TIME People

A Retired 9/11 First Responder Just Won $5 Million in the New York Lottery

"Everything is beautiful now," Carmelo Mercado says

A retired firefighter with a serious lung ailment has won $5 million in the New York lottery.

Carmelo Mercado, 63, won the top prize in the Cash X100 scratch-off lottery ticket, according to CNN. “Everything is beautiful now,” he said.

Mercado retired from Battalion 49 in Queens after serving at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 attacks. A doctor advised him to give up firefighting in 2004 because of the serious damage that work had done to his lungs.

Since then, he’s dedicated his life to his four children and plays the New York lottery regularly.

Mercado wasn’t so lucky the first time he tried Cash X100. But when he noticed that the next ticket was No. 25, the inverse of his birth year, he thought he’d give the scratch-card game another shot, CNN reports.

“I went down three rows and I thought it said 5,000,” he said, describing the moment he began scratching the winning lottery card. “And then there was another comma and then I saw the other three [zeros]. I said, Holy mackerel! That looks like $5 million!”

He says he plans to purchase a vacation home at Disney, CNN says. At the same time, Mercado told reporters, “I’m just pacing myself. I’m still in shock.”

[CNN]

TIME Crime

Prison Chief and 11 Staffers Put on Leave After Convicts Escape

Escaped Prisoners
Mark Lennihan—AP An employee leaves the Clinton Correctional Facility on June 17, 2015 in Dannemora, N.Y.

New York Governor Cuomo says outside experts will recommend potential reforms for the prison

(ALBANY, N.Y.) — The superintendent at the northern New York prison where two killers escaped three weeks ago and his deputy in charge of security are among 12 more staff who have been put on administrative leave, officials said Tuesday.

A state official who has been briefed on the matter told The Associated Press that Clinton Correctional Facility Superintendent Steven Racette and Deputy Superintendent Stephen Brown are among those on leave. The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said the suspensions are part of the ongoing review of the June 6 escape by convicted murderers Richard Matt and David Sweat. Matt was killed Friday and Sweat wounded and captured Sunday.

The department did not identify the suspended staff. Assistant Commissioner James O’Gorman will oversee the facility temporarily.

Two other staffers — a corrections officer and civilian employee — had been put on leave earlier and now face criminal charges they helped the escapees.

The additional suspensions come as attention turns to a wide-ranging probe of conditions at the maximum-security prison in Dannemora, where Matt and Sweat used power tools to cut holes in their cells and a steam pipe on their way under the walls to a manhole outside.

Soon after the breakout, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott to investigate factors that could have led to the escape.

The inspector general’s investigation is separate from the criminal investigation. The inspector general can subpoena witnesses, examine them under oath and review state documents. Any criminal activity uncovered by the inspector general will be referred to prosecutors.

Cuomo said the inspector general will rely on outside experts in corrections and law enforcement and will recommend potential reforms.

Prosecutors have previously said prison tailor shop employee Joyce Mitchell got close to the men and agreed to be their getaway driver but backed out because she felt guilty. Authorities also have said they discussed killing Mitchell’s husband, matching the newly detailed account provided by Cuomo on the Capitol Pressroom radio program.

“They would kill Mitchell’s husband and then get in the car and drive to Mexico on the theory that Mitchell was in love with one or both of them, and then they would go live happily ever after, which is a fairy tale that I wasn’t read as a child,” the governor said Monday. “When Mitchell doesn’t show up, the Mexico plan gets foiled, and then they head north toward Canada.”

Matt had previously fled to Mexico after killing and dismembering his former boss in 1997.

Sweat was captured Sunday in town of Constable, about 30 miles northwest of the prison, after Sgt. Jay Cook spotted him while on routine patrol. Cook shot Sweat as he fled toward a stand of trees.

Sweat had a bag containing maps, tools, bug repellent and Pop Tarts when he captured. He was unarmed at the time, authorities said.

