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Philip Seymour Hoffman's Final Hours; From Homeless Heroin Addict to PTA Mom; Worst Winter Ever?

Aired February 4, 2014 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. Tonight we're on our red hot money trail and covering how global thieves turn your stolen credit card data into cash, lots of it. You won't believe how easy it is and only here do we see how they are stealing it from you.

Also, snow warnings, freezing rain and -- catastrophic ice alerts. That's what 120 million Americans are facing right now tonight. And wait until you hear about the storm that's right behind it.

We begin, though, tonight with new developments in the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. The police investigation is moving forward so are funeral preparations. This afternoon Mimi O'Donnell, the actor's estranged longtime girlfriend and mother of their three children visited a funeral home on New York's Upper East Side. She's on the left. She is joined by Hoffman's personal assistant.

A private funeral service is being planned for family and close friends with memorial service planned for later this month.

Tonight investigators are still pulling together the details of Hoffman's death Sunday from an apparent heroin overdose. It's already becoming clear that the former addict who'd been clean for so long may have been on a downward spiral for some time.

Jason Carroll has the latest.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Investigators tonight are looking at surveillance tapes to help piece together what happened before Hoffman's death. They are already reviewing one tape from here, the Standard Grill in New York's trendy meat packing district, where Hoffman had brunch late Saturday morning, sitting at this table with two people.

No security cameras at D'agostino Supermarket just up the street from one of Hoffman's apartments in the West Village. This is where a law enforcement source says he withdrew $1200 from an ATM in six different transactions Saturday night.

A witness telling investigators he saw Hoffman there around 8:00 p.m. while talking to two men wearing messenger bags. A law enforcement official confirming several people close to Hoffman have questioned including his former assistant and former partner Mary "Mimi" O'Donnell, shown here departing a funeral home on New York's Upper East Side. One O'Donnell discovered Hoffman was abusing drugs, she allegedly told him he had to stay at a second apartment in the West Village, not with their children.

How long had Hoffman been on a downward spiral? It seems quite some time, judging from people who recently came in contact with him.

JOHN ARUNDEL, JOURNALIST: He was fallow. His face seemed to be pock- marked. He looked tired, he had bags under his eye.

CARROLL: John Arundel, a journalist, is still haunted by Hoffman's physical appearance after he saw him at party at last month's Sundance Film Festival in Utah. This is Hoffman's picture from Sundance. Arundel said he didn't even recognize him, disturbed not just by how the actor looked but by what he said.

ARUNDEL: And he said you don't recognize me. And at that point I said -- I said, well, should I know you? And he said, well, I'm a heroin addict. And at that point, you know, seeing the shock and awe on my face he took off his cap. And I immediately recognized him and said oh, you're Philip Seymour Hoffman, you're one of my favorite actors. And at that point he said bingo. But as he was walking off he said I just got out of rehab.

I think it was a cry for help.


COOPER: Jason, what do we know at this point about the medical examiner? I mean, are they any closer to issuing a toxicology report?

CARROLL: Well, you know, they're doing exactly what they need to do. But also remember in addition to all of the heroin that they found there, they also found several bottles of prescription drugs, the anti -- the muscle relaxant, the anti-anxiety medication. So there's a lot of testing for a lot of different substances that have to be done.

And before that can all be accomplished, it may take some time. So we're still waiting for that. We've been reaching out to the medical examiner's office about the autopsy report, about the toxicology report and what we keep getting back, Anderson, is that it's just going to take some time.

COOPER: All right. Jason, appreciate the update.

Joining me now is Ric Curtis, a professor and chair of Anthropology Department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He studied heroin use and addiction for decades.

Also Michael Levine, a former undercover DEA agent and author of "Deep Cover." He's a trial consultant and police instructor as well.

Appreciate both of you for being with us.

Ric, the heroin that you find here in New York -- nobody knows more about heroin in New York than you do. You've been studying this for a long time. You and I went out to heroin shooting galleries back in the late '90s.


COOPER: It's not just heroin. I mean, there's a lot of stuff. What is mixed in it?

CURTIS: Well, who knows? There's many different things mixed in it, including inert ingredients and ingredients that have some effect on the users. But most of the dealers don't actually know what's in it.

COOPER: And the purity of it, is it -- I mean, is it very pure or --

CURTIS: That varies considerably as well. In fact the dealers, it's to their advantage, to vary the purity to maximize their profits. So they'll put out a very strong bag on Monday and by Friday it's very weak.

COOPER: Why do they do that?

CURTIS: To maximize their profits. So on the first day if it has a good reputation of being strong it will attract all the users. When all the users come, they'll put out a lousy product to make more money that way.


