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American Morning

Economic Sales Job; United States and China Butt Heads at Sea; Gigolo's $60M Sex Scheme; Massachusetts Serves as Universal Health Care Model; Prostitution Alleged on Craigslist

Aired March 10, 2009 - 08:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: It's coming up on 8:00 here in New York. A look at the top stories this morning. We'll be breaking them down for you in the next 15 minutes.

Fifty days now in the books for President Obama. And he marks the milestone with a very ambitious agenda. Critics say it's too ambitious, and that he should be going full force on fixing the economy. So we're going to take a look at it. What he's accomplished so far and what lies ahead.

Also, developing right now. Word of a tense standoff at sea between the U.S. and China. The Pentagon says Chinese ships harassed a U.S. surveillance ship in the South China Sea. China is accusing the U.S. of breaking international law. We're going to get a live update from the Pentagon just minutes away.

And there are some frightening new details about the suspect in the fatal shooting of an Illinois church pastor. Authorities say he was planning a, quote, "death day," and was armed with enough ammunition to potentially kill 30 people. We have the developments.

As we said, it's day 50 of the Obama administration. And in the coming weeks, the president -- or in the opening weeks, rather, the president has tackled one issue after another, but the economy, of course, continues to be the top concern.

Yesterday, that fear punctuated by another loss. The Dow falling 80 points to a new 12-year low, and the S&P also finishing at its lowest level in more than a decade.

Right now that anxiety that's creeping across the country is also alive and well in Congress. Last night, the president's top money man spent almost two hours with House Democrats and their message -- patience.


REP. STENY HOYER (D), MAJORITY LEADER: Secretary Geithner believed that it is working, that as he has said, and as the administration said, and as the president said in his address to a joint session of Congress, this is not going to happen overnight, it's going to take time. But we need to stay the course.


CHETRY: CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is live at the White House.

Suzanne, it's really a challenge for the administration as we know. They are dealing with the economy, but they don't want to sideline many other issues, campaign promises that have been on the agenda.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, you're absolutely right. I spoke with the top White House official who says what they are trying to do here is absolutely breath-taking. But now you have critics, and even some supporters who are wondering if this is all too much.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Out of the gate, a bold agenda. Some say too ambitious. Check out the score card. One of President Obama's first official acts, an executive order to shut down Guantanamo.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and we'll seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists.

MALVEAUX: A pledge to end torture.

OBAMA: I can say, without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture.

MALVEAUX: Billions to bail out the banks, and $780 billion more to rescue more than 3.5 million jobs.

OBAMA: My bottom line is to make sure that we are saving or creating 4 million jobs. We are making sure that the financial system is working again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right there! Right there!

MALVEAUX: Oh, and by the way, Mr. Obama says he is also taking steps to end the war in Iraq.

OBAMA: Let me say this as plainly as I can. By August 31st, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.

MALVEAUX: CNN political analyst David Gergen, who has served as top adviser to Democratic and Republican presidents alike offers this report card for the new guy in charge.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the foreign policy overall has been an A. The handling of the economic crisis, it seems to me, is an incomplete.

MALVEAUX: As Mr. Obama himself admitted, he's already made some serious mistakes. Two of the president's high profile appointees had to bow out over tax problems.

OBAMA: I think this was a mistake. I think I screwed up.

MALVEAUX: And despite Mr. Obama's efforts to woo Republicans, those in the House unanimously rejected his economic stimulus plan. And his GOP pick for Commerce secretary walked away from the job offer. Unable to stomach the president's economic policy.

But Mr. Obama embracing his mandate for change is moving full speed ahead to roll out his bold agenda for reforming health care, energy, education, and stem cell research. And the new president heads into his next 50 days with challenges that are equally daunting with the markets tanking and more Americans losing their homes and jobs.


MALVEAUX: And, Kiran, that's why you have the president dispatch his Treasury secretary on Capitol Hill late yesterday, simply asking them for some patience -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Suzanne Malveaux for us, thanks so much.

And a quick programming note, President Obama will be talking about education this morning, 9:45 Eastern time. You can see it right here on CNN or on

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the nation's economic health remains at the top of the president's agenda. Christine Romans is with us this morning "Minding Your Business."

And, you know, if this administration has taken quite a few steps to try to solve the crisis. The Treasury secretary saying we're doing in weeks what other countries have taken years to do.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And that's absolutely true, John. You look at small business help trying to get the money flowing for small business and consumer lending. Stress testing the banks. You look at all the different things that this administration is trying to do to get -- to get the job done. And you still see a market that is unnerved, lacking confident, lacking the patience that the administration is asking for.

They are moving on a lot of fronts. That is very true. But look, since the bank bailout, the Dow is lower. Since the election, the Dow is lower. Since the inauguration, the Dow is lower. Since the stimulus, the Dow is lower. Again and again, we hear from people like Warren Buffett on CNBC who said the approach to the bank rescue has been meddled.

