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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview with Jane Velez-Luster

Aired June 19, 2003 - 20:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Our top story is a millionare fugitive return to the U.S. Convicted rapist and Max Factor heir Andrew Luster, touched down in the country this afternoon after spending nine months on the lam.
CNN's Dan Lothian has more now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From fugitive to prisoner, Max Factor heir Andrew Luster is now back on U.S. soil, landing on a comercial flight from Mexico, one day after his arrest. Ending a five month manhunt that spanned the globe.

MATT MCLAUGHLIN, FBI: This is another example of how well we work together internationally with the Mexican officials.

LOTHIAN: Luster, breifly questioned by imigration officials was escorted by FBI agents to be processed at the Wasco State Prison near Bakerfield, California, an isolated facility in the middle of the desert.

TROY OJEDA, WASCO STATE PRISON: We're recieving him. We will process him through our reception center and move him to an apporpriate institution for housing.

LOTHIAN: The great grandson of cosmetic legend Max Factor fled during his rape trail, leaving his graphic evidence, some on videotape was revealed in court. Three women taken to his home, given the date rape drug GHB and then raped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guilty of the crime of rape by using drugs.

LOTHIAN: He was convicted and sentenced to 124 years behind bars for multiple counts of rape, poisoning, and drug possession. He was cornered on Wednesday in Puerto Vallatra, Mexico by a bounty hunter from Hawaii, acting on a tip from a vactioning couple. Now that bounty hunter, Duane "Dog" Chapman, and four others he was traveling with are also in custody. Mexican attorney general's office says the men committed a misdemeanor when they attacked Luster with knives. A decision on their legal status is expected in the next few hours. One more twist the FBI says that could have been avoided.

MCLAUGHLIN: The problem in this case is although we're asking for the public to help us locate individuals, it's very hazardous if those individuals put hands on. Which is the problem that the bounty hunters had down in Mexico.

LOTHIAN: And what was the wealthy fugitive doing in this vacation destination in the days leading up to his capture?

Luster was reportedly staying at a $34 a night hotel near the beach, surfing by day, going to clubs at night.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Meantime, Luster's attorney continues to work on his behalf, still insisting that his client is innocent. Attorney Roger Diamond plans did file papers with the state supreme court tomorrow morning. It's all part of his effort to appeal Luster's conviction -- Anderson.

COOPER: Dan, thanks very much. I want to stay on the Luster case right now.

I'm joined live from Los Angeles by Jan Velez-Mitchell. She is a correspondent for the syndicated TV show, "Celebrity Justice."

Jane thanks for being with us. You hear this guy is on the lam, you hear he's surfing by day, going out to nightclubs at night.

Does this surprise you?

JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, "CELEBRITY JUSTICE": It's so surprising that it's such an obvious location. It fits his profile to a tee. Think about it, He lived at the ocean in California. He loved to surf. He loved to go to nightclubs and bars. He spoke fluent Spanish. He was known to travel to Cabo. Where is he found -- at a resort on the ocean in Mexico that is filled with nightclubs and bars. He apparently was there surfing and going to those nightclubs where there were many women. It just is almost as if he had a sign on his back that said "come and get me."

Some say it's just another sign of his arrogance. Another sign of his sense that he is above the law or the other theory is that he either thought he had protection, in other words, he had paid off someone to tip him off if somebody was getting close or he simply misjudged and made a blunder and thought, well, I'm in Mexico, it seems so different, like a different culture. I'm beyond the long arm of the law. A lot of fugitives make that mistake. And they make a mistake assuming that.

COOPER: I would assume, if that is in fact true, not a brain surgeon here that we seem to be dealing with. But, you know, it's not even like he's in a small village, Gautamola somewhere. He's in a town where tons of Americans go for vacation.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Absolutely. It was an American couple vacationing there that saw him and then went back and reported it to the FBI and the bounty hunters. So it really was his worst case scenario. You'd think if he was going to go to Mexico, which certianly is an easy place to flee to from Southern California there are many towns in the wilds of Mexico that are not filled with American tourists and television. And that would have been a smarter place to go or perhaps go down and try to cross the border into another Latin American country. He didn't do that.

COOPER: It, of course, raises the other issue, why didn't the FBI know about it?

I mean, if this flamboyant bounty hunter can find this guy, why didn't the nation's leading law enforcement agency, why weren't they able to find this guy down in Mexico?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: It's a very, very good question. I think people are going to be asking the FBI, when did they get the Puerto Vallatra tip, and how quickly did they move on it?

They say they had someone on their way down, an agent on their way down, to do the exact same thing this bounty hunter did. Well, I spoke, just a little while ago, to the significant other and business partner of the bounty hunter. She says, this is her contention that the FBI got the tip around the same time that they got the tip, but they just didn't move fast enough. She says "Dog" Chapman went into action, sped down there, and she feels the FBI didn't move with alacrity in this case.

COOPER: And I guess we are waiting to see what happens going to "Dog" Chapman. We'll have to wait on that. Jane Velez-Mitchell, thanks very much, good talking to you.

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