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CNN Saturday Morning News

Boy's Kidnapping Could Be Linked to Mexican Drug Trafficking Ring; New Voter Registrations Could Make the Difference in This Election; The Politics of Food

Aired October 18, 2008 - 09:00   ET


T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: From the CNN Center in Atlanta, Georgia, hello to you all on this CNN SATURDAY MORNING. I'm T.J. Holmes.
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Good morning, everybody. And thanks for joining us. I'm Betty Nguyen.

We do want to start with some breaking news that we want to tell you about. Overnight, there has been new developments in the kidnapping of a six-year-old boy in Las Vegas. Now, unfortunately, he has not been found, but his grandfather has. And all of this could be linked to a drug trafficking ring. We are going to get you the latest on that.

HOLMES: Scary stuff, something right out of a movie on the story. More developments coming up.

Also, we're talking politics as well. Well, if they were playing a game of basketball, you know, Obama likes to play basketball.

NGUYEN: Right.

HOLMES: If they were ...


HOLMES: Obama would be on offense, and McCain would be on defense right now. We'll show you where McCain is, where he's campaigning and why he is playing defense right now, trying to protect some states that George W. Bush didn't have a problem winning four years ago.

Yes, but we will turn to that other big story. Betty, I was just mentioning, a drug trafficking retaliation now being blamed for the kidnapping of a six-year-old boy. Is finding the boy's grandfather the key to finding the boy?

NGUYEN: Cole Puffinburger, as you see him right there, was taken from his Las Vegas home Wednesday by armed men dressed as police officers. Now, the men tied up his mother and her fiance and then ransacked the place. Then last night, the boy's grandfather, you see him there, or did in the upper right-hand corner, his name is Clemens Tinnemeyer. He was taken into custody. There's the picture right now, in California. And authorities believe the guy right here, Tinnemeyer, owes millions of dollars to Mexican drug traffickers. CNN's Kara Finnstrom is following the story and joins us now on the phone from Las Vegas. And as we've been talking about, Kara, this sounds like something straight out of a movie.

VOICE OF KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really does. And you know, Betty, it's unclear right now what police will actually gain from this arrest overnight but here's what they're hoping. They're hoping they will get some new information that could possibly lead to a break in their investigation.

Overnight, this big development, 51-year-old Clemens Tinnemeyer, the grandfather who was wanted for questioning in the drug-related kidnapping of his six-year-old grandson now in custody. We did speak with a dispatcher for the San Bernardino county jail in California. She confirmed to us that Tinnemeyer was taken into custody by the U.S. marshal and Los Angeles police just before midnight. That happened near Riverside, California, which is a little less than a four-hour drive away from Las Vegas where six-year-old Cole Puffinburger was kidnapped on Wednesday.

Now, Las Vegas police have been telling us that they want to talk with Tinnemeyer because they believe he stole millions of dollars from Mexican national drug traffickers before he disappeared a few months ago. And that the kidnapping of Cole was in direct retaliation for that. The kidnappers possibly seeing this, you know, as a way to collect some ransom money.

So, Betty, the key, though, is right now police are still looking for six-year-old Cole and for those kidnappers, but the hope is that the grandfather may be able to provide them with some new information. And right now, he is in custody.

NGUYEN: And as for the family, the little boy's family, have they received any word of maybe a note saying, look, you know, this is the ransom that we want? Have they had any communication with the kidnappers?

FINNSTROM: We actually spoke with the boy's father, Robert Puffinburger, last night. He was very reluctant to share any details. He says police don't want to release much information right now because it's a very sensitive, ongoing thing. They're trying to find this boy. But he did tell us he's extremely concerned and he just wants them to bring his boy back.

NGUYEN: And time is of the essence. All right. Kara Finnstrom joining us live by phone. Thank you, Kara.

HOLMES: All right. We want to turn now to CNN security analyst Mike Brooks. He joins us on the phone this morning. Mike, this is a strange one here. Help us with this thing. First I want to talk about a kidnapping here. This kidnapping is a little different. It's not that these kidnappers want ransom. They want some money. They want their money, it sounds like. How does that add a different element to this particular type of case?