Mitchell and corrections officer Gene Palmer have been charged in connection with the escape. Mitchell pleaded not guilty June 15 to charges including felony promoting prison contraband.

Palmer is charged with promoting prison contraband, tampering with physical evidence and official misconduct. He waived his right to a preliminary hearing on Monday, clearing the way for potential grand jury action.

Palmer has told investigators he provided Matt and Sweat with tools, paint, frozen hamburger and access to a catwalk electrical box. But he said he never knew of their escape plans.

Sweat had been serving a sentence of life without parole in the killing of a sheriff’s deputy in Broome County in 2002. Matt was serving 25 years to life for the killing and dismembering of his former boss in western New York.

___

Associated Press writers Michael Hill in Albany, New York, and Michael Balsamo in Plattsburgh, New York, contributed to this report.

TIME Crime

Escaped Prisoners May Be On Their Way to Canada

Manhunt NY Escaped Prisoners
Scott Olson—Getty Images Law enforcement personnel prepare to head out on a search for convicted murderers Richard Matt and David Sweat on June 26, 2015 in Chasm Falls, New York.

Items that appear to belong to the inmates have been discovered in northern New York towns

The two killers who broke out of a New York prison three weeks ago may be headed for Canada, authorities said Friday.

Maj. Charles Guess of the New York State Police said he could not go into specifics, but “based on what we know at this point, we have a high degree of confidence in our conclusion.”

David Sweat and Richard Matt were reported missing from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, on June 6.

Investigators believe the men are moving in the dark of night, and items that appear to belong to the men have been found in the northern towns of Belmont and Malone, according to Guess. Authorities believe Matt and Sweat have not yet crossed the Canadian …

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Crime

Guard Arrested for Aiding Convicts Faces Arraignment

arraingment palmer
Rob Fountain—AP A New York State Police officer escorts suspended Clinton Correctional Facility guard Gene Palmer from Plattsburgh Town Court in Plattsburgh, N.Y., on June 24, 2015

"He did pass the hamburger meat. He shouldn't have done it"

(PLATTSBURGH, N.Y.) — A maximum-security prison guard who delivered frozen meat with tools hidden inside to two inmates before they escaped will be arraigned on charges of promoting prison contraband and other offenses.

But a lawyer for correction officer Gene Palmer says his client had no knowledge any contraband was inside the meat.

“He did pass the hamburger meat. He shouldn’t have done it. He apologized for it,” said defense lawyer Andrew Brockway on Wednesday night. He insisted Palmer didn’t know the inmates were trying to escape.

Palmer worked at the Clinton County Correctional Facility in upstate Dannemora, where inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt were reported missing on June 6.

He was being held on $25,000 bail Wednesday night after he appeared before a judge in Plattsburgh to face charges of promoting prison contraband, tampering with physical evidence and official misconduct.

Palmer will plead not guilty at his arraignment on Thursday, Brockway said.

Authorities say the inmates cut through the steel wall at the back of their cells, crawled down a catwalk, broke through a brick wall, cut their way into and out of a steam pipe and then sliced through the chain and lock on a manhole cover outside the prison.

Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence without parole in the killing of a sheriff’s deputy. Matt, 48, was doing 25 years to life in the kidnapping, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.

Prison employee Joyce Mitchell also has been charged with helping them escape. Mitchell, a prison tailor shop instructor, has pleaded not guilty and remains in custody.

Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said Mitchell told investigators she smuggled hacksaw blades, a screwdriver and other tools into the prison by placing them in the frozen hamburger meat. He said she then placed the meat in a refrigerator in the tailor shop and Palmer took the meat to Sweat and Matt, who were housed in a section where inmates are allowed to cook their own meals. The district attorney said the guard didn’t know the tools were inside the meat.

Brockway said Palmer continues to cooperate with investigators who are trying to track down the fugitives.

“He understands this is a public emergency, and any information that he has he will give to authorities to help capture Mr. Sweat and Mr. Matt,” Brockway said.

