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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Charity Cheats?; Aurora Survivor Tells Story; Remembering Gordon Cowden
Aired July 26, 2012 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Erin, thanks. Good evening, everyone.
Tonight we continue the honor the victims of the Aurora shooting and the survivors. You'll hear from the family of Gordon Cowden, the oldest shooting victim. He'll be buried tomorrow. Tonight we remember not just how his life ended but how he lived his life. And you'll hear from a survivor shot three times. A young man who was within inches of death.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PIERCE O'FARRILL, THEATER MASSACRE SURVIVOR: I was just laying there. And I felt him literally standing right above me. I mean his boot couldn't have been no more than six inches away from my head. And I heard a couple more shots. And at that point the first thought going through my head was, "he's just -- he's going to finish what he started right now," you know. I just laid there and I thought he's -- that's it. This is it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: At the gunman's mercy, unable to flee, he says he felt a curtain of darkness falling and just as quickly it was as if the sun came out. Tonight, he'll tell you about how dark turned to day and in barely a heartbeat he knew he would make it out of that theater alive.
We begin, though, with another report. An update on an important story we've been following for months now. Trying to get answers "Keeping Them Honest."
We've told you about a number of supposed charities which have raised many millions of dollars but when we examined their tax filings we haven't been able to find much of any of that money going directly to the people or groups they claim to be helping. People like disabled veterans.
One charity called the Disabled Veterans National Foundation we found has sent a shelter for homeless veterans thousands of bags of these. Coconut M&Ms. As absurd as it sounds, as insulting it is to common sense and most importantly to America's wounded warriors, there's an organization out there claiming that coconut M&Ms and other useless knickknacks are just what disabled veterans need. According to their tax returns, this charity, the Disabled Veterans National Foundation, the DVNF, has taken in, get this, $85 million in donations over the last four years. $85 million. And while we can't find much of any of that money being given directly to disabled veterans, the DVNF says they do give away what the group claims are millions of dollars in useful stuff to small veterans' charities around the country.
Well, Drew Griffin has been following the money right from the start and he's been getting a lot of doors slammed in his face.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Hi, how are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not going to be doing any on camera.
GRIFFIN: OK. So the bottom is you're not going to give me an interview? Where is the money going?
I'm trying to reach Mr. Scholoff. Oh, he's not in?
So here is the question, raised over three years --
PRECILLA WILKEWITZ, DISABLED VETERANS NATIONAL FOUNDATION PRESIDENT: Only in writing. Thank you so much.
GRIFFIN: And none of the money has gone to any veterans. Ma'am?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: As you can see, it hasn't been easy. Now you would think any charity who would want to be transparent would answer questions if they weren't doing anything wrong. Not this one. However, Drew Griffin did manage to visit one of those small charities where he found some items that could help vets. He also found a lot of useless so-called gifts in kind, including those coconut candy M&Ms that -- M&Ms that apparently don't melt in your hand but sure leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROY TIDWELL, PRESIDENT, CHARITY SERVICES INTERNATIONAL: Candy is one of the most requested --
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Roy Tidwell runs Charity Services International. A for-profit warehouse and distribution center in Fort Mill, South Carolina.
TIDWELL: We send out to hundreds of different organizations. We sent on behalf of our charities out to these organizations. We just handle the shipping.
GRIFFIN: Among his 50 clients are the SPCA International and the Disabled Veterans National Foundation. One supposedly helping pets. The other vets. And both as we previously reported taking in millions in donations while giving out almost nothing in cash. What they do give away is stuff. Like this stuff J.D. Simpson showed us. The Disabled Veterans National Foundation sent his homeless veterans shelter in Alabama. He got hundreds of pairs of shiny Navy dress shoes. Some emergency blankets. Some broken furniture. And lots and lots of coconut M&Ms.
J.D. SIMPSON, SAINT BENEDICT'S VETERANS CENTER: Didn't have a lot of use for 11,520 bags of coconut M&Ms.
GRIFFIN: U.S. Vets, a charity in Prescott, Arizona, got an even stranger shipment from DVNF. Chefs coats. And football pants.
TIDWELL: Makes a real --
GRIFFIN: Roy Tidwell says he arranged the shipments and insists both of these charities knew what he was sending and they wanted it.
(On camera): The group that got the chefs coat has no idea why they got chefs coat. Zero idea. And football pants?
TIDWELL: Well, they got them because --
GRIFFIN: You think there's a homeless veterans football team out there?
