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Charity Scam?; Romney's Rough Month; The Big VP Value Question

Aired August 9, 2012 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Erin, thanks. Good evening, everyone.

We begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest." On the trail of another charity, yet another charity that does a good job raising money and a great job paying the people who run it. As for actually helping the people they're claiming to help, America's wounded warriors, that's another question.

And it's a familiar question to any of our viewers who have been watching us and especially our correspondent Drew Griffin confront charities that take in millions while giving vets nearly nothing. In some cases, just some old shoes or bags of coconut M&Ms.

Drew and his producer David Fitzpatrick would spend years trying to get people from a whole string of charities to explain how your donations, the money that you give, tens of millions of dollars in some cases, end up paying for candies and other useless knickknacks instead of making a difference in the lives of people who makes such incredible sacrifices for us all.

So tonight, "Keeping Them Honest," they have found another one of these organizations.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT: I got to ask you about the money though. I mean, that doesn't answer any of the questions about the money that they're -- that's it? That's all you're -- you're guys going to say?


COOPER: That's Drew trying to get answers from the president of a group called Help Hospitalized Veterans. Now remember that name. Help Hospitalized Veterans. You're going to hear more on that shortly.

HHV's mission, it claims, is helping sick and injured war veterans. Sounds very good, reputable, right? The state of California, however, says the men behind this so-called charity have been helping themselves to excessive salaries and lavish lifestyles while using accounting gimmicks to trick the public into giving -- giving even more money.

Drew Griffin's in California where the attorney general's office has just filed suit.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): Help Hospitalized Veterans says it's all about raising the morale of our wounded and sick troops by handing out these craft kits in hospitals. Kits designed to challenge the mind and help pass the time while vets recover. But now California authorities are seeking to make their own recovery. The civil penalties of more than $4 million for misrepresentations in soliciting. California says this charity paid excessive salaries, perks and conducted illegal deals with donated money. All for the benefit of some board members and officers.

BRIAN NELSON, SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO CALIFORNIA AG: It is a shell game. And what you -- I think what we've seen at the end of the day is that instead of focusing their intellectual efforts and energies and the energies of the corporation on getting money to help the folks who are in need of help, our injured veterans, instead, they spend all of their energy, effort and time in these shell games to move money around in order to benefit themselves.

GRIFFIN: According to the charity's latest filings, the president of HHV, Michael Lynch, was paid a salary of $389,000. And that's just the start. In its complaint, California authorities say money donated for hospitalized veterans also paid for memberships in these two country clubs near Lynch's home, a cost of $80,000. Donated funds paid for this condominium near Washington, D.C. for the use of charity executives.

According to the complaint, while help hospitalized veterans have been raking in millions of dollars, $65 million in just the past two years according to tax returns, the charity has misled the IRS and its donors about where the funds actually go. We know $44 million has gone to fundraising. The charity says it spent $16 million on these kits for veterans but the California Attorney General's Office questions the charity's accounting.

NELSON: There have been a number of misstatements to the IRS and other regulators in order to suggest that the corporation is much more efficient than it, in fact, is.

GRIFFIN: And it's not the first time the allegations have been made. California Congressman Henry Waxman has been trying to sound the alarm on Help Hospitalized Veterans since 2008.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: As far as I'm concerned, they ought to be put in jail. It's so terrible what they're doing. Using the plight of our veterans to make themselves rich. And playing upon the good, well-meaning Americans who want to help veterans and are willing to contribute to that kind of cause.

GRIFFIN: The state of California now wants all of the charity's board members fired. Including the president, Mike Lynch.

(On camera): Hello, Mr. Lynch. (Voice-over): Yesterday, we approached Lynch at his rural home near his operation's headquarters. He told us we were the first to bring him the news of the California complaint and said he'd have something to say tomorrow.

(On camera): All right, we'll see you tomorrow.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): At 8:00 this morning, Mike Lynch was at his office, telling us as soon as he talked with his lawyers, he'd be happy to answer questions.

(On camera): Mr. Lynch, Drew Griffin.

LYNCH: Hi, how are you?

GRIFFIN: I'm sure you're aware of the serious charges that are being raised against this charity.

LYNCH: Not yet. I'm waiting to talk to the attorneys. I haven't spoken to anybody yet.

GRIFFIN: Really?

LYNCH: So as soon as I speak with Joe and them when they call me this morning, I'd be happy to speak with you.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Four hours later, Michael Lynch said this.