VOICE OF MIKE BROOKS, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, T.J., this is as bad as it gets. It is a combination of retaliation and also of a kidnapping. Where they possibly, possibly might want ransom. You know, again, law enforcement is not giving out any details that they did receive any ransom calls, those kind of things. I guarantee you that the FBI and the Las Vegas police are ready to handle any calls like that that should come in.

You know, right now, we've got -- they've got Amber alerts in Nevada, California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. And they say there are at least over 100 law enforcement investigators working on this case to try to get Cole back. But these are very, very ruthless drug cartels in Mexico, very, very dangerous, very violent, T.J..

And right now, as I said, you've got Las Vegas, the U.S. Marshals were involved, and arrested the grandfather. And hopefully he has information -- I know he has information of who he used to deal with, locations of where these people are, telephone numbers. These are some leads now that I know that the FBI are following up on. And hopefully DEA are pulling out all the stops also because they have a number of paid informants, both in Mexico and in the United States that might have information about this gang. So --

HOLMES: And Mike, tell us here, you talk about, you know, these drug traffickers and cartels operating in Mexico. How often does something like this happen to where they seem to be able to operate right here in the United States and snatch an innocent six-year-old boy?

BROOKS: Well, T.J., just recently we had a number of -- hundreds of arrests around the United States in some of the major cities, including here in Atlanta, involving Mexican drug cartels. And you know, we -- you don't hear too much about it, but there is a lot of this that happens back and forth across the Mexican border, on a regular basis. A lot of violence back and forth. You know, we hear about kidnappings and they take them into Mexico and sometimes the Mexican authorities are cooperative and sometimes they're not. But, you know, it seems like they operate with impunity back and forth across the border.

HOLMES: Wow. All right. Mike Brooks, we're going to be talking to you plenty more this morning, again, trying to get the best understanding we can about this strange case and everybody right now still looking for that six-year-old boy. Hope he's all right. Mike, thank you. We'll talk to you again soon, buddy.

NGUYEN: Let's take a look now at the candidates' schedules today. John McCain is campaigning in North Carolina and Virginia, two southern states that are traditionally red. His running mate, Sarah Palin, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but she is expected to be on "Saturday Night Live" tonight.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden, they are in the battleground state of Missouri. And with less than three weeks to go until election day, we are focusing on a few key battleground states, including battles in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Nevada and Colorado. HOLMES: All right. Denver was the site of the Democratic convention you may remember, and that was a strategic move that may pay off for Democrats. They're hoping to carry that state for the first time since 1992. And as our Dan Simon now reports, new voter registrations could be the difference.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Katie Ulrich thinks of California as home but the 20-year-old college student registered to vote in Boulder, Colorado, where she goes to college.

KATIE ULRICH, STUDENT UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO: I realized my vote was much more important here in Colorado so that's why I registered here.

SIMON: What is helping to make this traditionally red state competitive is people like Katie, new voters to the Democratic rolls. This year, Colorado Democrats have added nearly 140,000 new voters. Republicans about 42,000. That's a more than 3-1 margin for the Democrats. It's not known yet how many of them are college age, but students at Boulder they saw long lines at the registration booth. Katie says it was a speech on campus from Michelle Obama --


SIMON: That motivated her and several of their friends to change where they were registered, from their home states to battleground Colorado.

ULRICH: You know, I really didn't really know when I came here that it was such a battleground state, but I think that the student population has a good chance of swinging it to the Democratic vote.

SIMON: Freshman Zach Perkins also saw a chance to have an impact.

ZACH PERKINS, STUDENT UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO: It's good to know that I have some kind of control, actually, in this election. Whereas opposed to where I was in a state where my vote doesn't necessarily make much of a difference.

SIMON: If Obama is actually able to turn this state blue, local observers say new voters could be a decisive factor.

KEN BICKERS, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO: In a tight election, any group that really surges can put it over the top.

SIMON: Still, political science professor Ken Bickers says McCain has 40 years of history on his side. For Republicans, the task is clear.