Like Art Cashin, a veteran on the trading floor who says we need something more comprehensive and cohesive for the financial system. Again and again, you're hearing people say that it just hasn't been enough quite yet. They don't see it all coming together quite yet, and that continues to be the problem.

ROBERTS: Well, this weekly job loss numbers, too, are pretty striking.

ROMANS: Oh, yes. And the numbers again and again just reinforce that the economy is very weak. CHETRY: You talked earlier about the fact that it was a moving target that's why it's was so hard to nail it down. Have they come any closer to figuring out what needs to happen?

ROMANS: The target is still moving. I mean, that's the real problem here. The target is like a chess board. They are trying to play chess where every move is five or six different, you know, factors of variables and the other side of the chess board keeps changing.

ROBERTS: All right. Thanks, Christine.

Also a story developing all morning long. The United States and China butting heads at sea. The Navy says Chinese boats harassed a U.S. ship coming within 25 yards of it. That's close enough to see Chinese sailors stripping down to their underwear.

The Pentagon says it happened in the South China Sea, an international waters. But now China is saying the U.S. had no business being there. Chris Lawrence is working his sources at the Pentagon.

Chris, unravel this for us. What's going on here?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, senior defense officials tell me this incident was reckless and dangerous. And it involved a navy ship that gathers data for undersea warfare.

Now at one point the crew thought that Chinese may try to board their ship, but the "Impeccable" is unarmed. So they sprayed their fire hoses at the Chinese boat. Well, that soaked the Chinese sailors, but it didn't stop them. They stripped down to their underwear and kept coming.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Sunday, in the South China Sea, the Pentagon says a Chinese Naval intelligence ship and four other vessels aggressively blocked the American ship "Impeccable," one close to within 25 feet and ordered the Navy ship to leave. When the "Impeccable" asked for a safe path out of the area, two boats cut it off and forced an emergency stop, and the Navy says the Chinese sailors dropped pieces of wood in the Impeccable's path.

The Pentagon calls it "one of the most aggressive actions we've seen in some time." And the Obama administration has protested the Chinese actions.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're going to continue to operate in those international waters, and we expect the Chinese to observe international law around them.

LAWRENCE: Analysts say this could be a test to the new administration, and the Chinese will be focusing less on words than what American ships actually do at sea. JAMES CARAFANO, SENIOR FELLOW, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: If we back off on the right of navigation, if we give in to bullying, then the Chinese will interpret that as a real signal of weakness.


LAWRENCE: And again, what we -- and again, what we know from what we're hearing from the Pentagon is that the Navy does not really regard this as an isolated incident. They say that there were several incidents leading up to this, including one in which a Chinese intelligence ship confronted the Impeccable, telling it to leave the area or, quote, "suffer the consequences" -- John.

ROBERTS: Chris Lawrence for us this morning. Thanks very much, Chris. Appreciate it.

CHETRY: All right. Well, it's nine minutes after the hour right now. Time to fast-forward to the stories we'll be making news later today. At 9:00 a.m. Eastern, thousands of Tibetans and their supporters will be marching across the Brooklyn Bridge to the United Nations building in New York City. Today marks 50 years since Tibetans rose up to protest China's invasion of their homeland, which forced the Dalai Lama into exile. A protest of the Chinese consulate is also planned for this afternoon.

It's one of the stories that we've been following very closely for you here on AMERICAN MORNING. And today at 11:30 Eastern, a House Appropriations Subcommittee will be holding a hearing to discuss the growing violence on our border with Mexico. Lawmakers are looking at what role homeland security might play in helping combat that border violence.

And Vice President Joe Biden is in Brussels right now. Last hour, he held a press conference with the NATO secretary-general. And in about 30 minutes from now, the vice president will sit down with leaders at the European Union's headquarters. They're going to be talking about strategy for fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- John.

ROBERTS: All right. The sheriff who is taking over -- taking on Craigslist, rather, over the erotic services section of Craigslist is going to be with us live this morning. He says the Web site is actually selling the oldest profession online. Of course, the Web site says, no, we're not. It's 10 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

And some advice for families trying to stretch their dollar. Last night on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE," Rachel Ray shared with guest- host Ali Velshi ways that you can save money in the kitchen.


RACHEL RAY, TALK SHOW HOST: We need to go back to the way our grandparents prepared food. Instead of buying pieces of chicken, buy a whole chicken. You make that on Sunday, take the leftovers, roll that into fajitas, soups, stews, make your own stock. You've got to start thinking in bigger increments.


ROBERTS: Rachel Ray also suggesting that you turn your home into a frozen food factory by stocking up on food when it's a great bargain.

Do you do that at home?

