'Suspicious devices' marketing ploy backfires in US

Several illuminated electronic devices planted at bridges and other spots scared Boston, and briefly disrupted the traffic and subway service, in what turned out to be a US publicity campaign for a late-night cable television cartoon.

Several illuminated electronic devices planted at bridges and other spots scared Boston, and briefly disrupted the traffic and subway service, in what turned out to be a US publicity campaign for a late-night cable television cartoon.

Most of the devices depicted a character making an obscene gesture.

Peter Berdovsky (aged 27), of Arlington, and Sean Stevens (aged 28), of Charlestown, were each charged last night with one count of placing a hoax device and one count of disorderly conduct, said state Attorney General Martha Coakley.

The two men worked together to place the devices, Coakley said in a news release announcing Stevens’ arrest.

Highways, bridges and a section of the Charles River were shut down and bomb squads were sent in before authorities declared the devices were harmless.

Turner Broadcasting, a division of Time Warner and parent of Cartoon Network, said the devices were part of a promotion for the TV show Aqua Teen Hunger Force, a surreal series about a talking milkshake, a box of fries and a meatball.

Authorities are investigating whether Turner and any other companies should be criminally charged, Coakley said.

Berdovsky and Stevens were scheduled to be arraigned today in Charlestown District Court, Coakley said.

“We’re not going to let this go without looking at the further roots of how this happened to cause the panic in this city,” Coakley said at a news conference.

Those conducting the campaign should have known the devices could cause panic because they were placed in sensitive areas, she said. Turner did not notify officials of the publicity campaign until about 5 pm local time, nearly four hours after the first calls came in about the devices, she and others said.

Berdovsky was arrested at 8.15pm at his lawyer’s office.

Stevens was arrested at his home in Charlestown at about 11.30pm, Coakley said.

Berdovsky and Stevens were to be arraigned today in Charlestown District Court, Coakley said.

Berdovsky told The Boston Globe earlier that he was an artist and installed the devices for an advertising company hired by Turner. He described himself as “a little kind of freaked out,” the Globe reported.

The law under which the two men were charged allows the state to pursue restitution. Mayor Thomas Menino said the security scare may have cost the city more than $500,000 (€384,000).

At least 14 of the devices were found, and at least 24 more were still around the city, officials said.

“The packages in question are magnetic lights that pose no danger,” Turner said in a statement.

It said the devices had been in place for two to three weeks in 10 cities: Boston; New York; Los Angeles; Chicago; Atlanta; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Austin, Texas; San Francisco; and Philadelphia.

“We regret that they were mistakenly thought to pose any danger,” the company said. As soon as the company realised the problem, it said, law enforcement officials were told of their locations in all 10 cities.

The marketing firm that put them up, Interference Inc., had been ordered to remove them immediately, said Phil Kent, Turner chairman. “We apologise to the citizens of Boston that part of a marketing campaign was mistaken for a public danger,” Kent said. Interference Inc. had no immediate comment.

There were no reports from police yesterday of residents in the other nine cities spotting similar devices.

Authorities said some of the objects looked like circuit boards or had wires hanging from them.

The first device was found at a subway and bus station underneath Interstate 93, forcing the shutdown of the station and the highway.

Later, police said four calls, all about 1pm, reported devices at the Boston University Bridge, which spans the Charles River, and at a Boston street corner.

The scare caused some subway service to be suspended and closed a road.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force is a cartoon with a cultish following that airs as part of the Adult Swim late-night block of programmes for adults on the Cartoon Network. A feature length film based on the show is due for release on March 23.

The cartoon also includes two trouble-making, 1980s-graphic-like characters called “mooninites”, named Ignignokt and Err – who were pictured on the suspicious devices.

They are known for making the obscene hand gesture depicted on the devices.

More in this section

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox