Feds charge Milwaukee man in stadium threat hoax
WAUWATOSA, Wis. -- Jake J. Brahm's jokes began on the Internet with remarks about his boredom and mundane day-to-day activities such as buying socks.
The 20-year-old grocery store clerk was still laughing Friday despite learning in federal court that he faces up to five years in prison on charges he posted prank Internet warnings of terrorist attacks against NFL stadiums.
Concern about safety is only the latest threat to attendance at sporting events, Mark Kreidler writes. Ticket prices, parking problems and unruly fans have conspired to keep fans safely on the couch for quite some time. When is enough enough?
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Brahm was accused of writing that radioactive "dirty bombs" would be detonated this weekend at seven football stadiums. He admitted posting the same threat about 40 times on various Web sites between September and Wednesday, investigators said.
"These types of hoaxes scare innocent people, cost business resources and waste valuable homeland security resources. We cannot tolerate this Internet version of yelling 'fire' in a crowded theater in the post-9/11 era," said U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie in Newark, N.J., where Brahm was charged in a sealed complaint filed Thursday. One of the stadiums mentioned was Giants Stadium in nearby East Rutherford.
Brahm, of Wauwatosa, was charged with making a terrorist threat over the Internet, which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence and $250,000 fine. When the potential sentence was read in court, his mother, with whom he lives, closed her eyes and put her hand over her mouth.
U.S. Magistrate Patricia Gorence released Brahm without bail, citing his spotless record and strong community ties. She prohibited him from using the Internet, where he maintained several blogs, or traveling outside Wisconsin and New Jersey, where his lawyer said he plans to make a court appearance.
Brahm's attorney, Patrick Knight, said after the hearing that his client was shocked by the way the threats were received. He described Brahm as quiet and gentle and said he had not seen anything to indicate Brahm meant any real harm.
"When you're a 20-year-old, and you roll a snowball, and the next thing you know, it's as big as a house rolling down a hill, it surprises you a bit," Knight said.
Brahm's parents declined to comment at the courthouse or at their home in a middle-class neighborhood near the grocery store where Brahm had worked.
Richard Ruminski, the FBI agent in charge of the agency's Milwaukee office, said Brahm thought posting the threats would be funny.
"As I understand it, Mr. Brahm had put out this threat thinking it was so preposterous that no one would take it seriously," Ruminski said. "Unfortunately, he was wrong."
The warnings briefly set off a scare this week, before federal authorities announced the warnings were a hoax.
Wauwatosa police Chief Barry Weber said Brahm had bragged to friends about his actions.
An FBI official in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is still under investigation, told The Associated Press that Brahm acknowledged doing it as part of a "writing duel" with a man from Texas to see who could post the scariest threat.
One of the threats, dated Oct. 12, appeared on the Web site "The Friend Society," which links to various online forums and off-color cartoons. Its author, identified in the message as "javness," said that trucks would deliver radiological bombs Sunday to stadiums in Miami, Atlanta, Seattle, Houston, Cleveland, Oakland, Calif., and the New York City area, and that Osama bin Laden would claim responsibility.
On a separate blog under Brahm's name, the writer posted a photo of a football stadium next to a list of goals for 2006, which included committing a felony and "trying to leave the house at least twice a week."
Brahm worked for the last 10 weeks at Outpost Natural Foods, a co-op around the corner from his house. "He was a normal guy. That's all we're going to say at this time," said Jeremy Layman, assistant manager.
Mallory McKenney, who graduated a year before Brahm from Wauwatosa East High School, said: "He was quiet but always seemed friendly whenever we were in a group of people together."
Erik Vasys, an FBI spokesman in San Antonio, said there would be no charges against the Texas man because he did not take part in the writing of the threats.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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