CHETRY: Yes. I mean, you know, I tried. I -- she's right. You should do it. It's a little more time-consuming, but it's smart. I just love that Ali is nodding his head. He has no -- can you see Ali sitting at home?

ROBERTS: Do you think Larry has ever cooked a chicken. I mean, seriously?

CHETRY: He didn't know it came in parts. He thought it came into this nice, little free package that took (INAUDIBLE) plastic. I'm teasing, Ali. Good job, by the way, on Larry King.

Well, this morning the government is writing those stimulus checks to get people working again. And states and cities across the country are ready to cash them. They have plenty of projects ready to go. The only problem is which projects will actually get the green light.

CNN's Kate Bolduan is live in Washington with one state's answer.

It's very interesting. It's a problem, I'm sure, the state -- the state officials would love to have, right? What to do with the billions?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. What to do with so much money. Good morning, Kiran.

Every state is facing the same dilemma right now. They need to get stimulus dollars out quickly, but make sure it's well spent. Virginia is getting 4.8 billion, and like several other states, it's asking for help in a very unique way.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): If you could, how much stimulus money would you ask for?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say a figure of $100,000.

BOLDUAN: The State of Virginia wants to know, asking residents to submit their own stimulus ideas online. This Web site now has more than 8,000 proposals. College student Becky Wolford needs a car and help with school.

BECKY WOLFORD, STUDENT, NORTHERN VIRGINIA COMMUNITY COLLEGE: I'm kind of struggling right now with money. I don't have any financial support from my parents.

BOLDUAN: Manassas City Manager Larry Hughes is looking for millions for a dam project to improve water treatment and expand a museum.

LARRY HUGHES, CITY MANAGER, MANASSAS, VIRGINIA: We're ready to advertise for bids, and if it's one of the selected projects by the state, we're ready to go.

BOLDUAN: So we went to the man in charge, Governor Tim Kaine to find out what they will do with this stimulus wish list.

(on camera): Did you ever expect to see this kind of interest?

GOV. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: No. I mean, I knew we'd get some funny ones, and we've gotten some, you know, some jokes, but I've been really impressed with how seriously people have taken it.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Next up, deciding where the money should go and fast.


BOLDUAN: Maybe to people like Robert Watson who owns a local plumbing company. He wants a hundred thousand to avoid layoffs. In all, the requests add up to more than $475 billion.

KAINE: We're getting $4 billion worth of stimulus money so not everybody is going to get what they want, but it is helpful, as we decide how to use, say, the transportation dollars to look at, you know, the big picture priorities that people have and we will try to make the best decisions.

BOLDUAN: So Virginians like Robert Watson should probably start looking elsewhere.

ROBERT WATSON, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: I don't know if it's going to trickle down far enough, but it would be nice for it to start at the bottom and maybe trickle its way back up.


BOLDUAN: Now while this may be helpful, the reality is everyday citizens aren't likely to get money for personal projects. As Governor Kaine put it, this Web site acts as more of a guide than a rule when it comes to the state's stimulus priorities -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Kate Bolduan for us this morning. Thanks so much -- John. ROBERTS: A former Swiss banker who charmed and blackmailed some of Europe's richest women. He is sentenced by a German court. We'll tell you how much of a price the gigolo has to pay. It's 17 minutes now after the hour.


ROBERTS: A notorious con man known as the Swiss gigolo will now be doing his sweet talking behind bars. He has been sentenced to prison for his scheme to blackmail a string of super rich lovers, including a German BMW heiress.

So how did he do it? CNN's Frederik Pleitgen has got the story for us from Berlin.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN BEIJING CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the man dubbed "the Swiss gigolo" entered the courtroom, he was smiling. Asked what he expected, he said, "I have no idea."

Helg Sgarbi soon found out. Six years in prison for cheating and blackmailing some of Europe's richest women after having had affairs with them. The court reduced Sgarbi's sentence because he had confessed. The state prosecutors had wanted him behind bars for nine years.

The confession was very important so that the victims didn't have to appear here in court. But then the defense practically recalled the confession by saying that everything is the victim's own fault, he says.

Among Sgarbi's victim is Susanne Klatten, by some estimate the richest woman in Germany. Klatten's family owns a large stake in German carmaker, BMW. Klatten's spokesperson says the married mother of three had an affair with said Sgarbi, then he started asking for money. She paid several million at first, but then Sgarbi asked for more, nearly $60 million. When Klatten refused the Swiss man threatened to send compromising videos to her husband and the media. Klatten went to the police.

In the written statement to the court, Helg Sgarbi claimed he was sorry for what had happened. His lawyer was less diplomatic.

Yes, he did cheat her, he says, but only in a minor way. He was just playing around, really. But many questions remain unanswered. Where are the $7 million Euros Sgarbi managed to get from Susanne Klatten? What happened to the compromising videos he claims he had? And did Sgarbi have an accomplice? The defendant refused to answer. That's why the prosecution believes the sentence is too weak.