GRIFFIN: You do?
TIDWELL: Absolutely. There's 300-bed --
GRIFFIN: In Prescott, Arizona? What is it, a minor league of homeless veterans running around playing football?
TIDWELL: I don't doubt that homeless vets play football, basketball --
GRIFFIN: I'm sure you don't doubt it.
TIDWELL: Because you --
GRIFFIN: But if you know I've talked to those people. They said they didn't need this stuff.
TIDWELL: They didn't need it and they shouldn't have approved the inventory when they got it. It doesn't just show up.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Actually, according to U.S. Vets, the vets group out in Arizona, those football pants and everything else did just show up. "We did not request chefs coats, hats, football pants or anything from Charity Services International," the group tells CNN. And U.S. Vets says, "Officially requested DVNF and Charity Services International not to ship us any more gifts in kind."
As for the coconut M&Ms, J.D. Simpson says he did get an e-mail that candy was on the way. He didn't think much of it. Until 11,000 bags. One-half ton of coconut M&Ms, arrived.
Chef coats and football pants and coconut M&Ms may be just about worthless to a bunch of homeless vets. But to the charities that sent them, they have real value. A value that seems incredibly inflated when they are written down on charity tax returns.
Take the SPCA International. A group that's raised $27 million to supposedly help soldiers and their pets. The group's manager wouldn't tell us anything about the money.
TERRI CRISP, PROGRAM MANAGER, SPCA INTERNATIONAL: No, I'm not going to reveal that, none of it, I can't answer any of your questions right now. Believe me, I would love to.
GRIFFIN: But on its tax returns, we did learn about a certain shipment of animal medicines the SPCA International donated to an animal welfare group in Nepal. CNN was provided with the invoice. It shows an itemized list of drugs that the charity values at $816,000. A huge gift in kind. But when the gift arrived in Nepal, the charity receiving the drugs valued them for customs purposes at a mere $2500.
Tidwell arranged the shipment.
(On camera): How can it be $816,000 here and $2500 there?
TIDWELL: The value that's placed on something according to law is placed according to the exit market. It would be what you would have to pay for it in the place that it's exiting. And the -- the fact that they might be able to purchase similar medicines made in a back room in Nepal for a far lower price doesn't change the value of the medicines that are U.S. produced.
GRIFFIN: But $816,000 versus $2500? That seems --
TIDWELL: Yes, that's outrageous.
GRIFFIN: Crazy (INAUDIBLE).
(Voice-over): That didn't sound right. So we cross-checked the bill of lading against the International Drug Pricing guide which values drugs for nonprofit donation. According to our calculation, the charity in Nepal had it just about right. $2,600. Each pill worth less than 2 cents.
TIDWELL: How can I explain that? I can't. But I could -- I could go in and dig into it and try to explain it.
GRIFFIN: He never got back to us. But in an e-mail SPCA International told us it follows industry standards in accounting regulations in placing values on donated goods.
Lou Hingson, who runs a charity based in Pittsburgh called Brother's Brother, says he's seen many charities inflate values of gifts in kind. Why? To trick donors.
LUKE HINGSON, PRESIDENT, BROTHER'S BROTHER: That means that they can declare a lower overhead cost. They can claim more. That they're more effective to the public than the real dollars might indicate.
GRIFFIN: And here are the numbers. In its 2011 tax return, DVNF reported $29 million in cash donations, but also said it received, and then donated, nearly $9 million of gifts in kind. SPCA International received $14 million in cash donations and received and then shipped $5 million of gifts in kind. The only actual cash money involved in the gifts was the $500,000 Roy Tidwell was paid to arrange the shipment.
TIDWELL: It's a very simplistic answer to say, why don't they give away money?
GRIFFIN (on camera): But when they're collecting tens of millions of dollars of it, it seems to be a logical question.
TIDWELL: Well, my portion of it is getting goods to help people who are suffering. Goods that I can deliver for pennies on the dollar. And most places that get them are very appreciative.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Even if it is 11,000 bags of coconut M&Ms.
COOPER: Drew, I mean, with each report that you do on this, I just find it more and more stunning. I mean I find it amazing that he can go on the air and say that he's providing a valuable service when as we've shown they're shipping stuff like -- I mean M&Ms. Even these medicines have a value on paper that doesn't make any sense.
