The world beats path to trader's front door

Media: Journalists camped at the Mount Washington home of Allfirst's John Rusnak have no one to interview but each other.

February 08, 2002|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

It was the biggest international gathering in Mount Washington since radicchio and bok choy arrived at Fresh Fields.

The story of John M. Rusnak, the man some called "fraudster" and "rogue trader," brought crews from British, Irish and Swedish television to his home at Smith Avenue and Dixon Road, along with reporters from Reuters, the Financial Times, the Mirror, the Daily Telegraph, The Express, The Sun, the Standard and the Daily Mail from Britain and the Irish Independent from Dublin.

The tingling tintinnabulations of cell phones from far-off editors sounded like repeated recitations of the poem by E.A. Poe. And by noon yesterday the pack of reporters and photographers staked out under the dripping fir trees outside Rusnak's were interviewing each other.

Fox News interviewed the chap from the London Daily Telegraph named Sam Leith, who described the Rusnak home as "a pretty four-story clapboard house" in his piece for the Telegraph.

Leith, a pale youth in a dark overcoat who flew down from New York, filed a restrained story that pictured Rusnak as "an upstanding member of the community and a good family man."

He called Mount Washington "a wooded suburb."

WBAL-TV corralled the dapper man from Britain's independent television network, ITV, Washington correspondent Robert Moore.

"It's a powerful human-interest story as well as a very sophisticated financial embezzlement story," Moore said. "So it has resonance, I'm sure, for many countries."

ITV called Rusnak a "rogue trader" and repeated the more or less ubiquitous tag of "Mr. Middle America."

Carole Coleman, the Washington correspondent of RTE, Irish television, sent back a measured report to Dublin, home port of the Allied Irish Bank, the parent corporation of Allfirst and Ireland's biggest bank.

"We don't know if he benefited personally, to any extent," Irish listeners heard her say of the 37-year-old Rusnak. "The feeling is it was more of a case of pride in his work and that he did not want to be caught losing."

She said Rusnak's wife, Linda, had ordered her off the property the night before when she walked up to knock on the door.

Mrs. Rusnak had called the police several times Wednesday night as correspondents prowled around the house like Apaches in a John Wayne movie. She called again yesterday morning when a couple of Irish reporters stepped on to her porch. Photographers snapped to attention when the police arrived and then left with a firm admonition to the assembled press to stay off the property.

"It's a slow day when you're taking pictures of the cops coming down the driveway," snapped the man from Reuters.

Not all the British papers were as cautious as Coleman. The Sun, the leading English tabloid, dubbed Rusnak "Mr. Fiddle America" and "Brogue Trader," presumably because AIB is an Irish bank.

The Sun called the rambling frame house off Smith Avenue a "M-#750,000 mansion," which would make it a worth a million dollars, perhaps a bit overvalued. But then British tabloids are rarely given to understatement.

The Mirror, Britain's second-place tabloid, put Rusnak's photo on its front page and an enormous headline shouted "GIVE UP," advice from an earlier errant trader, Nick Leeson, one of those malefactors Brit tabloids love to embrace. Rusnak's lawyer said he wasn't missing.

The big news of the morning for the international journalists encamped on Dixon road came when a neighbor from across the street, Barbara Satter, packed her Volvo for a trip.

"John mowed his own lawn," Satter said. "That's how he spent his weekends." And Mrs. Rusnak, she said, was "a wonderful mother."

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