We might enter an appeal, he says, but that is something we will decide later."

Most important for now, the prosecution says is that Sgarbi is behind bars, and his victims were spared the humiliation of having to testify in a public hearing.

Frederik Pleitgen, CNN, Berlin.


ROBERTS: Their names dragged through the mud, but they didn't have to testify.

CHETRY: Right. Exactly.

ROBERTS: Apparently, he explained his frequent disappearances by saying that he was Switzerland's special envoy to crisis zones.

CHETRY: If you believe that one, I've got a bridge to sell you.

ROBERTS: The envoy to Iraq -- oh, Lord! How did he do it?


CHETRY: That's a picture I don't want at 8:22 in the morning. I'll tell you that.

Well, the sheriff is suing Craigslist. He says it's not just a place to find an apartment, it's a place to find a prostitute to bring home to the apartment. Well, he is coming up live. It's 22 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Twenty-four minutes past the hour. The next big hurdle for the Obama administration is health care. The president says we need to try to rein in the cost, improve the quality, and find a way to take care of the millions of Americans without insurance.

You don't have to go to France or Canada to get a glimpse of what universal health care is like. Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta shows us where it's already the law.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three years ago when Republican Governor Mitt Romney signed the new law, more than half a million people in the state did not have health insurance. Today, fully 97 percent of the people living in Massachusetts are covered by the state's version of Universal Health Care.

Romney and his partner in the plan, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, are a political odd couple, but powerful enough to get it done.

SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It recognizes that there's a common responsibility for people in that state to get health care and to get coverage.

GUPTA: Everyone pitches in. Government -- the state took more than $200 million from programs offering free care for the poor, and used that money to help them buy insurance.

Business -- the law requires companies with more than 11 employees to offer health insurance.

Individuals -- if you don't have coverage through a job, the law says you must buy it on your own or pay a penalty. It's painful. It can be more than $1,000 a year.

This aspect, pressure on the individual, was especially controversial. This man is a self-employed musician.

"MASSPIKE" MILES WHEELER, SELF-EMPLOYED MUSICIAN: That means I'm going to have more bills. That's going to be less food for my son. That's going to be, you know, less things that I'm used to having because I am forced to pay health insurance.

GUPTA: But others were more positive.

FRANCES MAHAN: It was better than I expected. And less money than I expected.

GUPTA: Jon Kingsdale runs the Universal Health Care Program in Massachusetts. He warns the biggest threat to universal health care is rising costs.

JON KINGSDALE, EXEC. DIR. MASS. HEALTH INSURANCE CONNECTOR: We're going to have to be in the single digit rates of increase in premiums and the corresponding medical costs that they cover if reform is to be sustainable.


GUPTA: Now, one of the things that people talk about, obviously, when talking about universal health care is costs. If we can quickly flash up some numbers here. I don't want to inundate you with these numbers.

But if you look at fiscal year 2009, with the predicted costs were $725 million, the real cost $820 million. Kiran, that's going to be a big point of debate for some time to come. People will say, look, the reason those costs went up was because you now have 97 percent of the state covered, more and more people are signing up. People who are critics of this will say, look, this is just another example of how these health care costs can spiral out of control. There's no definite plan on the table as of right now, Kiran. I think we're going to see that in the weeks and months to come.

CHETRY: All right. Sanjay Gupta for us this morning. Great to see you. Thanks so much.

GUPTA: Thank you.

CHETRY: Twenty-seven minutes past the hour. Top stories we're tracking for you. Right now, it's President Obama's 50th day in office. And in just over an hour, he will unveil details to overhaul the nation's education system.

White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs says that the president's remarks will focus on new approaches to helping students, as well as teachers. Tens of billions have already been set aside for education in the president's stimulus plan. Critics say that President Obama should focus more on the economy.

Well, Bernie Madoff is back in court today. There's a hearing at 3 p.m. Easter that will determine whether or not Madoff's attorney, Ira Sorkin, has a potential conflict of interest in representing the former investor. Sorkin's father once had an account with Madoff. Madoff has been under house arrest in his $7 million penthouse since late December, accused of masterminding a $50 billion Ponzi scheme.

And just minutes from now, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will speak to the council on foreign relations, discussing reforming America's bank regulatory system. Investors will no doubt be listening closely to what Bernanke has to say. But so far futures on Wall are showing green arrows for the opening bell -- John.

ROBERTS: Something positive this morning.

CHETRY: Exactly.

ROBERTS: Well, it's a site that millions of people use to look for a job, to get a new apartment, a used sofa. Law enforcement officials, though, say that Craigslist is also one-stop shopping for prostitution. A red light district for the new millennium.