LYNCH: I have a statement that I have prepared. It says, "We hope that these unproven allegations will not diminish the more than 40 years of service HHV has provided to our nation's most valuable treasure, our veterans. HHV looks forward to the chance to tell its story and hopes that this action will not impede its ability to provide vital support to hospitalized veterans nationwide. Thank you very much."

GRIFFIN: Well, what about -- I got to ask you about the money, though. I mean that doesn't answer any of the questions about the money that they're -- that's it? That's all you're -- you guys are going to say?


GRIFFIN: Anderson, Help Hospitalized Veterans gets its money through direct marketing pleas using a company called American Target Advertising. Now American Target Advertising is known by Richard Vigeray, the nationally prominent conservative fundraiser. And in a really strange twist, according to the California attorney general, the charity, which paid American Target Advertising millions in fundraising costs, turned around and loaned the company $800,000. Why? We don't have any clue. The spokesman from Vigeray's company told us there would be no comment at this time.

COOPER: It's just -- again, it amazes me how each time when we're asking questions of these charities, which you would think, I mean, transparency is the key for any charity. You would think, if their reputation is being questioned, they would want to answer questions. And yet this guy reads this statement that some lawyer has, you know, helped him write, and then disappears. How does this charity stack up in the ratings of those watchdog groups?

GRIFFIN: Not well. One group, Charity Navigator, gives it a one star out of five. And charity watchdog in Chicago gives it a flat-out F rating. Both say that the ratio of expenses versus the actual money or benefits going to any veterans is very, very low -- Anderson.

COOPER: It's just -- it's unbelievable. Drew, stick around, I want to bring in Kamala Harris, California's attorney general.

Attorney General Harris, this charity claims that all it wants to do is help veterans. I mean do you buy that?

KAMALA HARRIS, CALIFORNIA'S ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I think the charity itself purports to enhance, help some veterans. But as to these directors that we have charged, they've basically been lining their pockets off the compassion that Americans have for our veterans and our servicemen and women and that has to be stopped.

A large part of our focus in this action in filing this complaint is to also be able to preserve the charitable assets that do exist in that organization so they can be directed to those veterans and not to these office holders and directors.

COOPER: What's really stunned me, and we've done a series of these reports on a bunch of different groups. This is just the latest one. But is the -- I mean they're raising tens of millions of dollars in many cases, these groups. And a lot of that money, the bulk of it, seems to be going just to increase their mailing lists to do more advertising, to get more money, rather than -- and these high salaries.

I mean according to your complaint, Help Hospitalized Veterans has basically misled the IRS for years about how it's been using donated money, right?

HARRIS: Well, I would suggest, too, that they knew that they were misrepresenting the facts to the IRS on their 990 form and were misrepresenting it to such an extent that they inverted the numbers. And what we have found is that, in fact, over 65 percent of their -- of their revenue went to overhead and not to the programs that were intended to help these vets.

And it's outrageous. It really is. They have -- they have really tugged I think at the heartstrings of Americans who want to help our veterans. And, instead, they've had gulf club memberships and condominiums and they've been lining their pockets, their personal pockets.

COOPER: I mean, you wish these organizations in their advertising, rather than implying that all this money is going to help veterans that they would admit, well, you know what, here's how much our director makes and here's how much we're giving to some company for a mailing list, and if you still want to donate money, that's fine but I guess I bet a lot of people wouldn't want to donate money.

I mean a lot of this information first came up, I understand, in congressional hearings back in 2008. Why is only now California acted?

HARRIS: Well, I came into office in 2011 and focusing on our veterans in California has been a priority for my administration. We have two million veterans in California, of the 22 million veterans in the United States. So we prioritized this case. And we're now filing this complaint. And the focus will not stop here.

The reality is that there are a lot of predators who take advantage of our servicemen and women and our veterans. And we have to pay attention to that because our veterans and our service men and women can be, as in the case of hospitalized vets, a very vulnerable and in need of support and care.

But with our service men and women, they also tend to be very trusting so we've found a lot of predatory practices that focus on them as consumers with money to spend. And it's outrageous, Anderson, it really is, when we think of what they do on a daily basis to protect us. And there are people who are out there taking advantage of our compassion for them in a way that allows them to profit.

It's outrageous. And that's why we're putting the full force of law into going after these guys and, believe me, they will face a full accounting and consequence for their misconduct.

COOPER: Drew Griffin is still with us.

Drew, it's interesting, you know, Disabled Veterans National Foundation, which is this other group that you've been doing a lot of reporting on for years and trying to get answers from for years. They also have sent tens of millions of dollars to one of these mailing list companies, Drew. I mean, it sounds like Quadriga Art, which works for Disabled Veterans National Foundation, sounds like they're doing a similar job for DVNF that this other group is doing for HHV.

GRIFFIN: Yes, I mean, the private fundraising companies are making a fortune off all of us donating their funds. That is very true. What I think is a little different here, though, Anderson, is in DVNF's case, we couldn't tell that anybody directly at the charity was lining their pockets. What the attorney general here is outlining is much more egregious. And I would almost say, and I'll let her say it, if she would, Attorney General Harris, it's almost criminal. It's almost like these guys are, you know, stealing the money that was destined to go to the veterans.

In DVNF's case, I think it was just a big screw up and the private fundraiser kind of has that charity over the barrel. This seems much more insidious.

COOPER: And Attorney General Harris, I mean, they -- at this point, while this -- while you're pursuing this legally, they can still send out solicitations, right, HHV?

HARRIS: Well, this is why, as part of our action, we are requiring that the -- the directors and the officers step down so that we can purge the organization of the bad apples and preserve the assets that exist, so that the money that folks have given to that organization, with the intention of going to veterans, that it actually will go to veterans heretofore.

COOPER: Attorney General, appreciate you being with us. We'll continue to follow this.

Drew Griffin, again, great reporting on this.

And, again, folks, there are good charities out there. Especially ones trying to help vets. And if you want to find out which ones, you go to a group like Charity Navigator which gives you a rating basically of the transparency of all these groups. That's at least a good first stop to try to figure out what charity is legitimate.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter or Instagram @Andersoncooper. I'll be tweeting tonight.

"Raw Politics" also ahead. And new evidence that one of these two men could be benefiting from negative campaign ads. We'll tell you which candidate it is and what fresh polling numbers show, next.


COOPER: In "Raw Politics" tonight new polling that says a lot more than just where the presidential horse race stands at the moment. As for the horse race the numbers do show President Obama opening up his seven-point lead over Mitt Romney. But other numbers in that same CNN/ORC survey could be opening a window into a lot more. Including the effect that negative ads are having on Mitt Romney's likability.

Team Romney today complained loudly about one especially iffy campaign spot from a pro-Obama super PAC, we talked about it last night. They do not mention the factually dubious ad of their own which we also talked about last night.

In any case, today's polling speaks to the power of such ads truthful or not. The new polling also covered how some of the possible Romney running mates might play with the public and more.

John King has been crunching the numbers for us. He's at the magic wall. I spoke to him earlier.


COOPER: John, I want to ask you another interesting number in today's poll. There's been a 17-point swing in just one month. The majority of Americans and even more independents now saying they don't have a favorable impression of Mitt Romney. Does this mean the attack ads are working? JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I would say, Anderson, I'm always wary when you see a 17-point swing. When you see such a big swing in such a short period of time, you wonder if maybe your poll's a little bit out there. So we'll watch to see what the next one says.

But there is no doubt in our poll and in other polling Mitt Romney's favorables are on the rise and there's no doubt it's because of not only the attack ads from the Obama campaign but the Obama campaign's friends in the super PAC community. And don't discount the fact that the president's on the road a lot more nowadays, outwardly campaigning and bashing Governor Romney.

No question his negatives are going up and that's a problem.

COOPER: Hey, John, I think you said Mitt Romney's favorables are on the rise. You meant his unfavorable are on the rise?

KING: Unfavorable. I'm sorry.

COOPER: Right.

KING: His unfavorable are skyrocketing.

COOPER: Right. New -- there's also CNN polling out today about possible VP picks. Doesn't seem like there's been one favorite one, one main contender for Romney's vice presidential candidate. Now that we're in the homestretch, any sign that that is changing?

KING: If you look at our new poll, there are some changes. And I'm going to go to the state of Florida to show you our poll. Why am I going to the state of Florida? We asked people in our new poll, who would you like to see Mitt Romney choose as his running mate? Look who comes out on top. Marco Rubio, the freshman senator from Florida.

Now he's gotten a lot of attention. He's a Tea Party darling. The conservative base loves him. No doubt that's part of this number. He's also been selling a book and he's been on TV a lot. So name identification.

But look at this. Marco Rubio, then the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, 16 percent of Americans, these are Republicans and independents who lean Republicans. They say they want Governor Christie. Then Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman. We know he's actually on the short list. Then you see Governor Jindal, Governor McDonnell and two other guys on the short list. Portman and Pawlenty, down at the very end.

Anderson, this is who you would like to see Romney choose. We also asked Republicans who they think Romney will choose. They still think Senator Rubio. We're not told that's likely but Senator Rubio tops the list. Then Governor Christie, Chairman Ryan. You see these other guys down in single digits.