BICKERS: McCain is going to have to turn out the base in a big way, that is, social conservatives and traditional Republicans. He's going to have to work the neighborhoods and get those people out to vote. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: A little bit more about Colorado now. President Bush carried that state in 2004 by just under 100,000 votes. If you take the 97,000 new Democratic registrations, Dan Simon was just talking about, it's an even tighter race this time around.

Now, for all the freshest news from the campaign trail and analysis from the best political team on television and a whole lot more, check out your home for politics online.

NGUYEN: So, what are they all riled up about? Well, thousands of people marched in Baghdad today to protest a U.S./Iraqi security agreement that is still in its early stages. The draft agreement calls for U.S. forces to be out of Iraqi cities by next June, and out of the country by the end of 2011 unless Iraq asks them to stay. Protestors want an end to what they call the occupation of their land. The demonstration was organized by cleric Muqtada Al Sadr and mows mostly peaceful.

Meanwhile, President Bush is talking global economy today with two European leaders. French President Nicholas Sarkozy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Borozo are meeting with President Bush at Camp David. President Bush says it will take global cooperation to fix the economic problems.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our European partners are taking bold steps. They showed the world that we are determined to overcome this challenge together.


NGUYEN: The White House says that it doesn't expect any new policy decisions to come out of the meeting.

HOLMES: Former First Lady Nancy Reagan is back home. She is recovering now from a fractured pelvis.

NGUYEN: Yes, Reagan, who is 87 years old, was released yesterday from a California hospital where she was being treated after falling at her home last week. Doctors say she should make a full recovery.

HOLMES: Richard Fuld, we'll talk about him in a second, you probably know that name. Getting ahead of myself there. I need to tell you about this though.

Another economy-related story, Mervyn's Department Store, closing. Has stores in seven states, closing every last one of them. This is a 59-year-old company that has filed for bankruptcy. That happened back in July, with earlier in the week, Linens n' Things as well announced it was closing all of its stores.

Richard Fuld, I was just mentioning, the former CEO of investment bank Lehman Brother has been slapped with subpoenas, three of them. A source with knowledge of the bankruptcy filing tells CNN he's among several people being called to testify. Now, grand juries in Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey are investigating that bankruptcy.

A hot potato for the presidential politics out there. When does humor cross the line over into racism?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, what does the chicken and the watermelon and the ribs mean then?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does spaghetti and meatballs mean?


NGUYEN: All right. We're going to explain this one to you. But just take a look right there. A cartoon dishes on Barack Obama. Now comes the food fight.


NGUYEN: OK. So let's talk the politics of food. Shall we? A Republican women's group is apologizing now for this cartoon in its newsletter. Take a good -- well, it's kind of small to see it right there, but we'll show it to you. It has a picture of Barack Obama on a phony food stamp with pictures of fried chicken, ribs and watermelon.

Here's KCAL reporter Christine Lazar.


ACQUANETTA WARREN, CHAFFEY COMM. OF REPUBLICAN WOMEN: When I got home and opened it up, I literally moved my scream because my daughter was standing on my shoulder and she went, mommy what is that?

CHRISTINE LAZAR, KCAL REPORTER (voice-over): A picture of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on a $10 food stamp surrounded by a bucket of chicken, Kool-Aid, ribs and watermelon was circulated in a newsletter to members of the Chaffey community of Republican women in the Inland Empire. At least two members of the group are outraged and asking for a public apology.

WARREN: This racial thing in this campaign must stop. These people are drinking the wrong water or something.

LAZAR: Do you have any comment that this newsletter was racist?


LAZAR: The husband of the group's president Diane Fideli says she found the image on the Internet. He says he finds nothing offensive about it.

Why is it not racist?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because you think it's racist, we didn't.

LAZAR: Is a watermelon, a bucket of chicken?


LAZAR: Those are African-American stereotypes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really? Who says that? You?

LAZAR: So what does the chicken and watermelon and ribs mean then?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does spaghetti and meatballs mean?