Joining us now live from Chicago is Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. He is the same fellow you remember who launched a one-person crusade against foreclosures in Cook County. Now he's filed a lawsuit against the Web site, Craigslist, over its erotic services section.

Sheriff, good to see you this morning. We should point out that four months ago Craigslist settled a lawsuit with some 40 attorney generals across the state, including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan promising new safeguards to restrict these ads on Craigslist for prostitution. So why the need for another lawsuit?

SHERIFF TOM DART, SHERIFF OF COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS: Because nothing changed, John. We were hopeful, frankly. The attorney generals spent a lot of time and energy into this. And we were hopeful that there's going to be some changes. But there was, literally, no changes that we saw on the street. And we continued our arrests, and the number of juveniles being swept in as well that were being solicited for prostitution. That continued to go on. So nothing changed.

And after -- frankly, John, after two years of us battling over this, we really had no other options to bring a lawsuit to get them to shut down just this one section, which is clearly being used to facilitate crimes.

ROBERTS: Does your office make a lot of arrests based on ads that you see on Craigslist?

DART: It's gone to be where it's almost exclusively, John. There's a gravitation by a lot of the traditional prostitution elements into the Craigslist. The Internet, but particularly Craigslist. So I don't want to say we're doing it exclusively, but it's darn close to exclusive. The last two years we've done almost 200 arrests off the Craigslist, including ten juveniles.

ROBERTS: Yes. You filed this lawsuit through a private law firm. Why did you do it that way, instead of going through official government channels?

DART: Well, you know, we had this law firm came up to me and said, listen, we will do this pro bono for you. And we've been under a lot of budget constraints here in this county, including a lot of job cuts. So, it was to me a wise financial move on our part to get...

ROBERTS: Was it also because you knew that you wouldn't have the support of the attorney general if you proceeded through their office?

DART: No. That was not a fair -- this is a group we worked with before in several lawsuits. We just felt confident that given their expertise in the lawsuit they laid out to us, this was the best route and probably the most prudent way to go.

ROBERTS: I was doing research this morning and skimming through some of these ads here in New York City. And there is no real request for money here. One of the women's pages I looked at it said for the first 15 minutes she is asking for a gift of 120 flowers, for a full hour, it's 260 flowers. Is that the way these people try to skirt the law?

DART: Yes, John, they lay out either flowers, kisses, presents. But what it is obviously $150 an hour for their services, $200. Then they actually, in some the ads they will put down specific acts that they will charge extra for and they list that as well. They have code names for that but you really would have to be really stupid not to figure out what is going on.

And as I said, we didn't follow up and it turns out this is all the case, including, John, just to test their alleged monitoring, we would put our own ads on there, things to the like of 14-year-old looking for sex, 15-year-old looking for companionship. And those ads would stay on until we took them off.

ROBERTS: Despite the safeguards that Craigslist said it put in place. And when you go on there, there are warnings about child pornography and trafficking in human beings. Craigslist says that it can't be responsible for contents submitted by its users and the spokesperson Susan Mac Tavish Best told us here at AMERICAN MORNING "criminal activity is completely unacceptable." I guess on Craigslist. "We continue to work diligently to prevent it. Craigslist has a long history of cooperation with law enforcement." Is that not true? DART: Well, I tell you what everyone is against murder and rapists, too, as well, but the question is what do you do about it? When you present a case to people, which we have, John. For two years I've been working on this. For two years, I've told them, guys, you have a great site in most of your areas but this one area is being abused. Can you just take it down or monitor it? And they have done absolutely nothing, as I say, including us, we put our own ads on and not even taking those down.

ROBERTS: But what about the idea, too, that prostitution is seen as a victimless crime. That the real nuisance of it is of people walking the streets and johns cruising the neighborhoods, looking to pick up a woman. This takes it off of the streets and at least puts it on the Internet and people know that this is not going away no matter what you do.

DART: It isn't going to go away but two points I want to make, John. One, really the more you get to understand this issue, you find out it's truly not victimless. The women involved, the ones who are prostituting themselves, their lives can best be described as horror movies of sexual abuse and threats by pimps that threaten to kill them, kill their families, the whole nine yards, cut off their drugs. So it's not truly a consenting adult.

And the other thing when you inject the Internet in here it makes my life very difficult as far as prosecuting, arresting these people. I can arrest the prostitutes but as far as getting up to the next level to the pimps and the child traffickers, and mind you, we've charged people with child trafficking off of Craigslist as well. It's hard to get to those people because they are insulated by the Internet. And all we've asked these folks is listen, it's abundantly clear the site is being misused by people.

Can you please work with me to clean it up with some legitimate monitoring and screening? And they want nothing to do with it.

ROBERTS: Sheriff Tom Dart. It's always good to check in with you. Thanks for being with us.

DART: John, thank you so much again. Thank you.

ROBERTS: All right. Take care.

We invited Craigslist CEO, by the way, Jim Buckmaster to appear on the program. He declined our interview requests, though -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, it's 33 minutes after the hour. We kind of fast forward with the stories that are going to be making news later today.

At 10:00 a.m. Eastern, former Atlanta Falcons star Michael Vick's Atlanta mansion is going on the auction block. Vick is currently serving a jail sentence for his involvement in an illegal dog-fighting ring. The minimum starting bid for the house is $3.2 million.

On Capitol Hill, we're expecting a vote on the $410 billion spending bill but it's still not clear if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has the 60 votes needed for it to pass. Senators will also are going to be voting on an amendment introduced by Louisiana Republican David Vitter about whether lawmakers should keep their yearly cost of living raise. Lawmakers now make $174,000 a year. Vitter's bill would deny them the raise that they are due next January.

At 12:20 p.m. Eastern today, two astronauts will get some time outside of the space station. They're going to be performing a six- hour space walk. The astronauts plan to install exposer, an experiment that exposes seeds and spores to the open space environment.

ROBERTS: He watched a man murder his pastor in cold blood but his actions may have saved dozens of his fellow churchgoers. Just ahead, we talked with one of the man who tackled the gun man in Sunday's Illinois church shooting.

It's 35 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. We're getting new chilling details this morning about the tragic murder of Pastor Fred Winters in front of his entire congregation. Prosecutors say that the suspect 27-year-old Terry Sedlacek marked Sunday on his calendar as "death day" and that he was carrying enough ammunition to potentially kill 30 people.

Two churchgoers tackled the shooter and stopped him before he could hurt anyone else. Keith Melton is one of those heroes. He talked to us earlier on AMERICAN MORNING.


CHETRY: If could you walk us through the day this past Sunday, you and your wife were attending the services together and you say the pastor was well into his sermon when this young man who turned out to be the attacker started walking down the aisle of the church. What did you think? What was going through your mind when you saw this man walking right up to the pastor?

KEITH MELTON, MEMBER, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH: Well, as he walked by me, the first thing that I thought was it just seemed a little out of place for someone to be walking up to the front to take a seat at that point in the sermon, like I said, he was well into his sermon, but then he continued up directly in front of the pastor as he was preaching, and the pastor paused, said good morning to him, asked him what he could do for him, and at that point, the assailant pulled out the gun and started shooting.

CHETRY: You describe what happened at first, the first shot round was blocked by the pastor's Bible. It sort of almost disintegrated in the air, it looked like confetti. And then what did the pastor do after that first shot was blocked?

MELTON: Well, as we were trying to register what was going on, and seeing all the confetti, it was a bit confusing just at first, but you could see by the pastor's reaction that that was not anything that was a part of what he was doing, and he started trying to escape the assailant.

CHETRY: And you said that he went after him with a laser focus and eventually tragically he shot and killed him. At this point, you jumped out of your seat, you ran over there trying to help him. What happened in the aftermath of the pastor being shot?

MELTON: Well, when the first shot rang out like I said, most of us were just kind of stunned, trying to gather our minds about what was going on but by the time the second shot rang, there were a number of us that sprang into action, and I immediately ran and as the pastor was trying to flee from him, basically once the pastor jumped off the stage and into the aisle way he was met by the gunmen and they were in close quarters, still you know - they were still standing but still kind of wrestling together as I got there and was able to get the assailant off of him, but obviously not before the fatal shot was fired.

CHETRY: And you say he put up quite a fight. He actually tried to get away, you grabbed him around the legs, and someone else, also another parishioner that was trying to help out and that's when he pulled out a knife. You didn't even realize that he had stabbed you?

MELTON: No, it was minutes after before I even realized that. I'm sure the adrenalin rush and everything going on, and because once he turned to flee from me and I was able to tackle. As soon as I looked up, I mean there were men everywhere. They were blocking the aisles. They were doing everything they could to keep this guy contained and immediately once they had him secured I ran back to the pastor to see if I could help but by that time there were more people there who were better skilled at trying to help him and it was in that time that I realized that I had been stabbed.

CHETRY: You were treated and released. Thank goodness, you said you got a tetanus shot but you guys lost Pastor Winters but we're learning new details now about just how much worse it could have been, apparently this suspect had in his home a planner marked Sunday as "death day," that he had enough ammunition possibly to kill as many as 30 people according to the prosecutors.

Have you thought about just how much worse this situation could have gotten if you hadn't acted and others hadn't acted when they did to try get this guy down?

MELTON: It certainly -- I have. You know, of course most of that come to light afterwards. I did hear someone say after we had him subdued that there were other magazines there, but I didn't know the extent of that until the news came out yesterday.

CHETRY: And how are you guys dealing with this in terms of trying to understand how this random act of violence came to your congregation for no apparent reason?