GRIFFIN: It doesn't make any sense to the state of South Carolina either, Anderson, and that's where Tidwell's based. The Secretary of States Office is now investigating Tidwell's business. Specifically asking him to provide the contracts that he has with these charities.
COOPER: And what about the charities themselves?
GRIFFIN: Well, there's been a potentially huge development there. And it's focusing on the for-profit fundraiser connected with so many of these charities, Quadriga Art. We've told you about this company before. The company that actually is making tens of millions of dollars in this charity business. The Senate Finance Committee, which began looking into these charities after our reporting, is expanding that investigation. It is going to begin looking at Quadriga Art.
Anderson, you know that company has refused to talk to us. But we've learned they will be called on to answer questions from Senate investigators who want to know what we want to know. How can so much money be donated and hardly any of it go to the veterans or the animals or the people that it was intended for?
COOPER: And it's just --
COOPER: Yes, it's just stunning. Drew, appreciate the reporting as always.
I mean I do find it stunning that an organization can raise tens of millions of dollars for disabled veterans allegedly and the money apparently isn't going to disabled veterans. It's going to some fundraising organization and again I come back to, if they had nothing to hide, why won't they answer our questions?
I mean, if people are donating $58 million to them, you think they'd want to open up their books. You'd think they want to show exactly where that money has gone.
Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter, @andersoncooper. I'll be tweeting about this already tonight.
Some remarkable stories still coming out of Colorado tonight including this man, shot three times in Theater 9. He thought his life was over. Instead, thankfully, it is just beginning again.
Also, a father's last message to his children and their enduring message to him. You'll hear from his kids. That's next.
COOPER: We continue to remember the victims and survivors of the Aurora shooting. Friends and family remembered Micayla Medek today. Her funeral the second of the 12 to be held in Colorado. Micayla was the youngest of three children. She was working her way through college at a local Subway. Saving money to travel India where some of her co-workers were some. She was just 23 years old.
Pierce O'Farrill is 28 but could just as easily have died along with Micayla. A few people managed to get shot once each by a shotgun and AR-15 and a Glock and lived to tell the story. Pierce did survive and he's telling his story tonight to our Randi Kaye.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time since the shooting, Pierce O'Farrill didn't wake up this morning in a hospital bed.
O'FARRILL: There's a different smell in the air, it seems, when you're out of the hospital.
KAYE (on camera): Pierce never thought he would live to tell his story about what happened inside Theater 9. He was sitting in the third row, just one seat from the aisle, right near the exit door where the shooter entered.
O'FARRILL: When I saw him literally everything almost seemed like it stopped. Like everything was in slow motion. I couldn't even hear the movie anymore. I couldn't hear anything. Like, literally, I could feel like I could hear his footsteps walking into the theater. I mean, it was just -- I was just locked in on him.
KAYE (voice-over): Pierce immediately noticed the suspected shooter's body armor and gas mask.
O'FARRILL: It was just a presence, you know, I mean, literally, it was like I could feel like just a cloud of evil just walking into the theater.
KAYE: He was so close Pierce saw the gunman throw the teargas, then open fire. Pierce was hit three times. Twice in his left foot by both the shotgun and assault rifle. And then again with the Glock pistol in his upper arm. The bullet shattered his bone.
O'FARRILL: My whole left side of my body was just radiating pain. So I didn't know if it was in the arm. I didn't know if it was in the back. But, really, I mean that bullet just hit me and -- I mean, it just rocked me.
KAYE: Pierce dove to the ground and covered his head. He could taste blood in his mouth and noticed it's starting to pool around his head on the floor. When the shooting stopped for a moment, he tried to make it to the exit with his friend who had been shot in the leg. Pierce collapsed. His friend, thinking he was dead, escaped. Pierce's head was just inches from the gunman's boot.
O'FARRILL: And I could just feel his presence in the theater. I mean, I could feel him walking around me. I'm fairly --
KAYE (on camera): Like a shadow?
O'FARRILL: Yes, a shadow. And I could just feel it over me.
KAYE: Pierce, who is deeply spiritual, thought the gunman was going to kill him, so he started praying and made peace with dying. Then he started thinking about his brother and father and realized he didn't want them to blame God for his death. At that very moment he says the gunman simply walked away.
O'FARRILL: I could feel the evil just running out of that theater. And then all of a sudden, he just calmly walked to his car.
KAYE (on camera): You think God was in the theater with you that night?
O'FARRILL: Absolutely. Absolutely.
KAYE: You think he saved you?
