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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Bryan Burrough

Aired June 26, 2003 - 19:52   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So what do the Clintons, Gerald Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the cast of "Friends" have in common? No, it's not a riddle. They all love California, that is certainly true, but they also all know a man named Aaron Tonken, and according to the upcoming issue of "Vanity Fair," Tonken is at the heart of half a dozen investigations involving alleged fraud and angry investor lawsuits aplenty. Joining us now is "Vanity Fair's" special correspondent Bryan Burrough to explain it all for us. Bryan, thanks for being with us. First of all, who is this guy, Aaron Tonken? Bryan, can you hear me?
BRYAN BURROUGH, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, VANITY FAIR: I think I heard someone say something.

COOPER: Bryan, this is Anderson Cooper, can you hear me? You're on the air.

This is one of those great moments of live television, isn't it? Bryan, can you hear me? All right, we're going to take a short break and we'll be right back.

BURROUGH: Oh, I can hear you now, Anderson.

COOPER: Well, maybe not. Bryan, can you hear me?

BURROUGH: Just barely.

COOPER: This is one of those Connie Chung moments. We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, joining us now, "Vanity Fair" special correspondent Bryan Burrow. I believe he can hear me now. Bryan, who is this guy Aaron Tonken?

BURROUGH: Aaron Tonken for about the last five years has been one of the biggest if not the biggest names in the world of Hollywood fund-raisers. A person who would put together celebrities with charities to raise a lot of money. He was perhaps best known as kind of the focal point between Bill and Hillary Clinton in the Hollywood community.

COOPER: What's interesting, I mean, reading your article, is that basically a lot of these celebrities were actually paid by him to attend charity functions. BURROUGH: Yes. That's one of the things that was most surprising to me was in learning that in one of the -- one major fund- raiser, for instance, honoring former President Clinton, former President Ford was paid $200,000 by Mr. Tonken to appear, and I think Sylvester Stallone was paid another 30,000. I guess I just always assumed that if you went to a charity fund-raiser, you were doing it for charity.

COOPER: Yes. I guess apparently not, and a lot of these celebrities are making a lot of money from this. And the question is, are they reporting it to the IRS? And I guess there is at least one IRS investigation about this.

BURROUGH: Well, right now, Aaron Tonken factors in no fewer than seven different federal and state investigations. One of them being an IRS investigation into several million dollars worth of cash and gifts that he gave to many, many Hollywood celebrities.

COOPER: Now, his attorney gave us a statement, I'm going to put it on the screen. It says -- "Aaron Tonken did not personally materially benefit from the events he produced -- to the contrary, with each event he fell further into debt." Is that possible?

BURROUGH: In fact, it's alleged -- and certainly my reporting suggests -- that that's one of the principal reasons that Mr. Tonken took so much money from the charities that he was supposed to be helping. Was he was taking the money to pay off his debts, including large debts to some individuals who have been called loan sharks, and at least one of whom has demonstrable ties to the Mafia.

COOPER: The other fascinating thing about this story is that basically this is a guy who, I mean, he was homeless at one point. He just kind of reinvented himself, as many people do in L.A., and all of a sudden he is hobnobbing with all these celebrities.

BURROUGH: It is an incredible story of a lonely, celebrity- obsessed boy who drifted to L.A., as you say, ended up in a homeless shelter, and by working with celebrities, moved all the way up to the top tier of fund-raising, and ultimately, was having his picture taken with Bill Clinton in the Oval Office.

COOPER: Fascinating. Bryan Burrough, comes out in the next "Vanity Fair," thanks very much for the update.

BURROUGH: Sure.

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