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Bostonians enraged, amused by cartoon bomb scare
Last Updated(Beijing Time):2007-02-03 13:28
Two men charged with placing a hoax device and disorderly conduct after installing blinking electronic signs promoting a Cartoon Network TV show in 38 locations in Boston were released from jail Thursday o n 2,500 U.S. dollar cash bond each after pleading not guilty.

Peter Berdovsky, 27, and Sean Stevens, 28, seemed amused with the publicity stunt that stirred fears of terrorism and shut down parts of the city. They waved and smiled as they greeted people in court.

Outside, they met reporters and television cameras and launched into a nonsensical discussion of hair styles of the 1970s.

"What we really want to talk about today -- it's kind of important to some people -- it's haircuts of the 1970s," Berdovsky said.

As they walked off, Berdovsky gave a more serious comment.

"We need some time to really sort things out and, you know, figure out our response to this situation in other ways than talking about hair," Berdovsky said.

The men did not speak or enter their own pleas, but smiled as the prosecutor talked about the device found at Sullivan Station underneath Interstate 93, looking as if it had C-4 explosive.

"The appearance of this device and its location are crucial," Assistant Attorney General John Grossman said. "This device looks like a bomb. It's clear the intent was to get attention by causing fear and unrest that there was a bomb in that location."

Some in the gallery snickered.

Officials found the blinking electronic signs promoting the Cartoon Network TV show “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” on bridges and other high-profile spots across the city Wednesday, prompting the closing of a highway, bridges, part of the St. Charles river and the deployment of bomb squads.

    The surreal series is about a talking milkshake, a box of fries and a meatball. The network is a division of Turner Broadcasting Systems Inc.

    The 1-foot tall signs, which were lit up at night, resembled a circuit board, with protruding wires and batteries. Most depicted a boxy, cartoon character making an obscene finger gesture -- a more obvious sight when darkness fell.

    Outside the courthouse, Michael Rich, a lawyer for both of the men, said the description of a bomb-like device could be used for any electronic device.

    "If somebody had left a VCR on the ground it would have been a device with wires, electronic components and a power source," he said.

    Berdovsky, an artist, told The Boston Globe he was hired by a marketing company and said he was "kind of freaked out" by the furor.

    "I find it kind of ridiculous that they're making these statements on TV that we must not be safe from terrorism, because they were up there for three weeks and no one noticed," he said. "It's pretty commonsensical to look at them and say this is a piece of art and installation."

    Boston officials were furious after the devices were found.

    "It is outrageous, in a post 9/11 world, that a company would use this type of marketing scheme," Mayor Thomas Menino said Wednesday. "I am prepared to take any and all legal action against Turner Broadcasting and its affiliates for any and all expenses incurred during the response to today's incidents."

    Authorities vowed to hold Turner accountable for what Menino said was "corporate greed," that led to at least 750,000 dollars in police costs.

    As soon as Turner realized the Boston problem around 5 p.m., it said, law enforcement officials were told of their locations in 10 cities where it said the devices had been placed for two to three weeks: Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

    "We apologize to the citizens of Boston that part of a marketing campaign was mistaken for a public danger," said Phil Kent, chairman of Turner, a division of Time Warner Inc.

    Kent said the marketing company that placed the signs, Interference Inc., was ordered to remove them immediately.

    Interference had no comment. A woman who answered the phone at the New York-based firm's offices Wednesday afternoon said the firm's CEO was out of town and would not be able to comment until Thursday.

    About a dozen fans gathered outside Charlestown District Court on Thursday morning with signs saying "1-31-07 Never Forget" and "Free Peter."

    Tracy O’Connor, 34, a retail manager, called the police response "silly and insane," contrasting it with that in other cities where no one reported concerns about the devices.

    "We're the laughing stock," said O'Connor.

    "It's almost too easy to be a terrorist these days," said Jennifer Mason, 26. "You stick a box on a corner and you can shut down a city."

    In Seattle and several suburbs, the removal of the signs was low-key.

    "We haven't had any calls to 911 regarding this," Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb said Wednesday.

    Police in Philadelphia said they believed their city had 56 devices.

    The New York Police Department removed 41 of the devices -- 38 in Manhattan and three in Brooklyn, according to spokesman Paul Browne. The NYPD had not received any complaints. But when it became aware of the situation, it contacted Cartoon Network, which provided the locations so the devices could be removed.

    "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" is a cartoon with a cultish following that airs as part of a block of programs for adults on the Cartoon Network. A feature length film based on the show is slated for release March 23.

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