MELTON: You know, Kiran, I don't think that we're ever going to be able to make sense of it. You know, evil exists in the world and it's going to continue to strive, and we just have to trust god, and help him heal us through this, because I just truly believe we'll never make sense of it.

CHETRY: Well, Keith, you potentially saved many, many more lives that day and I know that this is a tough situation for you and your congregation. We're certainly thinking about you and thanks so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

MELTON: Thanks, Kiran. We covet all your prayers.


ROBERTS: Well, homeowners in some bad contracts. Their new homes way down in value are looking at the fine print to get out of the deal. Can they do it? Our personal finance editor Gerri Willis is here to tell you, yes, it's possible. 43 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Thousands of people who bought condos during the building boom now find themselves being asked to pony up for a home that's worth way less than what they bought it. So what can you do if you're in a situation like that? Many people are turning to the fine print in their contract to find some relief. Our personal finance editor Gerri Willis is here to explain how. Good morning, Gerri.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Hey, good morning, guys. Yes, this is interesting stuff. The near depression in the real estate market well has let a lot of buyers to re-evaluate their condo purchases and now there are companies are out there that will help these folks get out of their contracts and get their deposit money back. was started last year. It's a company staffed by lawyers who currently have about 10 cases in litigation. How do they overturn these signed contracts? Well, they find legal loopholes. They maintain there were certain procedures these firms were supposed to follow through on, but they failed to do is to that renders the contract null and void. I want to show you some of these loopholes that we're talking about here.

So first off, if you want to find the loopholes, if you want to find the loopholes, they failed to fill out government disclosure forms typically. And this is a HUD form that describes the property. They made false inaccurate statements about completion dates or amenities. They made changes to the documents without even telling the buyer about rules and restrictions.

Now it's not just condo buyers trying to get out of the deal. It's also people who have seen their monthly mortgage payment escalate out of control and they claim that their mortgage documents are invalid. Now here are some reasons that people are disputing mortgages. They failed to provide a good faith estimate of loan costs. This is more common than you would think and it's required by law. Excessive fees. Copying fee, document delivery fees. If you've bought a house, you know what I'm talking about. They have created a false income for borrowers. We've all seen these liar's loans out there and in some cases there were blank pages in the documents that the lenders then filled out making up income for borrowers.

Now what happens here, guys, is essentially is that the borrowers are saying, they are holding the lender's feet to the fire and they're saying we really want them to modify the loan and unless you do we're going to sue you in a court of law and the lenders don't want that.

CHETRY: So how successful has this been?

WILLIS: Well, it's been fairly successful, markets where it's been tested out. Miami and New York but really Miami where you saw such a glut of condo development. It's not inexpensive. You may pay thousands of dollars and you can actually get your loan looked at by people who only look for these problems which will pay a thousand dollars for the privilege. So you got to make sure that you can even afford the costs, obviously. But at the end of the day, more and more people are doing it because there are lots of mistakes made in these loans.

ROBERTS: Of course, there were a lot of speculators who went into these condo projects and there is not a lot of sympathy for those people out there but there are people who legitimately went in and bought these condos as their first home, right?

WILLIS: As their first home and now they're finding the price on those condos have fallen 30 percent to 40 percent. They put a down payment based on the higher price. So they feel like they are being taken advantage of here.

ROBERTS: All right. Gerri, thanks so much for that.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

CHETRY: All right, still to come, Oprah with strong opinions on the Rihanna-Chris Brown saga. She is issuing a strong warning to the pop star. We're going to have the latest on the scandal that has Oprah very upset. It's 49 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. The case against Chris Brown and the accusation that he beat his superstar girlfriend Rihanna has everyone talking. Our I-reporters have some pretty strong opinions about domestic violence, the victim and the tough choices they have to make.


ROBIN SAVAGE, CNN IREPORTER: I don't think anyone should judge Rihanna for, you know, thinking that it's OK to go back to Chris Brown, unless they are in her shoes and unless anyone has ever been in a domestic violence relationship, they have no idea what it's like. You know, you're kind of like on the outside looking in.


CHETRY: And Oprah strongly disagrees with that sentiment. She is warning Rihanna to run. CNN's Kareen Wynter has the latest on the case against Rihanna's boyfriend, Chris Brown.

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: John, Kiran, this case has hit a nerve with media mogul Oprah Winfrey who used her day time talk show to sound off on the criminal charges against R&B artist Chris Brown following an incident involving his girlfriend singer Rihanna.


OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, "THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW": I've been saying this to women for years. Love doesn't hurt. And if a man hits you once, he will hit you again!


WINFREY: He will hit you again. I don't care what his plea is.

WYNTER: Nineteen-year-old Chris Brown, known for hits like this, has yet to enter a plea.