COOPER: And this brand name, I mean, apparently some of the drugs that were found in Philip Seymour Hoffman's -- the bags were stamped with a brand name. You've actually brought in a lot of bags, hundreds of bags.


COOPER: That you have collected over the years. We've got some pictures of it. We should point there's no heroin obviously in any of these bags left. But they all have stamps on them with different names. Why does a dealer stamp them?

CURTIS: Well, to identify it as his or her product. And normally they'll have two or three products. So if you actually go online and you look up the product that he was reputed to have been found with, it's -- there online. And you will see -- the other products that are affiliated with that stamp are also named online.

COOPER: And, Michael, in your experience does -- if somebody ODs from a brand -- certain brand name, does that brand name become more popular on the streets?

MICHAEL LEVINE, FORMER UNDERCOVER DEA AGENT: Absolutely. This goes all the way back to the years when I was working the street and buying heroin. And I bought -- I want to say thousands, but if it's not over thousands it's close to it. And I bought heroin from one particular man who I arrested who ran a cutting place. And he became an informant.

And one of the things he told me that rang true for the rest of my career was that he intentionally had filled bags with super doses, hoping someone would OD and die. My bet is that right now the Ace of Spades brand that allegedly -- I say allegedly -- killed Mr. Hoffman is now hot. On the street everyone is looking for that brand.

COOPER: So -- I mean, the idea is that if it's killed you or killed somebody who's using then it's really strong and other people who are addicted want it.

CURTIS: Correct. And other dealers will go out and make a similar brand name to put out on the street as a knockoff product.

COOPER: So they'll do a knockoff counterfeit of this brand.

CURTIS: Exactly.

LEVINE: You have to get the psychology of the drug addict. And I had the unfortunate experience of having a brother who began shooting heroin at age 15. And at one point, we got him into programs and then he was living with me at home in Rockland County on the methadone program. And being a narcotic agent, I saw immediately he was back on heroin.

And we had the following conversation. I said, David, you're young. You're handsome. You're talented. Why? And he said, you know, I probably want to die. But I don't have the nerve to do it. Well, he -- a few years later he did have the nerve. He put a bullet to his head and wrote a note to my family and friends, I can't stand the drugs anymore.

Now the lesson learned is that a drug addict's psychology -- most of the ones whom I've ran with, I used as informants, I dealt with, lived with -- had a similar feeling. I got that. I wafted off them this closeness to death. And it's something that has to be considered in the Seymour Hoffman case.

From all his statements he was saying and how he was quoted up to this point, he eerily reminds me of my brother.

COOPER: And, Ric, I mean, in all -- you've interviewed thousands of addicts and users over the years, I mean, what is the initial appeal? I mean what --

CURTIS: The drug makes you feel good. I mean, that's the appeal. Anybody that's ever had surgery and taken the pain relief drugs know the action of that stuff. And --

COOPER: But at a certain point my understanding is -- of using you don't get that same feeling anymore.

CURTIS: That's true.


COOPER: You just use it to kind of --

CURTIS: But you'll get sick if you don't use it. And so for those people it's a medicine for them. You know?

Let me just say for us in the harm reduction community, we want to make sure that they don't kill themselves. And so we're doing what we can to keep people alive. And frankly what we think we need here in New York is a safe injection facility.

COOPER: Which they have in other cities --

CURTIS: Which they in Vancouver and other cities abroad. But it saves lives. And it's sensible public health policy.

COOPER: The other thing you're working on is training addicts to --

CURTIS: Overdose prevention.

COOPER: Overdose prevention. Explain that.

CURTIS: Well, we train -- obviously if you overdose you can't counteract the overdose yourself because you're unconscious. So we train people in buddy systems. And --

COOPER: To shoot up with somebody else.

CURTIS: Not to shoot up with somebody else, to counteract the effects of somebody else shooting up. So, for example, I went and got trained. I don't use heroin.

COOPER: Right.

CURTIS: I don't shoot it up. But I went and got trained so I'll know what to do in case I see somebody who I do know.

COOPER: Right.

CURTIS: And the doctor -- or the doctor assistants who do the training actually can -- and do prescribe the Naloxone for you, and they will give you the two filled syringe with it. You can carry with you. And --


COOPER: And that can literally bring someone back from --

CURTIS: It does. It definitely does. We've done it --

COOPER: From overdosing.

CURTIS: Yes. It's happened many times at our programs where we counteracted the overdose.

COOPER: So if someone like Philip Seymour Hoffman had been with somebody else.


COOPER: Whether it was somebody who was also using or not, and that person --

CURTIS: Who had the Naloxone drug.

COOPER: Knowledge and the training.

CURTIS: Yes. And have the drug. You know? So we give them the training and provide them with the overdose antidote drug.

COOPER: Michael, in terms of police investigation, will they be able to now try to track down where this batch of heroin came from? Or is that kind of --

LEVINE: Possibly. Possibly. This what is fascinates me. Because I've been on these kind of investigations. And now you have a media person. So there is a drive to indict and identify the person who gave or sold the drugs to Mr. Hoffman to be indicted. Again, because he's high profile media person.

COOPER: Right.

LEVINE: This is going to take in the first place informants on the street. I understand there's video of Mr. Hoffman. So I can assure you they're out in the area banging on informants, trying to find out who in that area is selling this.

COOPER: There's no messenger services, though, Ric, in New York.

CURTIS: It sounds to me as the report that I heard earlier that they saw somebody with messenger bags. There's delivery service for these -- for these things today. So just because you get somebody who put the drug in his hand doesn't -- I mean, technically that's the dealer. But that's just the messenger boy.

COOPER: Right.

CURTIS: Is that going to serve the public interest to, you know, bag the messenger boy? I don't think so.


LEVINE: Just the beginning.

CURTIS: Just the beginning. Yes.

LEVINE: Yes. It's the beginning of the investigation. One of the areas of my expertise is what they call blind mule defense. That is people who claim that I didn't know what was in the bag.

COOPER: Right.

LEVINE: I didn't know what was in the car.

CURTIS: They knew what was in the bag.

LEVINE: Well, this is -- this is what happens. If you get the delivery person, he is going to almost certainly claim I didn't know what was in it.

COOPER: A lot of the stuff is produced from a central place and then just distributed.

CURTIS: Yes. I mean, the delivery services vary considerably in their size and their complexity to this. There are some that are just individuals that do it on their own and there are some that are large organizations that have 401(k) plans.


CURTIS: You know, so that's a sizable organization.


COOPER: We -- I appreciate both your expertise, Ric Curtis and Michael Levine. Thank you so much. Important discussion.

Let us know what you think follow me on Twitter @andersoncooper. Tweet us using #ac360.

Just ahead a former heroin addict who's been clean for 15 years, describes her journey from homeless junky to suburban mom.

Plus what the people who steal your credit card information do with it once they have it, how they turn the stolen data into cold hard cash. You need to know this.



COOPER: Welcome back. It bears repeating that Philip Seymour Hoffman had apparently been clean for more than two decades before he started using heroin again. It's a notoriously tough addiction to beat.

Our next guest, Tracey Helton Mitchell, can speak to that first hand. Today she's a self-described suburban mom with three young children. But 15 years ago she was a junky living on the streets of San Francisco. And during that time she agreed to be filmed for a documentary called "Black Tar Heroin." In part she says because she fully expected to die from an overdose and thought her story could serve as a cautionary tale.

In this clip we're about to show Tracey as homeless and shooting up on the street. It is disturbing to watch but it also shows what words frankly cannot.


TRACEY HELTON MITCHELL, RECOVERING ADDICT: As a child, I was -- what do you call precocious. Always extremely advanced in school. I was tested as having a near genius IQ really early. And I became a really depressed kid. I started becoming a compulsive eater. It was just difficult. We had seen that "Sid and Nancy" movie. And you know I heard about heroin. It just seemed like it'd be something interesting to do as a life experience because I always said I wanted to try to do everything once.

I wondered what it would be like to be that high that you die. And maybe it will be kind of like a dream like.


COOPER: A week later Tracey was arrested. It was the start of her recovery as she joins me tonight.

Tracey, thanks very much for being with us. You know, looking at that, at that, at the way you were, I assume you were searching for a vein in your leg because you couldn't find any left in your arms. What -- what was going through your mind at the time? I mean, what was the appeal of heroin at that point?

MITCHELL: Well, by that time I was so strung out on heroin I would shoot up anywhere. And I would spend up to an hour sitting outside looking for a vein. I was so preoccupied with getting out of the state of misery that I was in that the only thing I could possibly do was try to remain high every single day all day.

COOPER: I've heard some people describe it as sort of being wrapped in a warm blanket.

MITCHELL: Well, by that point I wasn't really wrapped in a warm blanket as so much as left out in the cold. I was homeless. I was living in alleyways. I was -- you know, just completely strung out on heroin, having to use heroin five to eight times a day. So the warm blanket was essentially gone. It was pretty much continuing to use heroin for my survival at that point.

