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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ground Zero 'hero' arrested at fund-raiser actually a fraud, officials say

The New York Daily News by MICHAEL DALY, Staff Writer - March 30, 2008

A self-styled 9/11 hero who brags he helped "rescue thousands" as a New York City cop is a fraud who never set foot near the World Trade Center that day and quit the force before graduating from the academy, law enforcement sources told the Daily News.

The allegation came after Fred Parisi was arrested in Carlstadt, N.J., last night while entering a fund-raiser for the 9/11 Rescue Workers Foundation that he founded. The actual theft charges against the 40-year-old father of three from Jefferson Township, N.J., are unrelated to Sept. 11. Local cops said he looted at least $235,000 from Berkshire Valley Custom Wood Designs, a woodworking company that he also founded.

Just last month, he joined a delegation of legitimate 9/11 rescue workers at the Capitol in Washington to lobby for better health care. He appeared in news photos holding an American flag and standing next to an FDNY deputy chief who lost a son at the World Trade Center. Parisi touts himself as director and founder of the 9/11 Rescue Workers Foundation. His phone number is (866) WTC-HERO. A foundation press release states, "Fred was there as the second plane hit. But what haunts him is the memory of what the firefighters said on the way up: 'Stay here, Fred. We'll be right back.' "

A flyer to raise money to send his 10-year-old son to a baseball program in Holland adds that Parisi "was a New York City Police Officer and staged dramatic rescues to save thousands of New Yorkers." Parisi had said he suffers from a "rare lung disease attributed to the rescue and recovery efforts from Ground Zero on Sept. 11." But law enforcement sources said Parisi and the rest of Police Academy Company 01-16 were on Floyd Bennett Field for driving training during the terrorist attacks and never got close to the Trade Center.

Sources added that on Sept. 12 and 13, 2001, Parisi was assigned to traffic duty at E. 34th St. and Madison Ave., far away from Ground Zero. Records show he joined the NYPD on July 1, 2001, and quit on Nov. 1, 2001, without graduating from the academy.

Parisi lied on his application, failing to list disciplinary problems in the military and resignations from two other police departments, as well as an arrest for impersonating an officer, sources said. His impersonation of a 9/11 hero persuaded a public relations executive and a Web site designer to donate their services to assist his foundation.

The public relations executive, Lori Widmer, said she eventually began to suspect that Parisi was not the hero he made himself out to be and asked him if he was trying to cheat people. He responded with a "veiled threat," she said. Cops have not determined if Parisi pocketed any of the money raised for his foundation or for his son's baseball trip.

Last night, Parisi arrived at the Waterfront Café dressed for his fund-raiser in a green button-down shirt and khakis. He seemed stunned by his arrest, and in an emotional outburst threatened to kill the investigator who developed the case, Jefferson Township Police Detective Joseph Kratzel. "Surprised is not even the word," Kratzel said of Parisi. "Dumbfounded."

Parisi was held on $107,500 bail on charges he looted the woodworking company he started up with a woodworker he originally hired and then presented with a "business opportunity" rather than pay him, police said. Cops said that the uncommonly talented woodworker, Roy Jensen, did all the work and Parisi took all the money, including cash for materials that were never purchased.  (with Brendan Brosh)

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