A man whose false report of a body in the Chicago River cost taxpayers nearly $30,000 will serve a six-month prison sentence, a federal judge said Wednesday.
Paul Nusko, 37, has been reporting fires and fake emergencies since childhood, court records show. He once said he “liked to see the fire trucks” and began setting fires in garbage cans to keep firefighters “busy,” prosecutors say. But his lawyer told U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer that Nusko had “no evil intent.” Rather, he has an unaddressed mental illness.
Still, the judge said, “it has to stop.”
“Mr. Nusko has to find other ways of dealing with the pain in his life,” Pallmeyer said.
The judge went on to announce Nusko’s sentence, but she said it won’t formally be handed down until next week because of a paperwork error. She will also order him to get mental health treatment.
Nusko pleaded guilty in December to making a false distress call to the U.S. Coast Guard on May 5, 2014. That morning, Nusko called 911 on his cell phone and told the operator he saw a body in the Chicago River near 2700 South Ashland. Chicago police and fire responded, along with the Coast Guard. The agencies spent more than two hours looking for a body, prosecutors said. When the Coast Guard tried to reach back out to Nusko, he ignored their calls and voicemails, according to the feds.
The search cost the Coast Guard $28,181, which Nusko will be forced to repay. When he made the false claim, he was on parole for a 2007 aggravated arson conviction for starting a fire in a garbage can. He was sentenced to six years in prison but was released in 2011.
On May 16, 2014, Nusko again called 911 to report a body in the Chicago River, but only the Chicago police and fire departments responded. He also falsely reported a fire in a building at Archer and Ashland in March 2014.
Anthony Sassan, Nusko’s defense attorney, told the judge he believes Nusko’s fixation on fire trucks may somehow be rooted in the death of his mother — and the sight of emergency vehicles arriving at his home. While Nusko has also claimed to have been sexually abused, Sassan warned the judge Nusko “has a history of ‘making up’ stories as a method of gaining attention.”
Nusko suffers “from several mental health conditions” that likely served as the “guiding force” behind his behavior, Sassan wrote.