Photo illustration by John Lyman



Spotlighting the Grifters who Spun Tales About 9/11

On September 11, 2001, Donato Tramuto was a mid-level pharmaceutical marketer and co-founder of Protocare, a company engaged in drug development and healthcare consulting. Over the years since that historic day, Tramuto has ascended the ladders of business and philanthropy. Now, he aims to extend his portfolio by becoming Maine’s next governor.

But what if Tramuto’s retelling of that fateful day turns out to be a fabrication?

As the nation somberly marks the twenty-second anniversary of the September 11 attacks, it becomes incumbent upon us to honor both the living and the deceased heroes who sustained America during one of its bleakest periods since the Civil War.

This honor roll must necessarily commence with the New York City Fire Department. The Department lost 343 members on that calamitous day, and almost an equal number have since succumbed to suicides or 9/11-related illnesses—enduring consequences of their extended service at Ground Zero.

Our memories should also hold space for the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93. Realizing the unfolding horror in New York, these individuals confronted the hijackers, forcing the plane into a fatal descent in rural Pennsylvania, thereby saving countless lives.

Yet, even as we memorialize genuine acts of heroism, we cannot ignore those who have capitalized on America’s collective grief. Among these are Donato Tramuto, and several others who have fraudulently asserted their involvement in the events of 9/11 to enhance their professional standing.

Consider Alicia Esteve Head, who claimed to have escaped the collapsing South Tower. Her narrative dissolved when it was revealed she was actually attending college in Spain at the time. Similarly, comedian Steve Rannazzisi’s fallacious tale of escaping Merrill Lynch’s offices in the South Tower crumbled under scrutiny.

Charles Giles, an ambulance worker, professed that he had been inside the North Tower when it fell and had been saved by a “Guardian Angel,” a Port Authority officer. However, investigative reporting discredited his account. Steven Shapiro was another case; unmasked in 2018, he had falsely claimed to be a 9/11 first responder for nearly two decades.

After the 9/11 attacks, Tramuto informed the press that he had almost boarded the plane that crashed into the South Tower, sparingly missing it due to a toothache. However, it was later established that he had flown to Los Angeles the previous day. Nonetheless, he parlayed this “near-miss” narrative into the Tramuto Foundation, amassing millions in donations. Curiously, these funds did not aid the families of 9/11 victims, not even those of his late friends.

Instead, a significant portion of the money found its way to Christ the King Seminary in Buffalo, New York, whose president was Father Joe Gatto, a lifelong friend. Another segment was channeled to the RFK Human Rights Foundation, earning Tramuto board membership and accolades.

Tramuto’s defense? He now contends that he opted for a September 10 flight due to the lack of first-class seats on September 11—a claim contradicted by available records.

In spite of leveraging a dubious 9/11 narrative to build a philanthropic empire and political cachet, Tramuto asks for Maine voters’ trust. After all, his website asserts, “Throughout the course of my life, it has never been about doing something great; rather, it has been about doing little things that have the capacity to drive great change…It makes no difference how much you do. What makes the difference is that you did something.”

Tramuto has recently launched Health eVillages, a nonprofit allied with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. He has also gained seats on the Dean’s Advisory Board at the Boston University School of Public Health and the board of the RFK Center in Europe.

Donations originally sourced from his contested 9/11 account have arguably furthered his influence. But one ponders: Should Maine reward a man who appears to have profited from national tragedy?