O'FARRILL: Yes. There's no doubt in my mind that God saved me.
KAYE: Why, why you?
O'FARRILL: I've prayed so hard for the last year for the Lord to just give me a chance to show the world who he is, to show the world.
KAYE: And you think this was his way?
O'FARRILL: How wonderful he is. I do, I believe that he saved me out of that theater so I can just show the world that there is light.
KAYE (voice-over): To those who say this wouldn't have happened if God was in the theater, Pierce says he believes God's hand created two miracles. The shooter's rifle jammed. And the bombs at his apartment never went off. Preventing the loss of even more people.
Pierce has already found it in his heart to forgive the man who nearly killed him. And hopes one day to meet him and pray with him.
(On camera): What would you say to him?
O'FARRILL: I would say, I forgive you, and I would ask him if I could pray for him. And because the truth is every person on this world deserves forgiveness and every one of us need to pay for the sins that we've committed. But I also pray that he gets life in prison. And I just pray in those 40, 50 years that somehow, some way, God can find his way into his heart and forgive.
COOPER: Randi, did Pierce say anything about how he got out of the theater, who saved him?
KAYE: He actually remembers lying on the floor of the movie theater. He said that two police officers tried to carry him out but his arm was hurting him so much that they ended up helping him walk out. And when he got outside he laid down on the concrete just outside the back door of Theater 9 and he remembers, Anderson, seeing the shooter's guns laying on the concrete next to him.
He also remembers them working on the little girl, Veronica, the 6-year-old girl who died. But it was in the end, Anderson, police officers who actually brought him to the hospital. And when he got out last night, the first thing he did was visit his friend who was at another hospital, and he's recovering as well.
COOPER: Good to hear that. Randi, thanks.
Well, not far from the theater there's a makeshift memorial site bearing 12 light crosses. And people who lost friends and loved ones have been going there all week.
This is Brooke and Weston Cowden, along with other family members, at the cross for their father, Gordon. Brooke and her sister Sierra were with him in the theater on Friday.
On the cross the message says, "Dear Dad, it was a surreal and disorienting night. What was certain was your calling to us, I love you both."
Underneath their father's name is a second inscription, "I love you, Dad, and forever will."
Brooke and Weston Cowden join us now.
Brooke and Weston, I'm just so sorry for your loss. And I can't imagine what this has been like for you.
Brooke, how are you holding up?
BROOKE COWDEN, FATHER KILLED IN THEATER MASSACRE: It's a lot of off and on. I think our dad raised us and continues with the strength of us that we have strength but at moments you'll just break down and lose it.
COOPER: Weston, I read your dad described by a lot of different people in a lot of great ways. Somebody described him as a true Texas gentleman. What do you want people to know about him? What was he like?
WESTON COWDEN, FATHER KILLED IN THEATER MASSACRE: My dad taught me what it meant to be a man. He was -- he was a father first and last. And always. That was -- that was just what he was all about. We were trying to go through and figure out for the sake of the eulogy and such what he was and what he was into. But, really, it was just, well, he had -- he had us four kids. And that was just the life that he lived. And what he was all about.
COOPER: You guys were the focus of his life.
W. COWDEN: Yes. That was just -- he was, he was a dad.
COOPER: Brooke, your last days with your dad included some really special memories I understand.
B. COWDEN: Yes, sir. The -- actually, hours before we went to the premiere, he and I had recently declared ourselves running buddies. And we went to a local park where there was a concert going on and we actually danced at that concert and, I mean, I'll remember that dance for a very long time so --
COOPER: You know, Weston, we've been trying to just give family members the opportunity to just -- to talk about who they lost and what those people mean to them. Is there anything else you want people to know about your dad, about the life he lived?
W. COWDEN: Just -- he was -- the world's a worst place without him. That's not to sound as grim as it came out. But he was -- he just brought so much life. He lived so passionately. And lived life like it was supposed to be lived I guess would be the biggest thing. He was -- he was a father. Just -- that's honestly the biggest thing about him, was he was living for the four of us. He was passionate in his faith. He was -- like you had mentioned, a southern gentleman. He was living his life for all the right reasons.
COOPER: I understand your family set up a special fund in your dad's memory.
B. COWDEN: Yes. He did. It's under our name.
W. COWDEN: It's -- I guess the -- you would go to Chase Bank and it's the Gordon Ware Cowden Memorial Fund.
COOPER: We'll put that on our Web site so people have that information. They can go to basically any Chase Bank to make that donation.