Palmer had been placed on leave on Tuesday. At the time, his attorney told television station WPTZ he was completely forthcoming during several hours of questioning on Saturday.

“I can 100 percent confirm that he did not know they were planning on breaking out of the prison,” Brockway said.

Searchers hunting for the escaped killers Wednesday contended with steep slopes, thick woods, sticky bogs, biting bugs and the possibility that the pair on the lam from prison for 19 days is armed.

Police said they remain almost fully certain that Sweat and Matt spent time recently at a hunting camp about 20 miles west of the correctional facility near Owls Head. A hunter said he saw a figure bolting from the cabin on Saturday morning. But after days of intense searching with dogs and helicopters, police still had no substantiated sightings of Sweat and Matt.

State police Maj. Charles Guess said Wednesday authorities don’t have confirmed evidence a shotgun was stolen from the hunting cabin near Owls Head but they’ve always assumed the escapees were armed. Weapons and ammunition are typically stored in camps, but not everyone keeps an inventory, he said.

TIME Crime

Second Prison Employee Arrested After Convicts’ Brazen Escape

Escaped Prisoners
AP This photo provided by the New York State Police shows maximum-security prison guard Gene Palmer on June 24, 2015

David Sweat and Richard Matt were reported missing on June 6

(BELLMONT, N.Y.) — A maximum-security prison guard believed to have delivered tools inside frozen meat to two inmates before they escaped was arrested on Wednesday, authorities said.

Gene Palmer appeared before a judge in Plattsburgh on Wednesday night to face charges of promoting prison contraband, tampering with physical evidence and official misconduct. He was held on $25,000 bail pending arraignment Thursday. Defense lawyer Andrew Brockway said he will plead not guilty.

Palmer worked at the Clinton County Correctional Facility in upstate Dannemora, where inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt were reported missing on June 6.

Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence without parole for killing a sheriff’s deputy. Matt, 48, was doing 25 years to life for the kidnapping, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss. Authorities say the inmates cut through the steel wall at the back of their cells, crawled down a catwalk, broke through a brick wall, cut their way into and out of a steam pipe and then sliced through the chain and lock on a manhole cover outside the prison.

Prison employee Joyce Mitchell also has been charged with helping them escape. Mitchell, a prison tailor shop instructor, has pleaded not guilty and remains in custody.

Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said Mitchell told investigators she smuggled hacksaw blades, a screwdriver and other tools into the prison by placing them in frozen hamburger meat. He said she then placed the meat in a refrigerator in the tailor shop where she worked and Palmer took the meat to Sweat and Matt, who were housed in a section where inmates are allowed to cook their own meals. The district attorney said the guard didn’t know the tools were inside the meat.

Palmer had been placed on leave on Tuesday. At the time, his attorney told Plattsburgh television station WPTZ he was completely forthcoming during several hours of questioning on Saturday.

“I can 100 percent confirm that he did not know they were planning on breaking out of the prison,” Brockway said.

Searchers hunting for the escaped killers Wednesday were contending with steep slopes, thick woods, sticky bogs, biting bugs and the possibility that the pair on the lam from prison for 19 days is armed.

Police said they remain almost 100 percent certain that Sweat and Matt spent time recently at a hunting camp about 20 miles west of the correctional facility near Owls Head. A hunter said he saw a figure bolting from the cabin on Saturday morning. But after days of intense searching with dogs and helicopters, police still had no substantiated sightings of Sweat and Matt.

The 75 square miles searchers focused on is on the northern edge of the sprawling Adirondack Park and includes woods so thick that visibility is only a few feet in some sections, authorities said. The woods also are dotted with hundreds of seasonal and hunting camps.

State police Maj. Charles Guess said Wednesday that authorities don’t have confirmed evidence that a shotgun was stolen from the hunting cabin near Owls Head, but they’ve always assumed the escapees were armed. Weapons and ammunition are typically stored in camps, but not everyone keeps an inventory of their firearms, he said.

