANCHEZ: OK. Thank you very much. Gotcha. Future college students may need to think again before taking out a student loan. Andy, who's over here.

SERWER: Thank you, Rick. And I'm going that way, I bet.

SANCHEZ: North by northwest, joining us with this.

SERWER: Thank you. A lot end-of-session dramatics yesterday, Rick, on Capitol Hill indeed. ANWR, the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, this the subject of a fierce debate. Here's what happened. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens tried to tack on a provision that would allow drilling in this refuge to a $453 billion defense bill. Democrats, moderate Republicans, furious.

They blocked his measure and now we will not have drilling in Alaska for yet another year. And I say that because this has been going on a long time. $10 billion -- excuse me, 10 billion barrels, I should say, of oil estimated to be up there. That's only oil enough for two years for the United States. Interesting point, people don't realize that.

Also yesterday in Congress, slashing student loans. Listen to this. They wanted to cut out about $12.7 billion worth of student loans, all in an effort to reduce the deficit. Here's how they did it. They're going to use market forces. How? Raising rates.

Raising rates to make them less desirable. That will cut back on the amount of money spent. You can see here, going from the variable also to the fixed and when you do that, raised up almost two whole percentage points. And you can see that there.

Actually, in fact, two whole percentage points or more. And then the plus loans, which are the parent loans for undergraduate studies -- the acronym for students, up a whole bunch as well. So boy, if you're going to be borrowing money for college and graduate school...

O'BRIEN: Oh, that sucks.

SERWER: ... that's going to cost you an arm and a leg.

O'BRIEN: Wow. Literally, right.

SERWER: Right. A lot more.

O'BRIEN: All right. Andy, thank you.

SERWER: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, are both sides in the transit strike moving back to the bargaining table? Governor Pataki's going to join us up next to talk about the status of the negotiations. We're looking at that ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


SANCHEZ: We want you to be sure and check out our Web Site at for the very latest on the morning's top stories, including the transit strike. Of course New Yorkers are checking into this thing, because they want to know what's going on. Is anybody talking at this point? And it hasn't looked real good, at least in terms of the talks. And New Yorkers are doing the best they can to just get there.

Meanwhile, here's another story people are wanting to know about. In Baltimore, two police officers, a man and woman, found shot to death Wednesday at a home in the suburbs. Turns out a state employee suspected in the killings has turned himself in. We'll be following that for you as well.

And guess where people are moving nowadays? Well, this is the third story people are wanting to know about today. Where were people in the United States going to? They're going South, and they're going West. And you know what state they're going to, numero uno, which is the one place they're wanting to go? Nevada. That is number one as far as places where -- the place where people are moving to. It's the state that's growing the most.

O'BRIEN: Because they know Jack Cafferty's from there.

WALLACE: That was just what I was going to say, who would always say, is it Nevada or Nevada.

O'BRIEN: I don't know. But I always pronounced it wrong. He'd mock me for hours for it, so I don't even say that anymore.

SANCHEZ: By the way, a caveat, if you're about to head out doors for work or school, you can stay in touch with CNN and AMERICAN MORNING by just doing this, you can log on to, and our pipeline video service, in case you want to see some of the things we're talking about, you can catch live, commercial-free updates. It's all there,

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, we've got a look at the day's top stories. Also we're going to meet a family that's got 11 children, 11 kids, some of them with special needs. Kelly spoke to them, and tell us how they got by while their dad was in Iraq, and why they are so incredibly grateful to have him home for the holidays. That story is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, new security rules take effect today at nation's airports. We're going to tell you what you need to know before you fly home for the holidays. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

Stay with us.



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