But one other quick point I want to make, this is largely a question for even Republican voters right now. These are Republicans, as Romney and who. We asked people, do you have a favorable, an unfavorable opinion, or are you unsure? Do you not know enough about these guys to have an opinion?

Look at this. Nearly half of Americans, Republicans, say they don't know enough about Marco Rubio, 42 percent say they don't know enough about Chris Christie. The numbers get even higher when you get down into Ryan, Portman, Pawlenty, Jindal, McDonnell. So again, even Republicans, Anderson, are looking at these choices and saying, who?

COOPER: So, John, based on the numbers, is there any reason to believe that any of these picks would give a real boost to Romney against President Obama?

KING: It depends how you define real boost, Anderson. Let me switch maps. We've seen some polls in recent days from the key battleground states. There was a poll in Virginia that showed the president up a little bit there. Is that a reason to pick Governor McDonnell? We don't believe he's on the short list.

Poll out in Colorado showing Romney even ahead, so he's in pretty good shape out in the west at the moment. There's been a poll in Wisconsin just yesterday showing the president up five or six points. Is that a reason to pick Chairman Ryan? People in that state say he would help in the state of Wisconsin.

But if you look at the short list we know of, you have Pawlenty from Minnesota, Portman from Ohio, and Ryan from Wisconsin. What does that tell you? It tells you that Governor Romney is looking at this part of the country out here. The Midwest, Ohio, Wisconsin, potentially Pennsylvania, Michigan perhaps. He's looking at that part of the country as he narrows his choices.

Is any VP pick going to get him a state? Some say maybe Portman helps a little. Maybe Ryan helps a little. But that's the calculation Governor Romney is going to make. Get a state, don't know, but certainly he's looking at this region of the country.

COOPER: Interesting. John, thanks very much.

Let's have more in our "Raw Politics" with chief political correspondent Candy Crowley and Republican strategist Ari Fleisher who's working for the Romney campaign as an occasional unpaid communications adviser.

So, Candy, Romney's campaign has kept a very tight lid on the selection process. But we know it's in the final stages, obviously. How do these roll-outs usually work? What's the strategy, the timing?

CANDY CROWLEY, ANCHOR, CNN'S STATE OF THE UNION: Well, you look for maximum exposure. How many days' play can you get off your VP pick? So if you're in search of some excitement, obviously, John McCain sort of fit that bill. He really -- it really came at a time -- his announcement came at a time as he was rolling his -- to his convention, as next week will be for Mitt Romney, rolling into the week after, which is the convention. So they want to figure out how they can build excitement going into the convention, because honestly there are three things right now that help Mitt Romney break through if he is to break through. One of them is his vice presidential pick. One of them is his speech at the convention. And one of them is his performance at the three presidential debates. So those three things are huge and key, and you want to just maximize that as much as possible.

At the same time, I'm assuming that at this point Mitt Romney has pretty much made up his mind. You have to begin to tell the person themselves and to offer it, et cetera, et cetera. So the circle's getting bigger. And what you don't want is to have it leak out before you're ready to have it happen.

COOPER: Ari, you've been tweeting that you're prepared to say who you think the best -- potential vice presidential candidate is. I want to ask you that in just a second, bit do you think Romney has already made this decision. I asked you because in 2000 you got a very up close look at this process with then candidate George W. Bush.

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I agree with everything Candy just said in her analysis. It was right on, except for that last point. If I were in charge of the Romney selection process, I would not tell the person who's going to be until within 24 hours of the selection. So that means, today, you tell the person who you will publicly go with tomorrow. Otherwise, it's sure to leak.

You've got to really close that window and close it tight. So I don't think we know that Mitt -- I don't know Mitt Romney has made the final decision in his mind who it will be yet. And once he does, it sets loose a whole lot of important events both within his campaign to prepare for it and with the person who's going to get named.

All of it predicated on absolute secrecy so when the governor tweets it or announces it on his app that will be the first time people hear it if it goes by --

COOPER: Do you want to say who you think it should be?

FLEISCHER: Well, Anderson, you know, I have said this in some events that I've been to that I've always been a Paul Ryan guy. I would have supported either Mitch Daniels or Paul Ryan for presidency if they had been in it earlier because I believe this nation just needs so badly a jolt of economic adrenaline. We are heading towards Greece with the debt we have. And we need somebody who can take that seriously and will really bring this country's budget first and foremost with a growth oriented plan to the center of the national attention.