COOPER: I'm curious, when you heard about Philip Seymour Hoffman, what did you -- what did you think? As somebody who has used and knowing that he had, you know, been through rehab I think at age 22. He was now 46 years old. What do you -- I imagine your perspective was different maybe than mine. What was your -- what were your thoughts?

MITCHELL: I was profoundly sad for multiple reasons. I think that access to Naloxone, we have this medication that reverses the effects of an overdose but it's not widely available when it should be in every first aid kit. Because people associate it with heroin users it's not widely available.

COOPER: And that's the drug that --

MITCHELL: I felt sad for his --

COOPER: That's a drug that people say if you're going to shoot up you should do it with somebody else who maybe has that drug or even police should have that drug so that first responders, so that -- because it can bring someone back from near fatality. MITCHELL: Yes. So we encourage people if you're going to use, use with someone who actually is going to save your life. And have Naloxone present. And there's also situations where, you know, the person who's prescribed prescription medication and doesn't realize that they can't have alcohol with it or they mix multiple medications.


What if a family member had the opportunity to save their life if they had it on hand?

COOPER: Tracey, is there anything else you want people to know?

MITCHELL: I think that recovery is not a destination, it's a journey. And so it's different for different people. And recovery is different for different people. So I am an abstinence-based recovery. But there's lots of different kinds of recovery.

COOPER: When you hear that somebody who's been, you know, supposedly sober for more than 20 years, goes back and uses again, what -- can you explain what that pull is? Can you explain -- I mean, this is somebody who like you has children, has a life, has a career. What is the -- what is the draw even though after all that time?

MITCHELL: I think the cravings set in. Something happens. There's a stimulus in your life. And that cravings set in and you feel like you're trapped. And there's no other way. There's no other solution.

COOPER: Once you've tried it and had that experience or had that sense of connection to it and that sense of, you know, whatever it is, being enveloped in a warm blanket, however you want to describe it, is that desire for that always there even 20 plus years later? I mean, even if it's a tiny speck on the horizon, desire that way or something you're -- you know, you feel with each beat of your heart? I mean, is it -- is it always there in the back of your mind?

MITCHELL: Well, I can only speak for myself. I have 15 years of being off drugs. And I know that sometimes if I'm stressed out or I'm having different kinds of things happening in my life -- I suffer from anxiety, I have PTSD, I have depression. When I think about taking prescription medications it may not necessarily appeal to me, like taking antidepressants. But when I think about heroin it's that instant sense of relief.

And so you may not think about the consequences in that moment, you think about simply just having some kind of relief. And you know in those instances that that drug provides instantaneous relief. Now fortunately I'm able to think about all the different consequences that could happen to me because I work and I spend my life working with other people who are addicts.

But I think, you know, in some people's circumstances for whatever reason at that moment they're not thinking through all the particular consequences and they're just interested in having that relief.

COOPER: Getting that pain relieved immediately. Tracey Helton Mitchell, thank you so much.

MITCHELL: Thanks for having me.

COOPER: Let's talk more in depth about this. Dr. Drew Pinsky, addiction specialist, host of HLN's "DR. DREW ON CALL."

You know, you hear her story and it's amazing to me that she -- the first taste she got of an opiate was Vicodin after having her wisdom teeth out.


COOPER: And that was the beginning of it.

PINSKY: And that's usually the way it goes these days. She was actually at the leading edge of this kind of a phenomena, which is people start with pills. When they can't get the pills they graduate to heroin. It's cheaper, it's more intense.

COOPER: And what is it about opioids? I mean, what is it --

PINSKY: You're trying to understand it. You're -- in spite of all the razzing I've given you about Ambien over the years you're clearly not an addict.

COOPER: Right.

PINSKY: Because only addicts would appreciate that oh my god, this -- I'm in love with this. And as she talked about it, it's relief. It's everything's OK. Oftentimes, particularly people -- she said she had PTSD so she must have had trauma. And this provides immediate not just relief but a sense of everything is OK and I'm in my mom's arms.

COOPER: And that sense of well-being, how long does that last for?

PINSKY: About four hours.


PINSKY: And then you're looking for it again. And then as time goes along it gets more and more difficult to get that. And the consequence of not using you're even in worse shape now than when you started.

COOPER: Tracey was saying that for her total abstinence was really the only way.

PINSKY: If you got opiate addiction that's where we would go for. So if you come up -- if you end up on Methadone or Suboxone, you can't be a doctor, you can't be an airline pilot. It'd be hard to host a TV show. So abstinence for people that want to regain a fully flourishing life, that's the way to go. But it's not for everybody.