“Just about every cabin or outbuilding in the North Country has one or more shotguns or weapons, and we have since day one operated under the belief that these men are armed,” Guess said. “They are extremely dangerous, they’re cunning. Why wouldn’t they try to arm themselves immediately upon escape?”

Guess said it was possible the pair left the area, but promised that the more than 1,000 officers involved would keep up the relentless search until the killers are captured.

“We don’t want them to have a restful, peaceful night putting their head on any pillow,” he said.

MONEY groceries

Whole Foods Is Accused of Overcharging Customers Again

whole-foods-overcharge-customers-new-york
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

New York investigators say it's the "worst case" they've ever seen.

Turns out there might be a reason Whole Foods is not America’s favorite grocery store.

New York City investigators have launched a probe of the chain after finding that local stores have regularly overcharged shoppers over the last five years, according to a report by the Daily News.

The investigation comes just a year after Whole Foods had to pay an $800,000 settlement in California because inspectors found the chain caused customers to overpay for food that was priced by weight.

In New York, consumer protection agents say they found violations that included inaccurate weight labels on pre-packaged food and adding tax to non-taxable items.

“Our inspectors told me it was the worst case of overcharges that they’ve ever seen,” New York City Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Julie Menin told the News.

A spokesman told the News the chain never intentionally mispriced items, and other industry representatives have pointed out that mislabeling is often the fault of manufacturers packaging foods—not grocers. And the News also found that mislabeling sometimes actually works in a customer’s favor.

One takeaway?

It’s a good idea to check food weights using grocery store scales, even on pre-packaged items.

It also pays to compare prices for your favorite foods at different chains: MarketWatch has found that items like hummus can be less expensive at Whole Foods, while many others like produce and cheese are cheapest at competitors like Trader Joe’s, Target, and Safeway.

Finally, if you’re a Whole Foods die-hard, shop smart; the best sales are apparently on Wednesdays.

Read More: Here’s How to Save Hundreds on Groceries

 

TIME Crime

DNA From Escaped Prisoners Found at Burglarized Cabin

Undisclosed "specific items" were discovered about 20 miles away from the prison

The trail’s gone hot.

DNA from both of the two escaped New York prisoners was found at a burglarized cabin in a rural town about 20 miles from the prison leading authorities to believe they are still traveling together more than two weeks after they broke free, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.

The search for the men, Richard Matt and David Sweat, focused on the town of Owls Head after the DNA was found on Saturday.

At a press conference, Maj. Charles Guess of the New York State Police would not confirm the DNA find. He said only that “specific items” had been recovered from the cabin…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Behind the Photos

My Most Important Photograph: Brigitte Lacombe, New York, 1988

Internationally acclaimed for her portraits of artists, filmmakers and politicians, Brigitte Lacombe tells TIME about the most significant photograph she has ever made.

Some actors like to pose for portraits. They enjoy the exchange with the photographer and the moment when they feel they have been looking their best.

But not Meryl Streep.

I met Meryl in 1978 on the set of Kramer vs. Kramer. We also did the poster for the movie and then kept working together from time to time.

I took this portrait in 1988 for Interview Magazine’s cover story. I was surprised that Meryl Streep agreed to it, as I knew she committed so rarely. I was trepidatious, as I wanted to do well for the magazine, for myself, but mostly for her because I knew she was doing it for me.

We were in a studio in Soho, New York. Meryl Streep came alone. She never comes with an entourage. We were a small team in a very intimate space.

It is always hard to do portraits of people you know well and love, but for the kind of portraits I do, intimacy is everything. I need the collaboration of the person I photograph because I want it to be a shared moment. The person has to be able to be open and trust you enough to let you look in. To sit for a portrait leaves you vulnerable and it’s intimidating, both for the sitter and the photographer. While not in character, Meryl Streep is reluctant to be looked at and to be seen. But that day she was open, ready to stay a little longer…

I felt Meryl was at her most, most beautiful that day. The portraits from that series are extremely simple, classic and pure. People remember them.

