At least 14 blinking electronicdevices were found throughout Boston on Wednesday, creating chaos as police bomb squads shut major roads, bridges and even a section of the Charles River.
But the devicesturned out to be a hoax — an elaborate publicity campaign orchestrated by Turner Broadcasting to promote one of its late-night cartoons, Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
The incident outraged authorities.
"It's a hoax — and it's not funny," said Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
Peter Berdovsky, 27, of Arlington, and Sean Stevens, 28, of Charlestown, were each charged Wednesday night with one count of placing a hoax device and one count of disorderly conduct, state Attorney General Martha Coakley said.
The two men worked together to place the devices, Coakley said in a news release announcing Stevens' arrest.
Highways, bridges and a section of the Charles River were shut down and bomb squads were sent in before authorities declared the devices were harmless.
Mayor Thomas Menino said he was prepared to take legal action against the company, while police arrested one man in connection with the stunt.
Turner regrets panic over 'magnetic lights'
Turner Broadcasting issued a statement several hours after the discovery of the devices, which generally depicted a cartoon character raising his middle finger in an obscene gesture.
"The 'packages' in question are magnetic lights that pose no danger," the statement said. "We regret that they were mistakenly thought to pose any danger."
Turner, the parent company of Cartoon Network, said the devices were part of a promotion for the TV cable show, which features a talking milkshake, a box of fries and a meatball.
The devices were found at the Tufts-New England Medical Center, the Boston University Bridge, the Longfellow Bridge and a street in downtown Boston, among other locations.
The packages found at the two bridges caused police to shut off access to a section of the Charles River.
Scheduled for Thursday arraignment
Another device had been noticed earlier in the day near a city subway station, causing the busy Interstate 93 to be temporarily shut down.
Berdovsky and Stevens were scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Charlestown District Court, Coakley said.
"We're not going to let this go without looking at the further roots of how this happened to cause panic in this city," she said at a press conference Wednesday night.
Berdovsky told the Boston Globe earlier Wednesday that he was an artist and installed the devices for an advertising company hired by Turner. He described himself as "a little kind of freaked out," the Globe reported.
The law under which the two men were charged allows the state to pursue restitution. Mayor Thomas Menino said the security scare may have cost the city more than $500,000.
Mayor ready to take legal action
The city's mayor said he was "prepared to take any and all legal action" against the company and its affiliates "for any and all expenses incurred."
Menino said the incident placed the city on high alert, with police, fire crews, paramedicsand federal authorities ready for action.
'Hoaxes are a tremendous burden on local law enforcement and counter-terrorism resources and there's absolutely no place for them in a post-9/11 world.' —Russ Knocke of theHomeland Security Department
Police found the packages early Wednesday afternoon, after concerned citizens phoned in.
Coakley said Turner did not notify officials of the publicity stunt until 5 p.m., nearly four hours after the first calls came in.
Turner said the devices have been in place for two to three weeks in nine other American cities as well: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, San Francisco and Philadelphia.
No devices had been found in those cities by Wednesday afternoon.
Russ Knocke, a spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, condemned the hoax.
"Hoaxes are a tremendous burden on local law enforcement and counter-terrorism resources and there's absolutely no place for them in a post-9/11 world," he said.