The problem I have with Paul Ryan, having said that, is the Democrats want him so badly. Every Democrat I talk to salivates at the opportunity to get Paul Ryan. Their equation is, it turns the race into a fight over Medicare and off of the economy. I'm not sure that's right but that will be the stakes if it's Paul Ryan.

COOPER: Candy, do you think Ryan -- do you agree that a lot of Democrats want Ryan for that very reason?

CROWLEY: Absolutely. They think that it would make Mitt Romney even more vulnerable. It ties him very tightly to the Ryan plan. And, look, this is -- this is also could be a positive for Mitt Romney because this is a man who is still having a little trouble with his base. You're seeing all these conservative publications come out saying Paul Ryan, Paul Ryan, Paul Ryan. I mean one of the things it does do is activate the conservative base.

I still believe that in the end this is a race that's going to be decided on turnout. I don't think this is a message race so much as it is a turnout race. And who do you need in a turnout race? You need your base. And that's the conservatives. Paul Ryan certainly satisfies that for Mitt Romney. As do others.

But the Democrats look at this and think, wow, we just have to go out there and talk Social Security because that obviously was kind of the -- what was seen as a politically toxic part of Ryan but I think that Ari's right in that, look, it will be a real argument. I mean, you would be able to tell the difference between these two tickets. But it is a lot for Mitt Romney to take on, even as he's trying to convince folks that he's the right guy to have to also take on the Ryan plan at the same time.

COOPER: Ari, in terms of timing, do you think next week would be the time? Or, I mean, how far in advance of the convention?

FLEISCHER: Yes, I think it's going to be next week. I think they want to have as much of a runway heading into the convention with the plane flying. Where the two are together. Maybe they'll do a little split up, then back together for the convention. That will have a lot of oomph and impact to it.

But one thing about this whole vice presidential interest. Ideally, and there are well-designed plans, unlike 2008, a vice presidential selection is interesting for a week, maybe three. And then it settles right back down to the race for the presidency. Vice presidential campaigns are over-magnified, overanalyzed right now, until we know who it is. But ultimately this is a race between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. That's what shapes the outcome of the race. Unless the choice like 2008 turns into a mistake, turns into a situation, where the candidate wilts under pressure, and hurts the nominee who picked that person.

COOPER: Right.

FLEISCHER: I think that's what happened in 2008. Unlikely to happen with any other Romney picks this year.

COOPER: Ari, appreciate it, Candy Crowley, thank you very much.

Up next, kids who have never seen sunlight. It may be hard to imagine. But Russian police say they've discovered an underground bunker where dozens of adults and kids were living without natural light for years. They're members of an isolationist religious sect. We have the full story ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Bizarre story out of Russia tonight. The discovery of 27 children, some of whom, authorities say, had never seen the light of day. We're not talking about it for a day or year, but for up to as much as 10 years.

They were found by Russian police living below ground in a catacomb-like structure along with more than 30 adults. The space described as eight levels deep with occupants living in small cells lacking ventilation and natural light.

One official referred to it as an underground ant hill. Police said the adults and children were members of a small secretive Islamic sect.

Matthew Chance is in London with more details on this disturbing story. So Matthew, do we know why they were living underground for so long?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This was a very isolationist sect it seems according to the authorities that basically broke it up within the last 48 hours or so. They kept themselves to themselves in a very extreme way.

Only a couple of members of this Islamist sect were committed to have contact with the outside world at all to work as market traders, presumably to earn money so they could buy some kind of food for themselves.

But the vast majority of the community, we're talking about the women and children and the majority of the men as well, were confined to this compound on the outskirts of Kazan, which is a relatively big city of about 1.5 million people in Western Russia.

It's because of that isolation, Anderson, that the true extent of what they were up to wasn't really identified, as you mentioned there, perhaps for as long as a decade by the authorities.

The police have said that some of these children between the ages of 1 and 17 years old never saw a doctor, never went to school, never went out of the compound and never even saw the light of day. It is quite incredible what they were put through.

COOPER: Yes, I actually worked in Kazan years ago. It's in a condition called Tatarstan. What were the living conditions like for these kids?

CHANCE: Really, really appalling, even by the standards of provincial Russia. We saw pictures that have come out, you can see them now, of appalling poverty inside the ramshackle building above the surface.

Below the surface of course it was even worse. The police have described it as a catacomb-like situation with small cells in which dozens of people were crammed as their living quarters, the sanitary conditions very poor.

There was no natural light. No ventilation. It must have been absolutely terrible for them. The majority of the children, if not all of them, have been taken into care or else taken to hospital where they're being given medical checkups.

