Broadcaster to pay $2M in bomb scare
BOSTON – Turner Broadcasting Systems and a marketing company have agreed to pay $2 million compensation and apologize for their advertising campaign that caused a widespread terrorism scare, the attorney general said Monday.
The agreement with several state and local agencies resolves any potential civil or criminal claims against Turner and Interference Inc., said Attorney General Martha Coakley.
Authorities feared bombs had been planted when they found more than three dozen blinking electronic signs with a boxy cartoon character giving an obscene hand gesture Wednesday in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville.
The signs, part of a publicity campaign for Cartoon Network’s “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” also appeared in nine other big U.S. cities in recent weeks, but created little interest.
But in Boston, bomb squads responded to reports of the devices in a subway station, on bridges and elsewhere.
As part of the settlement, $1 million will be used to reimburse the agencies and $1 million will be used to fund homeland security and other programs. Turner Broadcasting, a division of Time Warner Inc., and Interference Inc. also will issue a public statement accepting full responsibility and apologizing for the incident.
“Last week’s events caused a major disruption in the greater Boston area on many levels ” crippling public transportation, causing serious traffic problems, negatively affecting local businesses and perhaps most significantly, costing Boston and surrounding communities thousands of dollars,” Coakley said.
“We are fortunate that no one was injured,” Coakley said. “We hope that this painful lesson will not be lived or learned again either by the communities involved or … Turner Broadcasting and Interference.”
Turner issued a statement again taking responsibility for the “unconventional marketing tactic” and apologizing for hardships it caused for residents.
“We understand now that in today’s post-Sept. 11 environment, it was reasonable and appropriate for citizens and law enforcement officials to take any perceived threat posed by our light boards very seriously and to respond as they did,” the statement said.
The company said it was reviewing its policies concerning local marketing efforts and strategies to ensure that they are not disruptive or perceived as threatening.
Authorities say two men were paid to hang the signs around the city. Peter Berdovsky, 27, and Sean Stevens, 28, have pleaded not guilty to placing a hoax device and disorderly conduct.
Coakley said prosecutors were in discussions with the men’s attorneys to resolve the charges before a trial.
Coakley said she did not know how the two companies would divide responsibility for the payment, which was being wired to the attorney general Monday.
MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas and MBTA Police Chief Joseph Carter said the money would be put to good use.
“We will develop a list of meaningful and effective homeland security and customer safety programs that will have an enduring effect on our customers,” Carter said.