The San Diego Union-Tribune

September 15, 2001

Tragedy brings out profiteers, evildoers


NEW YORK -- As much as tragedy has brought out the best in many people here, it has also brought out the worst in others.

Since the terrorist attack, the city has been plagued with false reports of survivors in the rubble, nearly 100 crank bomb threats, fund-raising scams, Web sites with phony information about survivors, assaults on Arab
Americans who had nothing to do with the attack and reports of looting.

Some of the false reports, notably a claim that 10 police officers had made a distress call from beneath the rubble of the World Trade Center, are
endangering the lives of rescuers, officials said.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani issued a stern warning to sociopaths and profiteers yesterday.

"This is a difficult time. It's a time in which people are more susceptible, more vulnerable than usual. And there are always people trying to take advantage
of that. But if we catch you, then we're going to try very hard to put you in
jail," Giuliani said.

The misdeeds Giuliani and other officials described have added to the confusion and unease that have settled over the New York region since terrorists slammed airliners into the World Trade Center towers on Tuesday, killing thousands.

Police arrested a woman who made the false claim about the trapped police officers. She showed up at a precinct house wearing medical scrubs and claiming she had just gotten a cell phone call from her husband, who she said was a Port Authority officer trapped in the rubble with nine other officers.

The claim was widely reported in the media and caused an uproar among rescue workers.

"This is extremely dangerous. We have thousands of people working at that site," said Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. "They hear something of that nature, they get hopeful, they get aggressive in there, working in the hole. The information travels extremely fast, and it could cause someone to get hurt very badly."

Police also made their first arrests for suspected looting in the devastated area, Kerik said.

Two men, including a retired correctional officer, were arrested for stealing about $3,000 worth of watches from a store. Several others were arrested
for posing as volunteers and attempting to pilfer minor items from the disaster site or nearby stores, Kerik said.

Authorities also are dealing with bomb threats targeting places like the Empire State Building, which became New York's tallest tower when the trade center collapsed.

"We are diverting . . . precious resources to go to each of these bomb scares," said Barry Mawn, who heads the Federal Bureau of Investigation's New York office.

Mawn said there was no evidence the bomb threats were part of a terrorist plot to hamper the investigation or further destabilize the city.

"I don't think there's a particular pattern. Usually these are hoaxes," he said.

Others have been trying to take advantage of the outpouring of charity in the wake of the disaster. Giuliani said shady telemarketers were soliciting
donations, saying they were for victims and their families.

"We would really like to catch them and make an example out of them," he said.