Brown is charged with two felony counts, accused of beating Rihanna following a pre-Grammy party in February. This leaked photo that appeared on the celebrity Web site, TMZ, shows Rihanna's bloody and battered face.

WINFREY: It makes me so sad that I said to the producers that I want to do a show about it this week, dedicated to all the Rihanna's of the world.

WYNTER: Brown has publicly apologized for what happened and some observers say he is now engaged in damage control.

HARVEY LEVIN, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, TMZ: We know that the defense is using this to try and plea bargain this case and get a misdemeanor with no jail time.

DARREN KAVINOKY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER: Chris Brown wants a misdemeanor with no jail time and, of course, people in hell want a little sip of ice water, too. Whether he is going to get that or not will depend on how much his attorney can weaken the prosecution's case. So things are looking more optimistic for Chris Brown now than they have.

WYNTER: The couple has reportedly reconciled. There was a report in the "Chicago Sun Times" of a joint book deal, talk shows and even a $10 million payout by Brown if he abuses Rihanna again, but Brown's attorney says it's just not true.


WYNTER: Brown's next court appearance is set for April 6th -- John, Kiran.

ROBERTS: Kareen Wynter for us this morning. Kareen, thanks so much.

Well, the things that people will eat! Our Jeanne Moos shows you the most bizarre fattening food combinations ever whipped up. Nothing says breakfast like a deep fried Tootsie Roll with bacon? Mmm! Fifty- four and a half minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: There they are hard at work, working up an appetite this morning. On that topic, I've always said that everything tastes better wrapped in bacon, including bacon. But here is something else to consider. How about chocolate-covered bacon? Or a Twinkie dog? Ready to hurl yet? Well, just wait until Jeanne Moos gets finished going to gut-busting lengths to glorify gluttony.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If you're eating, stop. Instead feast your eyes, a sloppy Joe on a glazed Krispy Kreme. Gravy pizza.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My personal favorite I think is the hot dog encased in French fries. I have a fantasy about that one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's brilliant. It's a pizza and the crust is made out of hamburger meat. Is that not genius?

MOOS: These are the two geniuses who dreamed up the new Web site this is why you're fat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where dreams become heart attacks.

MOOS: Chocolate-covered bacon anyone? Or maybe you prefer a pink sandwich.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's four packages of cream cheese, strawberry cream cheese around a loaf of bread.

MOOS: Manhattan couple Jessica Amison and Richard Blakely are looking for your deliciously gross submissions.

AMISON: If it doesn't make us go, ugh in the first five seconds, there's some cheese on it.

BLAKELY: The epitome of this Web site I think can be summed up in the pizza burger.

MOOS: It's a bacon cheeseburger slapped between two pizzas. Connoisseurs even put it to music.

Fried stuff on a stick is popular from deep fried Tootsie Rolls to deep fried white castle cheese burgers and bacon is big.

AMISON: Bacon, meatloaf, mac and cheese.

MOOS: Bacon doughnuts, bacon ice cream, bacon chocolate chip cookies. A bacon flavored spread called Baconnaise that Jon Stewart recently used as a dip for pancake and sausage on a stick.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": That's what you like to do.

MOOS: When "Saturday Night Live" did a bit making fun of ever more layered tacos wrapped in pizza.

ANNOUNCER: Well, it's not a Taco Town taco until we roll it up in a blueberry pancake, dip it in batter and deep fried until it's golden brown.

MOOS: Someone took SNL's recipe and actually made it. And then there was the delicacy copied from Weird Al Yankovic.

"WEIRD AL" YANKOVIC, ACTOR: A Twinkie sandwich. Your favorite.

MOOS: Even we are capable.

So we'll put this. Using a Twinkie as a bun for a wiener and drizzling it with Cheese Whiz. Cheers.

BLAKELY: I can't eat this!

MOOS: He's a vegetarian. The Twinkie wiener sandwich wasn't so bad. Is this story making you hungry?


BLAKELY: That's my favorite.

AMISON: There it is.

MOOS: I hear your stomach growling. I heard that. One man's groan is another man's growl! Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


ROBERTS: So what do you think?

CHETRY: She tried to make it look unappetizing, but that looks delicious.

ROBERTS: Nothing, though, I think beats that food that I introduced to you during the primaries. (INAUDIBLE)

CHETRY: Oh, I love it. It's basically a glorified version...

ROBERTS: French fries.

CHETRY: ... of cheese fries, right? With any type of cheese.

ROBERTS: French fries covered in gravy topped in cheese curds.

CHETRY: And I was five months pregnant, so it was even more delicious.

ROBERTS: Nothing better than that. That's going to wrap it up for us. Thanks so much for joining us on this AMERICAN MORNING. We'll see you back here again bright and early tomorrow.

CHETRY: All right, now here's CNN NEWSROOM with Heidi Collins.