Brooke and Weston, again, my heart goes out to you, and I wish you peace and strength to you and your family in the days ahead.
B. COWDEN: Thank you.
W. COWDEN: Thanks.
COOPER: There's other news to report on tonight. We want to take you inside Syria. Several thousand residents of this bombed-out city are trying to survive. Living in cellars or wherever they can to find shelter right now from the missiles and the mortars.
A documentary filmmaker has just returned from a city called Rastan and the images we are going to show you, I think, are just stunning, heartbreaking. But I think it's important that you see what some people are having to live through right now in Syria. That's just ahead.
COOPER: Court ruling in a custody battle. Just who will raise baby Veronica. Her adopted parents who cared for her since birth or a stranger who turns out is her biological father. See why her Native American heritage was a deciding factor. A 360 follow up ahead.
COOPER: Tonight, chilling signs that Syria may be on the cusp of catastrophe. The U.S. State Department says the Assad regime appears to be, quote, "Lining up for a massacre in the city of Aleppo." Intense fighting has raged in the northern city for a week.
And these videos were purportedly shot over the last several days. CNN can't verify the authenticity of them, of course.
Today there were reports of helicopter gunships flying over Aleppo. This video purportedly shoes truckloads of Assad's forces moving through the city. A headline on Syria's pro-regime newspaper reads, "Aleppo, the mother of all battles."
As we said those are chilling signs. Opposition forces say at least 163 people were killed today across Syria.
A documentary -- excuse me, a documentary filmmaker named Marcel Mettelsiefen has repeated risked his own safety to cover the uprising. He recently returned from Rastan, a city that sits between Damascus and Aleppo.
Diana Magnay talked with him about what he found there.
DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rastan was once a town of 55,000. Now just a few thousands are left. Cooped up in cellars or wherever they can find shelter from the mortars and the helicopter gun ships and deadly missiles.
MARCEL METTELSIEFEN, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: We asked people why they not at least moved into another area. Because their part of town was hit more frequently than others. They insisted on the safety of their houses. There was no logic in this answer but a lot of people were so much eaten up by fear that no purely rational decision seems to be possible anymore.
DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Supplies are scarce. This food must feed two families, almost impossible to get hold of.
ABU AHMAD, FREE SYRIAN ARMY (through translator): My son is sick, but all I can do is use a wet towel to lower his fever.
MAGNAY: And each day, the bombs claim more lives. There is only one small makeshift hospital here deep in a basement. Moments after the shelling, its corridors fill with screams, an endless nightmare for the doctors on shift.
METTELSIEFEN: They were chain smoking, nearly all of them, sometimes in tears. Just busy working, working, working, three doctors for a city under siege and constant shelling.
MAGNAY: Somehow it is always the children who are hit. They cannot run fast enough. Doctors fight for an hour to save this 4- year-old boy. He has a piece of shrapnel in his back. But it has pierced his heart. They cannot save him. His uncle comes to say goodbye. There are no words for this pain.
METTELSIEFEN: I don't like to film here with the blood. Believe me, I don't like it. Easier to me to film the bomb than I see the blood, did you see that, the child? Did you see?
MAGNAY: And yet there is a resilience here. Children play at being fighters for the Free Syria Army.
METTELSIEFEN: They haven't been afraid?
MAGNAY: No, they say, not of the shelling, only of God. The children divide themselves into teams, half regime forces. Half rebel fighters.
Even as they play civil war on the streets of Rastan, there is talk of an end game in Syria. Hope perhaps that when these hands are old enough to hold real guns, they will not have to choose who they fight for. Diana Magnay, CNN, Berlin. (END VIDEOTAPE)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Life in the city of Rastan in Syria.
More from overseas, Mitt Romney getting a cool reception in parts of London. Prime Minister David Cameron taking umbrage after Mr. Romney told NBC's Brian Williams that Britain's preparations for the Olympic Games were, quote, "disconcerting."
Mr. Cameron saying, of course, it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere. He was apparently referring to Salt Lake City Winter Olympics that Mitt Romney ran.
The London Mayor Boris Johnson even mocked Mr. Romney at a pre- Olympic rally in front of thousands of people. Romney's name getting boos from the crowd. Mr. Romney though is pointing to his own Olympic record as a model for America.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The country is in need of a turnaround. The Olympics was a turnaround. There were businesses I've been associated with that needed a turnaround.
