Published February 02, 2007
BOSTON – Two suspects arrested for their part in a hair-brain TV cartoon marketing campaign that ultimately paralyzed downtown Boston held a wild and mocking press conference Thursday, during which they would only answer questions regarding... their hair.
Peter Berdovsky, 27, and Sean Stevens, 28, ignored a barrage of reporters' questions about their role in the botched scheme and talked, instead, about mohawks, dreadlocks, Beatle cuts and Afros as their attorney, Michael Rich, stood by with an incredulous look on his face.
Meanwhile, an outraged Boston Mayor Tom Menino demanded restitution of at least $750,000 to compensate the city for police costs, while the state's attorney said he planned to go forward with criminal charges.
Berdovsky and Stevens were arrested Wednesday after officials found 38 blinking electronic signs promoting the Cartoon Network TV show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" on bridges and other high-profile spots across the city, prompting the closing of a highway and the deployment of bomb squads.
"I feel like my hair is pretty perfect but altogether I want to redirect this to the haircuts of the '70s," Berdovsky said, ignoring reporters' shouts.
"I really like the one where the hair curls around to the back," Stevens replied.
"Oh yeah, that one’s so hot," Berdovsky then responded.
Frustrated reporters, trying to get the pair to respond to serious questions about the incident that at one point involved the participation of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, finally tossed a question that gave one of them cause to reflect.
When asked whether they were afraid their hair might be cut if they are sent to prison, Berdovsky stopped his rant and answered, "Whatever happens I feel that my hair is safe at the moment."
A district court judge, meanwhile, ordered the two men held on bond for allegedly placing electronic advertising devices around the city, stirring fears of terrorism and shutting down parts of Boston.
They were held on $2,500 cash bond each after they pleaded not guilty to placing a hoax device and disorderly conduct.
"It's clear the intent was to get attention by causing fear and unrest that there was a bomb in that location," Assistant Attorney General John Grossman said at their arraignment.
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 giving passersby the finger — a more obvious sight when darkness fell.
"It is outrageous, in a post 9/11 world, that a company would use this type of marketing scheme," 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."
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. It's pretty commonsensical to look at them and say this is a piece of art and installation," he said.
While Boston officials were livid, fans of the show mocked authorities for what they called an overreaction.
About a dozen fans gathered outside Charlestown District Court on Thursday morning with signs saying "1-31-07 Never Forget" and "Free Peter."
"We're the laughing stock," said Tracy O'Connor, 34.
"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."
O'Connor said there's nothing wrong with being vigilant, but said she said it was ridiculous to shut down a city "when anyone under the age of 35 knew this was a joke the second they saw it."
Authorities vowed to hold Turner accountable for what Menino said was "corporate greed," that led to at least $750,000 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.
Messages seeking additional comment from the Atlanta-based Cartoon Network were left with several publicists.
A voice mail box for Berdovsky was full Wednesday night. The Associated Press was unable to find whether Stevens had a lawyer.
Authorities are investigating whether Turner or other companies should be criminally charged, Attorney General Martha 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.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.