COOPER: So does that mean you can't take a pain pill?

PINSKY: Well, if she does, you know, my Shelley, the woman -- with the glasses, she talks about, she had a surgery and woke up after surgery, having been given some morphine, and she said even with all her knowledge her disease fully activated. She started isolating, she started lying, manipulating the story of thinking about how to get the nurse to give her the next med.

There was nothing she could do about it.

COOPER: She also talked about Naloxone, which is what Ric Curtis had also talked about.


COOPER: That's something which really --


PINSKY: Reverses.

COOPER: It reverses it.

PINSKY: It knocks the opiates from the receptor site so they're not affecting the brain anymore.

COOPER: It's such an insidious thing.

Drew, appreciate you being on.

PINSKY: You bet.

COOPER: Thanks very much.

You can see much more on this coming up at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on "DR. DREW ON CALL" on HLN tonight.

For more on the story, you can also go to

Up next the latest on a powerful winter storm making its way from the Rockies to Maine. And one more giant weather system in a winter that feels like the worse in years.

A new world record may have been broken for the biggest wave ever surfed. But there's a surprise about the surfer.


COOPER: Welcome back. A winter storm walloped parts of the plains and Midwest today. It's going to move into the northeast tonight and tomorrow packing snow and dangerous ice as well.

It is a giant weather system, could affect 120 million people. It's what it looks like right now in Crown Point, Indiana, about 50 miles south of downtown Chicago where snow is falling tonight.

Look at that image. Wow.

Snowplows were out across Wichita, Kansas. It's the storm dropped a heavy coating. The governor has declared a state of emergency in that state of Kansas. Two people were killed in an accident on the road caused by storms. Public schools in Wichita are going to be closed tomorrow.

The National Weather Service has posted winter storm warnings and advisories across the northeast and New England through tomorrow. Boston could see 10 inches of snow, freezing rain in the D.C. metro area could blanket that entire region in a coating of ice. And New Jersey governor Chris Christie just issued a state of emergency ahead of the storm.

Seems all we can do now is hope for an early spring to put an end to a winter that feels like the worst in memory for millions of us.


COOPER (voice-over): Brutal cold. Heavy snow. Highways at a standstill. Cities paralyzed. Government shut down. Winter doesn't officially end for another six weeks but it's already setting records. Nearly 40 inches fell in Detroit in January alone. Even the south wasn't spared.

Charleston, South Carolina, and Birmingham, Alabama, all felt winter's bite, all hitting record lows.

Across the country it's the coldest winter in 20 years, making the weather phenomenon the polar vortex a household word.


And pileups like this, and this, and this all too common occurrences. Airports have felt the pain as well. Just yesterday more than 2,000 flights in the New York area were canceled. A super headache for fans trying to get home from the Super Bowl and there's more to come and soon. Heavy snow and ice is forecast to pummel more than 2 dozen states in the East and Midwest by tomorrow.


COOPER: And it keeps getting worse. More than 3,000 flights have been canceled today and tomorrow due to the latest storm. Jennifer Gray is in the weather center tonight with more. There's this other big storm hitting the northeast tomorrow. Where is it going to get hit?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it's been a parade of winter storms over and over. It's not letting up. This storm that we saw in portion of Kansas, Arkansas, it is on the move. You can see Chicago getting the snow tonight. Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis, look at all these winter storm warnings, watches. We even have ice storm warnings for Cincinnati. And that goes through tomorrow morning.

The storm will push into the northeast as we go through tomorrow afternoon. So those winter storm warnings are in effect there as well. As we go through tomorrow morning, the snow will mainly be in places like Indianapolis, Pittsburgh just to the north side of you could see 8 to 10 inches of snow.

And then throughout the day on Wednesday into Wednesday evening it's going to push into the northeast. We'll see the highest amounts north of Boston including Albany where places could see a foot of snow or more. Coastal cities like Boston and New York could see anywhere from 4 to 8 inches of snow.

Anderson, we're also talking about ice and we know what that can do. Bring down those power lines, weigh down the trees. We're looking at a possibility of about 0.25 inch of ice anywhere from Philly all the way back to D.C. The I-95 corridor by come night is going to be a mess.

COOPER: I understand there's yet another storm after that one?

GRAY: Yes. They keep coming. We're also looking at another storm as we go through the end of the weekend. This is a look at Friday. We get a little bit of a breather on Saturday. But then Sunday night into Monday, look at these snow totals. We could see 1 to 2 feet of snow in Western New York, Western Pennsylvania. We could see some pretty high totals as far as New York City and Boston as well.

COOPER: All right, Jennifer, thanks very much, I guess.

Let's get caught up on some of the other stories. Susan Hendricks has a 360 news and business bulletin -- Susan.

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, U.S. intelligence officials confirm they're tracking specific threats against the Sochi Olympics and they're working with Russian officials. Two U.S. warships will be on standby in the Black Sea.

A federal grand jury is investigating the toxic spill at a West Virginia facility that polluted a river supplying water to Charleston. The 300,000 people were left without water and independent tests conducted for CNN found traces of the chemical remain in the water, but the CDC says the levels are safe.

Well, today the Senate passed a nearly $1 trillion farm bill that the House already approved. It now goes to President Obama. It lays out five years of farm policy, cuts food stamps and increases spending on farmer's markets.

You got to see this. Take a close look. The surfer in the middle of your screen, it's hard to say. He may have set a new world record for the biggest wave ever surfed, believed to be 80 feet high. Here's a different angle here of giant wave off the coast of Portugal. Judges will rule if a new record has been set. The surfer is Andrew Cotton of Britain, currently holds the world record surfing a 78-foot wave. You've experienced something like that, Anderson?

COOPER: I've been out in Nazarene. It's a remarkable place. These waves are incredible, thanks. HENDRICKS: Yes, I saw that.

COOPER: Yes. Susan, thanks very much. Are some religious and ethnic groups superior to others? The author who became to be known as "The Tiger Mom" is back with a controversial new book. I'll speak with her coming up.

Also how credit card thieves get your information and what they with it once they have it? Drew Griffin takes is undercover to find out next.



COOPER: A Target executive was on Capitol Hill today apologizing for the security breach that let hackers get a hold of tens of millions of customer's debit and credit card numbers right in the middle of the busy holiday shopping season. Target's CFO John Mulligan told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the company is vesting $100 million to upgrade their system although that may not actually happen until early next year.


JOHN MULLIGAN, EXECUTIVE V.P. AND CFO, TARGET CORPORATION: I want to say how deeply sorry we are for the impact this incident has had on our guests, your constituents. We know this breach has shaken their confidence in Target and we are determined to work very hard to earn it back.


COOPER: The target example is obviously extreme, but type of crime happens all the time. A hacker gets your credit card information. Ideally you find out quickly and shut it down. We wanted to know how prevalent is credit card theft, who are the people behind it and what exactly do they do once they've got your information. Drew Griffin found those answers and more.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Don't let this baby face fools you. If you want to know who's behind the hacking, stealing and selling of your credit cards, Maxim Yastrzemski of the Ukraine is about as good as an example as you can find. Up until the recent Target store breach, he was the king of the hill. The most prolific credit card trafficker in the world, organizing and operating a worldwide credit theft ring that hacked into nine major retailers, stealing and then selling the data for more than 40 million credit cards.

Data that would be sold to other criminals who would then go on buying sprees. They would sell whatever they bought with your stolen credit and turn it into cash. This criminal was one of them. He knew the ins and outs. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If a person had good credit, you could potentially take $25,000 from a particular credit card. We would buy high-end electronics, something that was highly sought after. So whatever was the most popular item of the day is what our crews were buying. At that point in time, we would come back to California and then vend. So we would sell these wares to our buyers. We could either do that via these online marketplaces like eBay or we had points of contacts in Los Angeles in which we could then sell them to.

GRIFFIN: And it was relatively easy. Perfect-looking fake credit cards bought online. Machines to encode and emboss credit cards bought online. And also available online, freshly stolen credit card information that this cybercriminal was buying straight from a baby- faced Ukrainian tech geek.

(on camera): You had the material to make the cards. You had the material to make the cards. You had the plastic to make the cards.


And then you got the data to actually make the physical cards real and active.


GRIFFIN: Just to be clear you didn't do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Everything was in theory.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): That's because this guy isn't a real cybercriminal at all. He's an undercover Secret Service agent who for three years became part of this massive cybercriminal network, befriending Maxis and even traveling to Ukraine, Turkey, and Southeast Asia, to immerse himself in one of the fastest-growing criminal schemes in the world. Ed Lowery heads the Secret Services criminal investigations division.

ED LOWERY, U.S. SECRET SERVICE, CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIVE DIVISION: We never lose track of the fact that we are pursuing the most sophisticated criminals out there.

GRIFFIN: How does it work? In relationships that all begin in the anonymous world of the internet, where no one uses real names, where accounts can be hidden and trust is key. Maxis and the Ukraine would hire hacking teams across the United States. These are the cyber criminals who electronically break into stores, retailers, any company with large amounts of credit card information.