That kind of experience, of focusing on the most critical issue, building the most effective team policy, creating a common vision, unifying around that vision and then delivering results, is something I think the American people would like to see in our economy right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: You can see more of Piers' interview with Mitt Romney at the top of the hour, about 30 minutes or so from right now.
A "360" follow-up tonight, on the little girl taken from the only parent she's ever known and put into the arms of a stranger who is her biological father. We'll have the court's decision. What happened to her just ahead.
COOPER: The person known as victim number two in the Jerry Sandusky case, the boy who was apparently seen being abused by Sandusky in the Penn State shower has come forward. The voicemail that Sandusky left for him coming up.
COOPER: Tonight, "360 Follow," a story that from the start seemed destined to end with broken hearts one way or another. It was just a question of whose hearts would be broken.
At the center of the story is this little girl. Her name is Veronica. She's too young to understand the legal battle that's been raging for the past three years. A battle over who will raise her. Well, today, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled on the case.
We'll tell you what happened in a moment. But first, want to give you some background. The heart wrenching case hinges on the fact that veronica is part Native American. As Randi Kaye explained in this report from earlier this year.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Her first name is Veronica. Her last name is -- well, complicated. At just 2 years old, this little girl from Charleston, South Carolina, is caught up in one of the strangest adoption cases we've ever heard.
Her story begins in 2009, when Veronica's biological parents who weren't married put her up for adoption.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want to be an engineer when you grow up?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yes.
KAYE: That's when Matt and Melanie Capobianco entered the picture. They tried to have their own children, but invitro fertilization failed them.
So an adoption attorney connected them with Veronica's biological mom who told them the father, Dustin Brown, a U.S. soldier from Oklahoma, wanted to waive his parental rights.
Veronica was born in September in Oklahoma. And from that moment, the Capobianco's were a part of Veronica's life.
MELANIE CAPOBIANCO, ADOPTIVE MOTHER: We were at the birth and the delivery room. Matt cut her umbilical cord. She's never not been with us. You want mommy to hold you?
KAYE: The Capobiancos were thrilled to have their new baby girl. They took her straight from the hospital to their house in Charleston and were in the process of finalizing the adoption.
Four months after they brought Veronica home, Dustin Brown signed a waiver saying he would not contest the adoption. But two weeks later, Brown decided he wanted his daughter back and filed for paternity and custody. Jessica Munday is a friend of the Capobiancos.
JESSICA MUNDAY, CAPOBIANCO FAMILY FRIEND: It wasn't till this child was 4 months old that he decides he wants to be a part of her life. With no regard to the birth mother, her decision, the pregnancy, the family that's taken care of his child, and to just come and say, I've changed my mind, that just doesn't work, it shouldn't work that way.
KAYE: South Carolina law says a father is stripped of his paternity rights if he hasn't provided pre-birth support or taken steps to be a father shortly after birth. But in this case, state law was trumped by a little known federal law from 1978. Called the Indian Child Welfare Act. You see, brown is a member of the Cherokee Nation, which means Veronica is part Cherokee too.
So before the Capobiancos could finalize Veronica's adoption, a family court judge ruled in favor of Veronica's biological father, ordering them to hand her over.
(on camera): The law's designed to protect the interest of Indian children and to keep Indian children with Indian family members. Congress took action after 1976 study showed about 30 percent of Indian children were being removed from their homes.
And of those, about 90 percent of them were being placed with non-Indian families.
(voice-over): The attorney general for the Cherokee Nation told us the law is working.
(on camera): One of the original authors of the Indian Child Welfare Act said his intent with this law is not to take adoptive children away from loving homes. How would you like to respond to that?
TODD HEMBREE, CHEROKEE NATION ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's not anyone's ever intent to rip a child away from a loving home. But we want to make sure those loving homes have the opportunity to be Indian homes first. And you look at the welfare of the child and if, you know, at all possible we want that child to be raised in a traditional Indian family.
KAYE (voice-over): That logic is lost on Veronica's adoptive parents.
CAPOBIANCO: This law's been used unjustly. Detriment --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Indian Child Welfare Act is just destroying families like ours.
KAYE: This past New Year's Eve after two years with the little girl they hoped to call their own, Matt and Melanie Capobianco handed Veronica over to her biological father.
(on camera): Do you think this is in her best interest?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think so.