LAZAR: Fideli's daughter showed up outside her parents upland home and explained to us why she believes her mother has been unfairly targeted.

TRACIN SANDOVAL, DAUGHTER: What many people don't know is my mother was married to my father, who is Mexican. So explain to me how she's racist.

LAZAR: Tracin Sandoval says only one person was offended by the cartoon. Do you think it's racist?

SANDOVAL: No, not exactly.

LAZAR: How can a bucket of chicken, ribs and watermelon -

SANDOVAL: I eat chicken. I eat ribs. I eat watermelon.

LAZAR: But those are black stereotypes.

SANDOVAL: Says who?

LAZAR: And for those who say that that cartoon is not racist, how would you describe it?

WARREN: They need to talk to me. Because if they look through the history of stereotypes that were established for African- Americans, that is awful.

LAZAR (on-camera): And the two members of the Chaffey Committee of the Republican women who are outraged by this cartoon say they worry it is sending the wrong message. They say their group is about philanthropy, not hate. As for Obama's camp, they are aware of this cartoon, but they have no comment.

In Upland, I'm Christine Lazar, KCAL News.


NGUYEN: All right. So, the women responsible for the newsletter says they never connected the dots. To quote one of them "it's just food to me." She says she reprinted the cartoon to poke fun at Obama who has said that he doesn't like other presidents. OK. I guess that clarifies it.

HOLMES: All right. It's 2008, someone just walked by and said that stuff still happening.

Well, we'll turn to something else, a little nasty for another reason. A Minnesota man raising a stink over his right to free speech. Somebody left doggy bags in his truck. The point? Get a little poo-poo on McCain. Some of the signs on the truck's window. Look at this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The neighbor admitted to doing it. Said it was a silly thing to do and childish. When asked why, says because I hate McCain.

DONALD ESMAY, MCCAIN SUPPORTER: I get the right to my own voice because I get the right to my vote. And then this guy thinks I shouldn't get that just because I don't like what he likes, just because he hates McCain, I don't get to say what I want?


HOLMES: What is going on this campaign season?

NGUYEN: Look at that.

HOLMES: You know what, you heard the word "hate" used twice in those sound bites. Are we to that? Can't we just disagree? The young man found seven bags of doggy doo over several weeks. Eventually his mom called the pooper scooper with all the goods. The neighbor got a $183 fine for unlawful dumping.

NGUYEN: Dumping. All right.

Well, the nation's banks are going through some tough times, but how are the changes hitting you at home?

HOLMES: Yes. Let's get out that statement of yours. CNN personal finance editor has some recommendations that you have got to hear.


HOLMES: A long campaign. We've heard a lot of stuff out there. We've heard a lot of promises that I'm sure they will make good on.

NGUYEN: Well, let's see. But there are some issues important to you that you have not heard, and CNN's Josh Levs is going through your e-mails this morning. All right. So what are folks wanting answers to?

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's really interesting. And you know, we talked a lot about, obviously, issue number one, the economy, we know the war, immigration, some of these really big topics but there are some topics that these folks are saying they haven't heard enough on or haven't heard at all. Let's zoom in.

I'll show you some of the e-mails we've just been getting at This is interesting from Kendrick Owens in Houston, Betty. I would like to hear from the candidates what they plan to do to combat the rising cost of food. We may not need so much money for health care if working Americans could afford to feed their families a healthy meal. You could feed your family from a fast food establishment for about $20 but a healthy meal will cost you triple that.

From Chris Saunders, I would like to hear their plans regarding disaster relief. Let's scroll down a little bit. I have not heard about drug policy. I would like for the candidates to address the failed drug policy and develop a common sense policy that will address the incredible social and financial burden on the nation. That's from Anthony Torres in Bronx, New York.

A couple more here. I have not heard anything about going after those who might have had a hand in this economic meltdown. Will either one of you go after them? And finally this. Whom will the candidates appoint to environmentally sensitive positions? With what qualifications and with what mandates? That's Howard Peter.

And we're encouraging you, and you know, especially if you're an undecided voter. We're curious, what is it that you still want to know? You can write to us at We're going to keep taking a look and throughout the weekend we're going to start bringing you answers as well. Whatever we have that might help you out there.

NGUYEN: Absolutely. That's what we're looking for, answers so that folks can make a decision.

HOLMES: You got it.

NGUYEN: Time is ticking. Thank you, Josh.

HOLMES: Thank you.

NGUYEN: And with so much upheaval in the banking industry, a lot of you have questions. And our personal finance editor Gerri Willis is looking into these changes. Here's what she found.


Recent consolidation in the banking industry may have you wondering if you can pay the price. Be wary if banks have higher costs, either from covering the costs of the consolidation or paying higher premiums to the FDIC. That cost can be passed on. Look out for some things that could change. You may see higher fees or higher interest rates on loans. You could get lower rates on your deposits. And your minimum balances could get higher.

Just make sure you read your bank statement carefully. Banks can change fees and terms at any time for any reason. And make sure you pay attention to what's happening with your credit cards as well. Lots of credit card issuers are increasing interest rates, cutting credit limits and shortening the time you have to pay your bills.

Coming up on "OPEN HOUSE," you've got questions about protecting your money and our panel of experts is here to answer them. We're breaking down the candidates' plans for issue number one, the economy, and a look at a coast to coast tour to help folks shore up their finances. That's "OPEN HOUSE," 9:30 a.m. Eastern -- Betty.

NGUYEN: All right. Here's a question for you folks out there. Is an animal known for wandering the desert now wandering a city street? The search is on. Stay with us for the latest.


NGUYEN: All right. So, what has everyone been watching Saturday nights since, I don't know, the past four weeks ...

HOLMES: Four weeks, at least.

NGUYEN: Since this election has really heated up?

HOLMES: It's really kicked in.

NGUYEN: That would be.

HOLMES: Must-see TV, "Saturday Night Live." Now, let's see here. We got some that we can show you here that you will certainly recognize. Which is which? You can't really tell.

NGUYEN: It's so hard, isn't it? And even when you listen to them speak, you can almost not even tell.

HOLMES: Well, tonight we might get a chance to see these two side by side. Palin expected to make an appearance on "Saturday Night Live." We don't know if Tina Fey will be there with her. Who knows what they're going to do?

NGUYEN: I sure hope so.

HOLMES: I would love to see them side by side. Don't know what she's going to say, what she's going to do but ...

NGUYEN: Is she going to do the pwew pwew -- we'll see.

HOLMES: You love that, don't you?


NGUYEN: That's good stuff. All right.

Another story that we are following for you, John McCain joking Thursday, listen to this. A charity dinner in New York.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've talked about it. I told him, maverick I can do. But messiah is above my pay grade.


NGUYEN: Well, he was talking about trying to impress a member of the news media who McCain said was favoring you know who.

HOLMES: Yes, of course. They say ...

NGUYEN: Or as he likes to refer to him, that one.

HOLMES: That one.

NGUYEN: At times.

HOLMES: He made a joke about that as well.


HOLMES: We have another little clip here we can show you as well. You know, Obama got his turn up at the mike as well. Take a listen.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Contrary to the rumors that you've heard, I was not born in a manger. I was -- I was actually born on Krypton, and sent here by my father, Jorel, to save the planet earth.


HOLMES: Nice to see them having fun last night at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial dinner Thursday night up in New York. So, good to see them take a break but they got right back at it as soon as the dinner is over.

NGUYEN: Oh, no doubt.

In the meantime though, we are trying to figure this out. Who took Moses? Yes. That Moses though. Officials at a Texas zoo say this three-year-old camel and his best buddy, a pony named Coco, are missing, stolen from the zoo. Who does this?

HOLMES: How do you steal a camel?

NGUYEN: And a pony.

HOLMES: I'd say whoever took the animals may have lured them out of the exhibit by befriending them, however you do that. Reward being offered for information leading to the animals' safe return.

NGUYEN: Oh, goodness. OK.

Well, "OPEN HOUSE" with Gerri Willis starts right now.