The hacked accounts are categorized by credit limits, then sold in bulk, online, anywhere from $15 for a classic card up to a couple of hundred for gold and platinum. The undercover agent would pretend then to be a buyer who could use the stolen numbers and literally create credit cards that look and act exactly likes the card in your pocket. And before you'd even realize your credit card numbers had been stolen, crews were out buying up merchandise and selling it on the black market.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So he had the most recent, the largest credit card data that was available in his so to speak Cloud warehouses.

GRIFFIN (on camera): So we were reading about data breaches in the newspaper, and you were hearing about basically the fruits of those data breaches through your networks?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oftentimes I knew about the breaches, you know, before they were being reported, because it wasn't simultaneous. The databases were available, here I was already involved. These people were my friends online. And they were selling me their new databases as they were getting them straight from the breach.

GRIFFIN: How many cards were available? How many credit lines were available?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Millions of credit cards.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The Secret Service was buying up stolen credit cards in bulk on a weekly basis, all in a well-planned ruse to reel in Maxis trust and eventually Maxis himself.

(on camera): Did he seem like a criminal?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: None of them came off as looking as a mafia figure or as the next big criminal, ordinary individuals.

GRIFFIN: When you were touring with this guy, taking tours or hanging out at the beach just like normal?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you went out with your friends to go play tennis, it's all you did. We wore towels, beachwear, hang out at the beach, riding wave runners, parasailing, spent time together as friends.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): After a night out in Turkey, he brought Maxis back to a hotel whereas planned they were both arrested. For more than a year, the agent continued the charade. Even as Maxis was sentenced to 30 years in Turkish prison.


COOPER: Fascinating. Drew joins me now. So the Secret Service was buying up millions of these credit card numbers. What do they do with the numbers?

GRIFFIN: Well, you'd be lucky if they bought yours if it was stolen. They were buying them on a weekly basis as I said, thousands and thousands, even millions of them, pretending to use them, pretending be part of this criminal empire. What they were actually doing, Anderson, was calling the banks, telling them what numbers they had.

The banks would cancel those numbers and then you sitting at home would probably get a notice that hey we've got to replace your credit card. Not realizing that your credit card number had been on this international circuit of criminals who were passing it around and selling it up and buying it down. It was just incredible.

COOPER: It's incredible how organized it is. Drew, thanks very much.

Up next the woman known as the "Tiger Mom" has a new book out. It's already stirring up new controversy about what it takes for kids and adults to achieve success. Some people say her theory is a new form of racism. She certainly disagrees. Decide for yourself when she joins us next.



COOPER: The "Tiger Mom" is back more controversial than ever. In Amy Chu's book she argues the strict parenting found in many Chinese families better prepares children for the future other than typical Western parenting she says is more about individuality.

Now she's back with a new book which says religious and ethnic groups some are more successful than the others. She and her husband co-authored "The Triple Package, How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise And Fall Of Cultural Groups In America". I spoke with Amy Chua and Jed Rubinfeld, about the new book and the new backlash.


COOPER: So describe what do you mean by this triple package that you write about?

AMY CHUA, CO-AUTHOR, "THE TRIPLE PACKAGE": So we are actually interested in the underlying traits that generate drive and motivation. What makes some people really want to achieve?

COOPER: That motivation drive is not something some people are born with?

CHUA: Some people are. One way to get at this question, we looked at the groups that are really performing well in the United States today. Just today, just a snapshot in terms of conventional measures of income and education, and looked to see what these groups had in common. And the good news is that what propels success isn't anything biological or innate, but we think it comes down to these three qualities that are open to anyone.

And so what we're calling the triple package is first, a sense of exceptionality, that somehow you're special. This can come from belonging to a group or it can come from an innate talent. Mozart felt he was special or it can come from a parent that just instills the sense that you're special.

The second quality, and what's interesting is how these two dovetail, is insecurity. So you have the superiority complex and the second quality is this feeling you're not quite good enough, you need to prove yourself. You haven't been respected enough yet.

COOPER: Which seems at odds with this idea of superiority? CHUA: It does. That's the most interesting thing I think about the thesis and studies that support this.


The third component is impulse control. Just discipline and the ability to persevere and resist temptation

COOPER: So how can somebody be both have a sense of superiority and yet at the same time a sense of insecurity?

JED RUBENFELD, CO-AUTHOR, "THE TRIPLE PACKAGE": You know who is a great example of that? Steve Jobs. He had a legendarily high opinion of his own powers, his own abilities, but his friends always described him as insecure, as having a chip on the shoulder. And somehow he combined both this super high confidence with this feeling of insecurity like he had to prove himself, had to do more and more his whole life. And I think a lot of successful people combine these two things.