KAYE (on camera): That night was the first time Veronica had met her biological father. Friends of the Capobiancos had hoped that Veronica's dad would stay in South Carolina a few days and get to know his little girl.
But instead that night he drove her here to his house in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. About 1,200 miles away from the only home she'd ever known. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, she's a 2-year-old girl that got shoved in a truck and driven to Oklahoma with strangers.
KAYE (voice-over): We tried to ask Dustin Brown why he wanted his daughter back, but he didn't answer the door. One family in pieces, another trying to make itself whole. Randi Kaye, CNN, Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
COOPER: Today, the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld Veronica's return to her biological father. Seven months ago, it was a split decision 3-2.
In a statement, Veronica's adoptive parents said there really are no words to describe the incredible heartbreak disappointment and pain we're feeling. This is a complete failure within our justice system.
We want to dig deeper now into this with disability rights attorney and children's advocate Areva Martin. Also senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
So, Jeff, is this just a case where federal law trumps state law?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: That's how the South Carolina Supreme Court saw it. They said that under this unusual statute from 1978 -- a statute that really had a good purpose.
You know, there was a time when 30 percent of Indian children were being taken from their biological parents and the Congress said, look, that is -- that's a terrible injustice.
So they -- this law went into effect. It clearly does not seem to -- they didn't intend it for this situation.
TOOBIN: But it was a reasonable decision although, you know, one that could have gone either way, as you can see 3-2 decision. And that's -- that's how they decided.
COOPER: The father did waive his rights apparently early on and two weeks later changed his mind.
TOOBIN: He did. He said the reason he waived his rights initially is he thought that meant the child was going to the mother, not up for adoption. Whether that's true or not is something that's in dispute in the case. But that did not end his rights under the Indian Child Welfare Act.
COOPER: Areva, are you surprised by this?
AREVA MARTIN, DISABILITY RIGHTS ATTORNEY AND CHILDREN'S ADVOCATE: You know, I'm not really surprised, Anderson. Once that lower court gave the child to the biological father, I had a suspicion the Supreme Court was going to affirm that decision. But when you read the decision, it's almost as if the courts were looking at two different cases. You have the majority painting the picture of this dad that signed away his rights, but then stepped up to the plate to assume his parental responsibilities.
But yet the dissent talks about a dad that abandoned his child and a dad that showed no regard for being a parent. That didn't provide any financial support for the mom while she was pregnant. That didn't seek custody or visitation until the child was 16 months old, didn't pay child support.
So you're almost, you know, asking yourself did these courts, did the majority and the dissent look at two different sets of facts in making this decision? So it's a little troubling when I read it because the Indian Child Welfare Act is interpreted entirely differently by the majority and the dissent.
COOPER: Areva, we've got a digital dashboard question from Facebook for you. From Charlotte, she asked, how can that decision have been in the best interest of the child? The judges in the dissenting opinion actually say the majority made their decision without regard to the best interest of the child, didn't they?
MARTIN: Absolutely, Anderson. When you look at that majority opinion, it talks about that this decision is not only in the best interest of the child, but it's in the best interest of the tribal nation.
And it says the Indian Child Welfare Act goes further than just looking at the best interest of the child, but looks at the entire interest of the tribe. And so it says through an analysis this dad has a clean home.
He was in the military. That he was in the military. That he did step up at some point and ask to be involved in child's life. The judge concludes or the court concludes by those facts that this is -- this decision is in the best interest of the child.
But seemingly totally ignoring the two years the child spent with the adoptive parents. You know, incredible amount of love and support that the adoptive parents gave to the mom while she was pregnant. So it's a little hard to believe based on the facts that we know that this really was in the best interest of baby Veronica.
TOOBIN: You know, there is a point in the opinion where they say just that. This is not just about the best interest of the child. It's about the interests of the tribe. The United States Supreme Court has ultimate jurisdiction over this federal law. I would not be surprised if they took this case.
TOOBIN: The United States Supreme Court doesn't take many cases. They get 7,000 cases a year. They take 80 cases a year. This case might go to the United States --
COOPER: Because of that?
TOOBIN: Because it's an interpretation of a federal statute regarding Native Americans. The Supreme Court always takes a certain number of Native American cases every year.
I would not be surprised if they took this, if the Capobiancos want to keep fighting it. They may, for their own reasons of sanity, want to get, you know, want to give up at this point.
MARTIN: I agree with you, Jeffrey. Given that there's only -- we only have one 1998 case where the Supreme Court has even looked at this Indian Child Welfare law.