At the moment, it's not clear any of them are in any bad state. There are reports one of the children, a 17-year-old woman, is pregnant and was in that condition inside these catacomb-like cells.

In general, the children seem to have been relatively healthy. Although according to the authorities in Russia, they were extremely dirty. They've been cleaned up now and they're undergoing extensive medical checks -- Anderson.

COOPER: It's a bizarre story, Matthew. Appreciate the update, thank you very much. There's a lot more we're following tonight. Isha is here with the "360 Bulletin"-- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, members of the Free Syrian Army say they pulled back from a hot spot area in Aleppo, Syria's largest city. They say they're preparing a counterattack.

Meantime, government forces fired rockets into Homs where thousands of displaced Syrians have taken refuge. Opposition activists the death toll today across Syria was at least 142.

Colorado shooting suspect James Holmes was back in court today, but cameras were not. This video is from his first hearing. At today's hearing, his lawyers told the judge their client is mentally ill and 17 news organizations, including CNN, argued that the full court record in the case should be unsealed. The judge did not rule on the request.

In Oak Creek, Wisconsin, CNN's Ted Rowlands got an exclusive look inside the Sikh temple where a gunman opened fire, killing six and then shooting himself. The FBI had finished its on-site investigation and members of the temple were allowed to return today.

A fundraising campaign to rebuild Joplin, Missouri's only mosque after a suspicious fire destroyed it has reached half its goal in just two days. Nearly 1,000 donors, many of them anonymous have donated $126,000 so far.

And Anderson, a dramatic memento of a very close call. A video camera was running when a vintage four-seater plane crashed into Idaho shortly after takeoff. Thankfully, everyone on board survived. But the video, it's hard to watch.

COOPER: Yes, it's unbelievable. I'm glad everyone was OK. Isha thanks very much. Time for the "Shot" now.

The kid in this video may have the coolest day on the planet. Take a look.



COOPER: No need to go to an amusement park. You have your own roller coaster in the backyard. Take a good look at that first hill. I hope he's strapped in tightly, but pretty cool. How fun would that be?

SESAY: I mean, am I too old to have a roller coaster in my backyard?

COOPER: I don't think so. Why not?

SESAY: I can always count on you.

COOPER: Yes. All right, Isha, thanks very much.

There are a lot of other stories we're covering tonight. The next story we got to tell you about after the commercial break is not heart warming.

In fact, it's downright troubling. A young man who died in police custody and the story of how he died, well, it's nearly impossible to believe. We'll investigate ahead.


COOPER: A lot of people are demanding answers. They want to know how a bullet ended up in this young man's right temple while he was handcuffed in the back of a police car.

Chavez Carter was 21 years old. Hundreds of people came to a candlelight vigil this week to honor him and show support for his family. Some carried signs, one sign said "justice for Carter, what really happened?"

What really happened is a question the FBI is now investigating. So is our Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No one is disputing that Chavez Carter died from a gunshot to the head while in the back seat of a police car in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The question is who pulled the trigger. Police say he committed suicide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quite frankly, I've seen some of our people in custody do some amazing things.

KAYE: But Carter's mother doesn't buy it. She believes Jonesboro police killed her son.

THERESA CARTER, VICTIM'S MOTHER: I think they killed him. I mean, my son wasn't suicidal. KAYE (on camera): At this point, it's still debatable and still under investigation. Here's why. The 21-year-old Chavez Carter was handcuffed at the time the fatal shot was fired. Double locked behind his back.

Is it even possible physically to be handcuffed behind your back and somehow pull the trigger on a gun you weren't holding when you were handcuffed?

CHIEF MICHAEL YATES, JONESBORO, ARKANSAS POLICE: For the average person that's never been in handcuffs, that's never been around inmates and people in custody, would react exactly the same way that you just did, about how can that be possible? Well, the fact of it is, it's very possible and it's quite easy.

KAYE (voice-over): Chavez Carter and two others were pulled over July 29 just before 10:00 p.m. for driving suspiciously. The first officer called for backup. Then the two of them questioned and searched the three men in the truck.

(on camera): When officers first searched Carter, they say they found a small amount of marijuana and some small plastic bags. They did not find a gun. According to the officers, Carter was then placed in the back seat of one of the police vehicles.

At that point, they say, he was not handcuffed. It wasn't until later when the officers searched the suspect's vehicle and found drug paraphernalia like electronic scales and a large bag of white powder that they patted down Carter again.

They placed him once again, they say, in the same police vehicle's back seat, only this time, he was handcuffed.

