March 16th, 2009
05:32 PM ET

Pennsylvania Labor Secretary arrested

Editor's Note: A lot of you were outraged about our story last week detailing how states are issuing unemployment benefits via debit cards, and banks are charging fees on those cards. In our attempt to find out why, we literally chased down Pennsylvania’s acting secretary of labor. But Sandi Vito decided she did not want to be interviewed and took off like a politician caught in a scandal. We thought it was rather odd behavior. Now we’re learning the rest of the story. Hours after that encounter, Vito was under arrest. Here’s the news version of what happened.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/03/16/vito.rehab/art.sandi.vito.cnn.jpg caption="Sandi Vito, Pennsylvania's acting labor secretary, has entered a rehab program, the governor's spokesman says."]

Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick
CNN Special Investigations Unit

Pennsylvania's Acting Secretary of Labor and Industry has entered a rehabilitation program for at least two weeks after her arrest on a public drunkenness charge, only a few hours after she ran away from a CNN Correspondent who was attempting to ask her questions about the state's use of debit cards to pay unemployment benefits.

According to Gov. Ed Rendell's chief spokesman, Chuck Ardo, Sandi Vito, who was appointed Acting Secretary of Labor and Industry in February of 2008, "has entered a treatment program for two weeks."

"The governor awaits her return before making any final decisions on her future," Ardo told CNN on Monday.


March 13th, 2009
05:09 PM ET

Twist for the unemployed

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/03/13/unemployment.fees/art.jobless.fees.cnn.jpg caption="A brochure that goes out to Pennsylvanians seeking unemployment via debit card lists a number of fees."]

Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick
CNN Special Investigations Unit

If you’re out of work like Steve Lippe, who was laid off from his job as a salesman in January, you know you already have problems. But looking at the fine print that came with his new unemployment debit card, he became livid.

“A $1.50 (fee) here, a $1.50 there. Forty cents for a balance inquiry. Fifty cents to have your card denied. Thirty five cents to have your account accessed by telephone,” he recited.

He was quoting fees listed in a brochure that goes out to every unemployed person in Pennsylvania who chooses to receive benefits via debit card. He was given the option when he filed for jobless payments: wait ten days for a check or get the card immediately. Like most of the 925,000 state residents who received unemployment benefits in February in Pennsylvania, he chose the debit card. And only then, he says, learned about the fees.


March 9th, 2009
01:00 PM ET

Where should we put all that nuclear waste?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/02/18/nuclear.plant.protection/art.nuclear.plant.gi.jpg]
David Fitzpatrick
CNN Special Investigations Unit

What has cost Americans more than $10 billion in taxes, and $22 billion on utility bills?

Yucca Mountain. But it’s a fair bet that few Americans know why.

Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, Yucca Mountain is the ONLY place in the United States designated to store tons and tons of nuclear waste that nuclear power plants have been accumulating since we started using atomic energy to generate electricity.

And yet, the amount of nuclear waste stored there is zero. Other states and communities don’t want the nuclear waste passing through their areas. And no one has figured out how to make sure none of the nuclear waste leaks once it is buried there.

So why keep spending so much money on it?

It seems the new Administration has asked exactly that question – and answered it. President Obama’s new budget cuts off most of the money flowing into Yucca Mountain. If you live in an area that gets electricity from nuclear plants, you'll still get those little utility bill charges.

Since it opened in 1983, I’ve been to Yucca Mountain several times to report on this never-ending story. It’s about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas and, yes, it’s in the absolute middle of nowhere. Nearby lies the flotsam and jetsam of America’s nuclear age: rusting sheds and abandoned platforms where the first above-ground nuclear tests were conducted in the 1950s. Some of the control towers are still there, wasting away in the desert sun.


July 22nd, 2008
02:05 PM ET

Accused, arrested, tasered, killed…

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/22/art.taservictim.jpg caption="Baron ‘Scooter” Pikes"]

David Fitzpatrick
Producer, CNN Special Investigations Unit

When I felt the searing 98 degree heat and the oppressive 100 percent humidity here, it wasn’t as jarring as it might have been. In fact, it seemed familiar for a very good reason.

Just a year ago I was in the same sort of weather in a town only 40 miles from here: Jena, Louisiana, ground zero for the nation’s largest civil rights demonstrations in a generation.

Then, I was helping to produce stories about what led to the demonstrations - the jailing of a teenager named Mychal Bell.

You might recall, Bell was in a school yard fight in Jena that stemmed from three nooses, hung from a tree in front of the local school. Bell was jailed on a charge of attempted murder in the wake of that fight and five of his classmates were also charged, but not imprisoned.

A year later, I was in Winnfield where one of Mychal Bell’s first cousins, Baron ‘Scooter” Pikes, was the central figure in another case where accusations of racial injustice have been flying.

Last January, the 21-year-old Pikes was struck by a taser gun nine times in less than an hour, after he was arrested on an outstanding warrant alleging possession of crack cocaine.

He was dead on arrival at a local hospital after being hit six times while handcuffed and lying on his stomach, once in the back of a Winnfield police car and twice more on the concrete outside the police department’s headquarters.


May 22nd, 2008
10:17 AM ET

A Sister Found; An Abuse Uncovered

Editor's Note: David Fitzpatrick was part of a CNN investigation into just how easy it is to purchase prescription drugs online without a prescription. Read a report on this investigation at CNN.com/health. He share's his personal experience here:

Editor's note: [cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/05/22/art.nancy.fitzpatrick.jpg caption="Nancy Fitzpatrick"]

David Fitzpatrick
CNN Special Investigations Unit

For more than 16 years, I had been out of touch with my sister, Nancy. One day in 1992, she simply disappeared from her California home. She left her two children, her husband, who then was in the early stages of Multiple Sclerosis, and all of her friends and family. There was no note, no phone call, nothing.

The last physical record I had of her movements was a rental car credit bill, charged to one of my cards from Las Vegas, Nevada. She vanished without a trace. Working for CBS News at the time, I tried to track her down through police, county sheriff’s offices, state authorities in California and Nevada but without success. As the months and then years went by, I kept in touch with her children, then in their early 20s. As far as I could tell, she made no effort to contact them.

I became convinced that Nancy, two years younger than I, was dead. She was either the victim of a random criminal act or had died of natural causes.

In early March of this year, the phone rang at our home outside of New York City. I wasn’t there. I was in Washington, D.C. on assignment. But it was a phone call that would change my life.


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