Thursday, 4:30 PM
Turner Broadcasting accepts full responsibilty for scare
By Maria Cramer, Michael Levenson, and Raja Mishra, Globe Staff
Turner Broadcasting System today accepted full responsibility for the guerrilla marketing campaign that caused a panic in Boston.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino said that the company had agreed to pay the cost of the massive effort to defuse what authorities had believed was a potential bomb plot. Those costs are expected to top $500,000 in Boston and approach near another $500,000 for the MBTA, Cambridge, and Somerville.
‘‘We have no intention of shirking the responsibility onto any other company,’’ said Shirley Powell, a spokeswoman for Turner Broadcasting. ‘‘We are taking full responsibility for this.’’
The statement was issued came as friends of a local artist involved in the guerrilla advertising campaign causing a panic in Boston said he was told by a New York marketing executive five hours into the scare not to tell anyone.
According to an e-mail one friend provided to the Globe, the executive at Interference Inc. told the artist the agency had hired to install the small, battery-powered light screens in Boston to stay mum, even as dozens of police officers collected the devices and shut down highways, subway lines, and part of the Charles River.
The executive asked Peter Berdovsky to ‘‘pretty please keep everything on the dl,’’ street slang for down low, or hush-hush, according to the message Berdovsky sent to his friends. The Globe was told by two of Berdovsky’s friends about the e-mail they say he sent at 1:25 p.m. Wednesday, three hours before Turner Broadcasting, an Interference client, disclosed that the scare was a marketing campaign gone awry. A third friend later provided a copy of the e-mail. The attorney general’s office, Berdovsky’s lawyers, and Turner Broadcasting would not comment on the authenticity of the e-mail, and the Globe could not immediately verify it.
‘‘Peter was terrified at this point,’’ one friend, Toshi Hoo, said in an interview. ‘‘He was expecting them to handle it, but they weren’t handling it. They let the entire country stay on terror alert.’’
The e-mail suggests that the creators of the marketing blitz were trying to hide their involvement and doing nothing to stop the scare. When they decided to speak out about two hours later, they called their client, the Cartoon Network, rather than alerting any of the numerous law enforcement agencies involved, further delaying notification of about the marketing campaign. The network’s parent company, Turner Broadcasting, issued an official statement at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
An angry Menino said angrily yesterday that ‘‘if that’s true, that’s totally irresponsible.’’
Yesterday, Interference’s chief executive, Sam Ewen, hung up when reached on his cellphone and did not respond to e-mails and phone messages. His office in SoHo was locked, and there was no answer at his home in Brooklyn.
Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis issued a time line this afternoon that showed that the companies involved in the marketing campaign did not acknowledge responsibility for the bomb scares for another three hours when Boston police detectives were contacted by company officials at 4:30 p.m.
The department did not verify the role the companies played in the chaos until 4:51 p.m., Davis said. Turner Broadcasting Systems -- Cartoon Network’s parent company -- acknowledged that one of its marketing departments had approved the plan by Interference to install the magnetic lighted boards in 10 cities, including Boston.
Berdovsky, 27, and Sean Stevens, 28, smiled broadly at their arraignment today in Boston Municipal Court. They pleaded not guilty to charges of placing a hoax device in a way that causes panic and disorderly conduct. The two men seemed to have trouble keeping their composure as Assistant Attorney General John Grossman described the battery-powered characters as "bomb-like devices."
Moments after facing the felony charges, Berdovsky and Stevens mocked reporters at a press conference outside court, deflecting questions about their culpability with non-sequitur quips about haircuts in the 1970s.
"Hair today, gone tomorrow," said Stevens.
Berdovsky added: "I'm quite enjoying this."
Berdovsky told investigators that the two men were each paid $300 to place 40 devices throughout metropolitan Boston, according to a police report filed today in court. Berdovsky had met someone named "John" at a party in Brooklyn, N.Y., in November 2006 who worked for Interference Marketing and asked if he would be interested in helping with a "promotional stunt." Berdovsky told police he recruited his long-time friend Stevens to help.
The company shipped Berdovsky 40 of the magnetic lights. Adrienne Yee from Interference e-mailed him a list of Do's and Don'ts. According to the police report, the preferable locations for the devices included: "Train stations, over passes, hip and trendy areas, high traffic areas of high visibility."
Berdovsky told police that he and Stevens put 20 of the magnetic lights in place about two weeks ago in what they called "Boston Mission 1." Another friend, Dana Seaber, 27, videotaped the operation and a copy was e-mailed to Interference, according to the police report.
Overnight Monday, Berdovsky and Stevens embarked on "Boston Mission 2" and hung another 18 devices, including one underneath Interstate 93 in Sullivan Square in Charlestown.
A little more than 24 hours later, someone in Sullivan Square spotted the magnetic light and reported it as a suspicious object. That forced the closure of the MBTA's Orange Line and northbound I-93 and ignited a wave of bomb scares as people spotted more of the magnetic lights.