So I agree, this would be a perfect case for the Supreme Court to revisit, you know, what is the true purpose and intent of this law? Is it for cases like this? Or is it really meant to prevent those huge numbers of Indian kids from being displaced from their tribes?
TOOBIN: I tweeted the opinion, so if people want to read it themselves, they can just get it off AC360 or jeffreytoobin on Twitter.
COOPER: OK, your tweet is what?
TOOBIN: At jeffreytoobin.
COOPER: OK, there you. Areva Martin, appreciate it. Jeff Toobin, thanks.
One of Jerry Sandusky's victims releases voice mails the convicted child molester left on his phone just days before his arrest.
COOPER: Let's get the latest on some other stories. Isha's back with the "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, he's known as victim number two in the Jerry Sandusky case. The boy, Mike McQueary saw being molested by Sandusky in the shower at Penn State in 2001.
Now, that victim was come forward to lawyers in Pennsylvania who have released two voice mails they say Sandusky left for their client in 2011. Right before Sandusky was arrested. Here's one of the voice mails.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JERRY SANDUSKY: Just calling to see, you know, whether you had any interest in going to the Penn State game this Saturday. If you could get back to me and let me know, I would appreciate it, and when you get this message, give me a call, and I hope to talk to you later.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: The court appointed trustee in the Bernie Madoff case says he's getting ready to distribute up to $2.4 billion in recovered assets to Madoff's victims. The trustee estimates about $20 billion was lost to the Ponzi scheme.
And shares of Facebook fell more than 10 percent in after-hours trading to around $24. Anderson, that's nearly 40 percent below the IPO price.
COOPER: That's interesting. Isha, thanks very much.
Coming up, a guy gets in a little bit of trouble for looking a lot like Santa Claus. How could this be? The "Ridiculist" is next.
COOPER: It's time now for the "Ridiculist." Tonight, we're adding Santa problems. Meaning the specific dilemmas people run into because they look too much like Santa Claus. It can happen to pretty much any older gentleman with white hair and a white beard and mustache.
I guess we can also call it the Kenny Rogers problem. But in this case, we're talking about this guy. His name is Thomas. He's well aware he looks like Santa. He even plays it up and seems to get a lot of enjoyment out of it.
The problem came when he decided to take a trip to Disney World and suddenly kids wanted to take pictures with him and get his autograph. Mind you he didn't go dressed as Santa. He wasn't wearing a red suit and fur boats or riding a sleigh or anything.
He just really looks like Santa. Well, that and he wore kind of a Christmas shirt in the middle of summer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had a shirt that had -- it would be like a collage. It had Santa's faces and it has sayings from the "Night Before Christmas."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: OK, didn't know Santa had a southern accent. But anyway, everything was going fine. He was happily taking pictures and talking to other tourists at Disney World. But then officials at the park told him essentially ixnay on the Chris Engle prey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Disney had informed me that I must inform anybody who came up to me that I am not who you think I am. I am on vacation and please leave me alone.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Now, how disturbing would that be for the kids? They're all wide eyed, thinking they're meeting Santa. He says, buzz off, kid, I'm on vacation.
So Disney apparently had a policy against guests wearing costumes. He says he was just wearing a shirt with Santa faces all over it, which sounds very stylish. He said it was like a collage.
In any event, they just wanted him to tone it down on the whole jolly old elf thing. Here's a statement Disney gave to our affiliate, WKMG.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The guest was asked to change his attire because it was disruptive to our operations and confusing to our other guests, particularly children who asked to take photos with him. He was not asked to leave. Instead, we tried to work with him so that he could continue his visit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Disrupting to operations? Confusing to guests? As many others have pointed out, Donald Duck wears a hat, a jacket and a bow tie but no paths. How is that less confusing than somebody who looks like Santa?
Plus, I'm thinking that changing the shirt wasn't really going to help in this case. The guy happens to be highly Claus-esque. What's he going to do, take off his face? It's not like he went around with a list asking people what they wanted for Christmas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the people that I ever talked to or had photographs with approached me. I never approached anyone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Seriously, is the North Pole below the Mason Dixon line now. So here's what we've learned. I think this will apply to many, many people. Think carefully about where you go looking all St. Nicky because there's always someone somewhere making a "Ridiculist" and checking it twice.
That does it for us. Thanks for watching. We'll be back one hour from now. Another edition of "360" at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now.