Man, 23, is given probation in hoax

Buildings were cleared Sept. 11 after false tip

October 20, 2001|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

On Sept. 11, after the terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Maryland officials evacuated the State House complex in Annapolis and the World Trade Center in Baltimore because they had received what they thought was a credible tip that both could be attack targets.

But it was all a hoax.

Yesterday, the man who police say placed a prank call to the Maryland Emergency Management Agency was given probation before judgment by Baltimore Circuit Judge John M. Glynn, which means he won't have a criminal record if he abides by the terms of probation.

He was given the one-year probation as part of an agreement in which he pleaded guilty to making a false statement, a misdemeanor. He faced up to six months in prison and a $500 fine.

Glynn admonished the man, Quentin Leroy Johnson of Benkert Avenue in Southwest Baltimore, not to make any more prank calls and suggested that he seek psychiatric treatment.

Court testimony yesterday revealed that Johnson fabricated an elaborate tale, including saying he was a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force. Johnson, 23, served six months in the Air Force and went through basic training in Texas, said Sgt. Arthur V. Griffies of the Maryland State Police.

Griffies said that during an hourlong interview at Johnson's home on the day of the attacks, Johnson told authorities he had received a fax in 1997 that listed 11 buildings that would be the targets of terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Included on the list were the New York World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the State House in Annapolis and the World Trade Center at the Inner Harbor, Griffies said.

He said Johnson could not produce the fax, however, and said he did not recall who had sent it to him.

"During the interview, he acknowledged that the information he gave to MEMA was false," Griffies said. He said Johnson told authorities that he had lied about the fax "so that he could get involved and help."

Griffies said Johnson's call was the only one of its nature that he is aware of since the Sept. 11 attacks.

"It was far more than just officers involved in an investigation," Griffies said. "The government took action based on the information he gave, including the FBI, the military and state officials. False reports are made all the time, but the ramifications of this particular false statement were enormous."

Johnson, who was arrested Sept. 11 and has been in jail since, is a bus driver with the Maryland Transit Administration. His supervisor, Bill Cowan, said yesterday that Johnson has worked for MTA for about a year and a half and faces a disciplinary proceeding.

Johnson, who turned and smiled at his grandmother and other family members before his case was heard, was represented by Assistant Public Defender Edward A. Eshmont.

"I was perfectly willing to defend this," Eshmont said. "My client decided the plea was the best way to go. I think the state had a very thin case, a translucent case."

Assistant State's Attorney Steven T. Mitchell objected to probation before judgment.

"We feel there should be a conviction that should stand," he said to Glynn.

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