Saturday, April 04, 2009

UFO Hoaxers Face Punishment for Their Crime



2 Morris County men face charges in UFO hoax

By Abbott Koloff
Daily Record
4-3-09


Mysterious lights were road flares tied to helium balloons
     Two young men who admitted to creating a UFO hoax earlier this year will be charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor that typically carries a fine but no jail time, Morris County law enforcement officials announced Thursday night.

Chris Russo, 29, of Morris Plains, and Joe Rudy, 28, of Chester Township, admitted the hoax on a Web site on Wednesday, saying they launched road flares tied to helium balloons on five occasions, leading local residents to call police and the news media with accounts of mysterious red lights in the sky. They said they perpetrated the hoax to call attention to so-called UFO experts who ascribe extraterrestrial origins to events without evidence.

Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi called a press conference to announce the charges, saying the two men seemed to know that they had created a fire danger and a hazard to airplanes. He said their actions caused "public hysteria" and referred to the prank, along with posting their activities on the Internet, as "stupidity."

"These individuals were not smart enough to not put it on the Internet," Bianchi said. He added that they "otherwise appear to be decent, law-abiding individuals."

The lights turned out to be exactly what law enforcement authorities said they were after the first incident, on Jan. 5, when five lights floated over Hanover Township and the Morristown Airport before disappearing. The two men posted an account of their activities on April Fool's Day on a Web site called eSkeptic.com.

"That was a coincidence," Russo said in an interview early on Thursday, adding that the story on eSkeptic was originally supposed to be published a week ago.

The two men said they stopped sending up flares after Bianchi's office began investigating in February and federal aviation authorities said the lights might present a hazard to airplanes flying into Newark Liberty International Airport. That scared them, they acknowledged.

"We stopped, not out of fear, but because we respect the law," Russo, a salesman, said.

Bianchi said the two men face up to five counts of disorderly conduct, one for each time they committed the hoax.

A little more than an hour before Thursday night's press conference, Russo said he had not yet been contacted by law enforcement authorities. Earlier in the day, he and Rudy said they didn't expect to be criminally charged. Neither responded to phone messages left later Thursday night.

The two men posted videos on the Internet showing them preparing the flares, tying them to balloons with fishing line and duct tape, and then launching them. However, some UFO watchers would not acknowledge that the lights were a hoax.

Bill Birnes, publisher of UFO Magazine, created a documentary video about the Morris County lights that was posted on the History Channel's Web site. In the video, he said the lights had nothing to do with balloons. He indicated in a phone message Thursday that he stands by that statement, saying he knew some lights seen in Morris about the same time were flares attached to balloons.

"What we were tracking was something very different," Birnes said.

He said he was focusing on five lights seen on Jan. 5 and videotaped by a pilot from Whippany -- the same night Russo and Rudy made their first launch of five flares.

"I don't think people like Bill Birnes easily admit that they are wrong," said Rudy, a former teacher who now gives music lessons.

Russo and Rudy said they launched flares on five occasions -- Jan. 5, Jan. 26, Jan. 29, Feb. 7 and Feb. 17. The Jan. 26 launch took place in the Chester area, they said. The rest of the launches were from a field in Hanover, the township where they grew up and graduated from Whippany Park High School in the late 1990s. They launched five lights on each of the first four nights and nine on Feb. 17.

They said they got the idea late last year, when they were talking about what they referred to as pseudo sciences such as astrology and UFO observations. They said they did some research and tried to reduce potential hazards by launching the flares on nights when the ground was wet. They didn't call police, because they knew that would be a crime, but acknowledged calling media outlets to make sure the lights received attention.

"Our main objective was to bring UFOlogists out of the woodwork," Rudy said.

They said they were happy that police immediately recognized the lights for what they were, because they didn't want to create a panic. But even as police made that determination, and newspapers reported observers saying the lights appeared to be attached to balloons, some people refused to believe it.

Morristown police Chief Peter Demnitz said earlier this year that he received a call from an angry woman upset that he appeared to debunk the idea of the lights being extraterrestrial. And on Web sites Thursday, Russo and Rudy said some people depicted them as government agents out to cover up the truth.

"Among the true believers, we seem to be villains," Rudy said.

1 comment :

  1. I am glad to see they will at least need to pay a fine, but the penalty should be much worse. UFO's aside what if a flare dropped on a house or in a forest and started a fire??
    These guys aren't too bright are they?
    Yes, stupid stunts like this affect the UFO cause, but it also has a serious potential damage of property issue. Not to mention confusion.

    Any potential hoaxers should take warning, you hoax, you pay. And if your hoax causes damage, accidents or even death your little prank can be the last fun thing you ever do.
    I hope they lose their jobs. I know i wouldn't hire them.

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