(voice-over): How Carter managed to shoot himself while handcuffed using a concealed weapon police missed during not one, but two searches is a mystery to many including the FBI who was looking into it.

(on camera): In their searching, they find a small bag, $10 worth of marijuana, but they miss a gun?

YATES: Apparently.

KAYE: Is that disappointing to you?


KAYE (voice-over): The chief says the two men with Carter who were white were released. But Carter was held back after the officers who are also white discovered he'd given them a fake name and there was a warrant for his arrest in Mississippi, where he'd skipped out on a drug diversion program.

The chief says his officers don't know exactly when the fatal shot was fired even though they were just feet away. According to this incident report, one of the officers heard, quote, "a loud thump with a metallic sound." But thought it came from a vehicle that ran over a piece of metal on the roadway.

(on camera): Don't your officers know the sound of a gun being fired?

YATES: One would think. But when those guns are in a confined space like the rear of a police car it could be very, very different.

KAYE (voice-over): It wasn't till the officers were about to leave when police say one of them smelled something burning in his vehicle. The chief says it was likely gun smoke.

That's when police say the officer found Chavez Carter bloodied and slumped over into the back seat. The officers say they called an ambulance and tried to revive Carter. He died at the hospital.

Carter's mother says it just doesn't add up. She told reporters her son was shot in the right side of the head. But she points out, he was left handed. Police would only say he was shot in the head.

CARTER: They searched him twice. I mean, I just want to know what really happened.

KAYE: Theresa Carter says her son called his girlfriend from the scene to tell her he'd phone her from jail, which to her raises the question, does that sound like someone planning to commit suicide?

In Jonesboro, supporters have held vigils. Like many, they wonder what motive carter had to kill himself, a $10 bag of marijuana, white powder that hasn't tested positive for drugs and it's like sugar? An outstanding warrant?

We asked the chief about Theresa Carter's allegations. That one of his officers pulled the trigger.

(voice-over): Can you safely say you've ruled that out in your investigation?

YATES: Not at this stage in the investigation and certainly a remote possibility. Like I say, we haven't excluded everything. But I feel confident that that's not what it is. But I certainly understand how she might feel that way.

KAYE: There is dash cam video from that night. Buy the trouble is, the chief says, it doesn't show the moment the gun was fired. That's because the two police cars were parked trunk to trunk so the dash cam didn't capture Carter sitting in the back seat.

Police have not released the video, but have already reconstructed what happened using a duplicate vehicle. They're waiting for the autopsy to be finished to see if what they visualize happened is consistent with the autopsy results. Randi Kaye, CNN, Jonesboro, Arkansas.


COOPER: Obviously, a lot will depend on those autopsy results. For a lot of people, it's certainly hard to imagine how anyone handcuffed the way that Carter was could shoot himself in the head.

Joining me now is Dr. Michael Hunter. He's the chief medical examiner in Panama City, Florida, a forensic pathologist and Lou Palumbo, a former police officer, now director of the elite group, "The Security Firm."

Lou, in all the years you worked in law enforcement, I mean, does this make any sense to you?

LOU PALUMBO, FORMER POLICE OFFICER: No. You know, it warrants being looked into, Anderson, and to be quite honest with you, there are some problems here.

And the first problem is simply stated when you take someone into custody as a law enforcement agent, you're responsible for their safety from that point going forward. So he obviously was unsupervised.

To I guess their own admission they didn't properly search this individual because they're working from the premise he shot himself. There are some issues here that need to be looked into, which is probably why the FBI is looking at this as well.

When we get into the autopsy and the forensics, we're going to look for residue on his hand. In this case, being that this individual was left-handed, should be on his left hand, am I correct.

I would think they would have taken photos of this individual in the back seat of that car. And again you have to explain how he was capable of getting his gun to the temple of his head.

Which to be fair isn't that out of the question. Because oftentimes, you'll handcuff people in the rear and they'll literally slip it under their back side and down their legs and up in front.

COOPER: It's possible to do that?

PALUMBO: Absolutely. But the other thing that's going to tell the tale is when they look at the angle of the entry wound and the distance the firearm was discharged.

So there are some investigative tools here to try to sort through this. I don't want to immediately pass judgement, but I would tell you that this warrant's being looked into.

COOPER: Dr. Hunter, you say from a pathology standpoint, this case should not be too difficult to solve, given all those things that Lou were talking about, the bullet trajectory, the closeness the muzzle to the head, et cetera.

