Somber Memorial Or Pr Ploy?

Controversial penny-stock mogul Robert E. Brennan is back in the limelight--this time as a would-be philanthropist. Brennan has erected the Deathclock, a 3.5-story electronic billboard in New York's Times Square that on Jan. 1 began ticking off the number of guns and gun deaths in the U.S. Similar billboards are planned for Washington, Los Angeles, Miami, and Brennan's hometown of Newark, N.J. To fund the effort, he has pledged $3 million, plus the winnings of his star racehorse, Dehere.

Although Brennan, 49, denies a personal motive, he relates a family tragedy involving a gun. In 1969, Brennan says, his younger brother Kevin, 22, was shot and killed in the driveway of their parents' home. The boys' mother died from shock and grief, he says, on the day of Kevin's burial. Their father joined the priesthood in part because of the killing.

Whatever his motive, Brennan's image could use burnishing. He goes to trial on Mar. 7 in New York in a long-simmering SEC lawsuit alleging that his First Jersey Securities gouged customers during the early 1980s. Brennan says the charge is "nonsense."