CHUA: A lot of our successful groups are immigrant groups. Mormons and Jews are two other groups that feel they don't look up to us enough, we need to prove ourselves.

COOPER: The groups doing well in the United States --

CHUA: Have these three at the moment.

COOPER: You talked about Mormons.

CHUA: The groups we look at and this is like in 2012 who was topping these charts, they include Mormons, Jews, Iranian Americans, Lebanese Americans, Nigerian Americans, Cuban Americans and Chinese Americans. And there are many others.

RUBENFELD: And Indians.

COOPER: And interestingly you're saying that as you get away from that immigrant experience, the sort of benefits of it, what you're calling benefits of it is dissipating.

CHUA: Yes. When you get less insecure, when you don't feel your survival is on the line, you feel less of an outsider, and then predictably you're less motivated.

COOPER: And that sense of being an outsider is important. It spurs people onward.

CHUA: Yes. And at the end of the day, the book has been controversial I think for the wrong reasons. At the end of the day, it comes down to Individuals. The book is about individuals. And I think all kind of different individuals from whatever group can have this combination of qualities for different reasons.

COOPER: So because that has been one of the criticisms I think review in "Time" magazine said it was a new racism, this kind of lumping people together.

CHUA: I think anybody who sees the book is going to see that it's the opposite of racism. It would be true if we said these eight groups are permanently good, but ours is the opposite. Our title is "The Rise and Fall of Groups." and the groups that are successful today are not the same ones that were successful 20 years ago. They'll probably be different five years from now. It's very cyclical. Once a group becomes more successful, the tendency is for you to slack off a little bit. That's human nature.

COOPER: It's a fascinating book. Thank you.

CHUA: Thank you so much.

RUBENFELD: Thanks very much.


COOPER: Coming up, "The Ridiculist" and you're going to meet "Mini Me." We'll explain ahead.



COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist." In case you missed it a couple of weeks ago we told you about a dummy named Mini Cooper for sale on eBay. We were intrigued and creep out by the concept of this. We did the "Ridiculist" on it, which was notable mostly for my repeated inability to get through it.


COOPER: Times have changed. Times have changed ventriloquism. It makes me want to learn more about ventriloquism. I'm not going to keep going. It makes me want to learn more about the art of ventriloquism. Kind of makes me want to learn more about the art of ventriloquism.


COOPER: All right, so fast forward I come into the news room last week and lo and behold look who was sitting at my desk. The artist, Kris Allen, from York, Pennsylvania generously sent the mini cooper to me. Over the past two days there are those on the staff who think I might be just a little obsessed with mini me. But look, I think it's actually kind of fascinating. It's not like I'm sitting in my office taking videos with Mini Cooper and sending them to our executive producer.


MINI COOPER: Hi, Charlie! Just wanted to say hello. Feel free to send me an e-mail, if you want. Feel free to give me a call anytime. OK, I'll see you at the afternoon meeting. Bye.


COOPER: All right, look, I did the one video. It's not like I'm bringing mini cooper onto the set with me. OK, fine! So maybe I did bring Mini Cooper onto the set with me. And maybe he did sit with me throughout the entire program. Look, I just want to take good care of him. It's not like we're joined at the hip. There have been times I've left him alone in my office with the door unlocked. But I completely trust my co-workers. I know they will look after him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you seen my Dummies? Have I told you about my friend Madonna? I'm friends with Madonna. Do you want to see my muscles? This is where I sit at my desk and I look at my favourite picture. Easy, baby, this is the Money maker right here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You need to not walk around with that guy. He's dangerous. I believe he may have an Ambien problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I watch all my favourite TV shows like "ac 360." you're so handsome no you're so handsome. How are you, Randi?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How high are you right now on a scale of 1 to 10? Wow. Who's this? Hey, Stud Muffin. I have told you that my good friend is Madonna?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ambien, I know it's hard to believe. Ambien, alcohol! Guy puts them together all the time. Travels a lot!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you call my name it's like a little prayer? Doc, is this normal? Madonna, is that you?

TUCHMAN: I know you're much healthier. That big guy that hauls you around! Be careful of him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me my -- Reese's cup.


COOPER: Wow. First I'm seeing of that. I suppose that's what I get for being a dummy on "The Ridiculist." That does it for us. Thanks for watching. We'll see you again one hour from now at 10:00 p.m. Eastern for "AC360 LATER." Hope you join us for that. "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" starts now.