DR. MICHAEL HUNTER, CHIEF MEDICAL EXAMINER, PANAMA CITY, FLORIDA: Well, Anderson, what you have to do is correlate what you see at the autopsy with the scene. It has to make sense. Now if this was a self-inflicted gunshot wound, there are characteristics you'll look for at autopsy. Classically, these wounds are wounds where the muzzle's directly up against the skin. We can tell that. We can look at someone and say yes, indeed, that's a contact gunshot wound.

If it's a more distance gunshot wound, then it really does raise the possibility that you're dealing with a homicide. Trajectory's important. What's the position of his head when that weapon was fired?

That has to make sense. There has to be evidence there actually was a gun discharged within the vehicle itself. So those are things you have to look at the autopsy, at the scene. Now one of the problems with this is it's an altered crime scene.

His body was taken from the vehicle and removed to a hospital and because of that, there may be a question of staging. Could this scene have been staged? A lot of --

COOPER: Would you be able to tell if a gun had been discharged inside the vehicle as opposed to discharged outside the vehicle?

HUNTER: Well, you can do gunshot residue on both the victims. You can do gunshot residue analysis of the police officers in question. You're looking for material that may be present on the hands.

Just gun powder material, blood, spatter, types of things like that. Those are something that you want to see on the person who shot the weapon if it's the victim in this case or the police officers.

Also, you want to look at the vehicle itself and see if there's any gun powder material in the vehicle.

COOPER: Lou, briefly, does it make sense to you two officers riding in the car would not hear a gun going off inside a vehicle?

PALUMBO: Well, you know, interestingly enough, in Arkansas, it's probably quite warm, having the windows up in the vehicle and the air conditioning on. You know, you could muffle the sound.

The report or the loudness of discharging a 380 automatic pistol, which is the weapon used here isn't that loud comparatively speaking to like 9-millimeter or .45-caliber weapon.

Part of what's going to tell the tale here is the side of the head in which the wound was inflicted. His mother indicated he was left handed. But there's an entry wound on the right side. That's problematic.

COOPER: Lou, appreciate your expertise, Michael hunter as well. Thank you so much. Obviously, a lot more we need to follow up on. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Time for the "Ridiculist." Tonight, we're adding the Bob Costas Olympic sign-off controversy. That's right. You didn't even know there was a controversy, did you? Well, let me tell you.

Mr. Costas has been anchoring NBC's coverage from London and each evening, he signs off at midnight before the late local news in the east coast. At least he's supposed to.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He did it to us again. He did it again. He does it every four years. Bob doesn't know that 12:00 means 12:00.


COOPER: Yikes. That was a sports caster at WTLV in Jacksonville, Florida who clearly is about to use Mr. Costas as his own personal pommel horse. Now to be fair to Mr. Costas, he's not anchoring just any old broadcast, it's the Olympics.

I mean, sometimes things go long or Ryan Seacrest tries to break into your studio and you just can't end your show on time. Now as you probably know, NBC holds exclusive rights to the Olympics in the United States.

So there are limits to what we can show you Mr. Costas on air. But as you can see here in this exclusive image, the man is clearly busy. He is a seasoned professional. If his show runs long, it runs long. After all, it's not like there's much difference between 12:00 and 12:02.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't mean 12:02. It doesn't mean 12:04. It certainly doesn't mean 12:07. Bob, when it's 12:00, you say good night.


COOPER: OK, apparently there is a lot of difference between 12:00 and 12:02. What do I know? I just cannot get enough of that Piers Morgan. He's British you know.

Look, I get the frustration of the folks in Jacksonville. It's a long day. They got to stay up late. I get it they wish Mr. Costas had wrapped things up on time, but at least the sports caster didn't get personal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't care because you're sleeping right now and in the morning you wake up with your strawberries and cream at your five star.


COOPER: All right, that was kind of personal actually, strawberries and cream? Was that a dig against the British? Does Piers know about this? By the way, I love how the anchors are standing there waiting for it all to be over, which in case you're wondering, it wasn't.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's 12:07 does not work for us! I'm glad we had the little gymnast girls. I'm excited about it. I'm glad we got to interview Phelps six times. But Bob, I'm done. I love him though.


COOPER: Ratchet it down a little bit there, big guy. You should love him, by the way. In fact, a good rule of television, pipe down and love anyone who's giving you a lead-in full of the fab five gymnasts and Michael Phelps.

But taken from someone who's interviewed Michael Phelps twice for 60 minutes, America can't get enough of Michael Phelps. As for the Bob Costas sign off controversy, we are giving it the gold on tonight's "Ridiculist." We'll be right back.


COOPER: That's if for us. Thanks for watching. We'll see you again one hour from now. Another edition of 360 at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now.