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Woman Gets Prison in WTC Hoax

Crime: Defendant falsely claimed her husband phoned from rubble.

January 24, 2002|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — A woman was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison for falsely claiming her husband had called her on his cell phone from beneath the rubble of the World Trade Center, setting off a frantic and fruitless search.

Sugeil Mejia, 24, earlier pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment, admitting she had concocted the story and lied about being married. She had faced up to seven years if convicted but now will be eligible for parole after serving one year.

Assistant Dist. Atty. Richard White said Mejia claimed three days after the Sept. 11 attacks that her husband was a Port Authority police officer trapped in the rubble with 10 other officers. Hundreds of police officers and firefighters were killed by the towers' collapse.

White expressed relief at not having to call police officers to testify.

"Many officers broke down in tears in the grand jury," White said. "It would have been difficult to have them relive this incident."

Mejia's lawyer, Eugene Byrne, said his client had asked him "to extend her sincerest apologies to the firefighters and police officers who perished, and also to the civilians."

Outside court, Byrne said Mejia had lost a friend in the terrorist attack on the twin towers, and the hoax resulted from her distress.

Mejia, of Union City, N.J., the mother of two children, told her story to a police officer who then drove her to the trade center area, authorities said.

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