The portrait of Meryl Streep, along with other portraits of artists and filmmakers by the celebrated photographer, will be on view for the first time in New York during the selling exhibition “Brigitte Lacombe: Complicities” at Phillips gallery from June 15 to July 30, 2015.

TIME Crime

Prisoner Manhunt Enters Day 10; Alleged Helper Due in Court

"I do think she got cold feet and realized, 'What am I doing?'"

(DANNEMORA, N.Y.)—The intense manhunt for two escaped murderers in far upstate New York has hit its 10th day as a woman charged with helping the killers flee from prison heads back to court.

Prosecutors say Joyce Mitchell, a prison tailoring shop instructor who had befriended the inmates, had agreed to be the getaway driver but backed out because she still loved her husband and felt guilty for participating.

“Basically, when it was go-time and it was the actual day of the event, I do think she got cold feet and realized, ‘What am I doing?'” Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said Sunday. “Reality struck. She realized that, really, the grass wasn’t greener on the other side.”

Mitchell was charged with helping Richard Matt and David Sweat escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility near the Canadian border on June 6. She is due in court Monday morning in Plattsburgh.

Wylie said there was no evidence the men had a “Plan B” once Mitchell backed out, and no vehicles have been reported stolen in the area.

That has led searchers to believe the men are still near the maximum-security prison in Dannemora. At the same time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo cautioned that for all anyone knows the convicts could be in Mexico, where one of the inmates had fled after killing his boss in the late 1990s.

Mitchell, 51, was charged Friday with supplying hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver. Her lawyer entered a not guilty plea on her behalf. She has been suspended without pay from her $57,000-a-year job overseeing inmates who sew clothes and learn to repair sewing machines at the prison.

Wylie said Sunday that the killers apparently cut their way out using tools stored by prison contractors, taking care to return them to their toolboxes after each night’s work.

“They had access, from what we understand, to other tools left in the facility by contractors under policy and were able to open the toolboxes and use those tools and then put them back so nobody would notice,” he said.

The convicts used power tools to cut through the back of their adjacent cells, broke through a brick wall, then cut into a steam pipe and slithered through it, finally emerging outside the prison walls through a manhole, authorities said.

Workers on Sunday welded shut a manhole at the base of a wall on the side of the prison where the two men escaped. They also sealed two other manholes on the street near the prison, including the one from which the convicts climbed out.

More than 800 law enforcement officers went door-to-door over the weekend and combed the rural area signs of the escapees. Residents were very much on edge, with some saying they were keeping guns handy. But there was also an outpouring of support for the search effort. A restaurant urged people to tie blue ribbons around trees and mailboxes.

“The locals have been awesome,” said Sgt. Barry Cartier of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, part of a crew from a neighboring county working 12-hour shifts. “They come around with food all the time. We’ve got too much to eat.”

Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence without parole for killing a sheriff’s deputy. Matt, 48, was doing 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnap, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.

 

TIME Crime

Prison Worker Arrested for Allegedly Aiding 2 NY Escapees

Manhunt Continues For Two Prisoners That Broke Out Of New York State Prison
Eric Thayer—Getty Images A guard looks out from a tower at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, on June 12, 2015.

Joyce Mitchell charged in connection with a daring escape

(PLATTSBURGH, N.Y.)—A worker at an upstate New York maximum-security prison was arraigned Friday night on charges she helped two convicted killers escape last weekend.

Prison tailor shop instructor Joyce Mitchell, 51, was arraigned on the felony charge of promoting prison contraband and misdemeanor count of criminal facilitation. Her lawyer, Keith Bruno, entered a not guilty plea on her behalf.

Mitchell is accused of befriending inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora and giving them contraband.

She entered the courtroom with her hands cuffed in front of her, clad in jeans and a green top and looking terrified. She did not speak. She was ordered held in jail on $100,000 cash bail or $200,000 bond on felony count and is due back in court Monday morning.

District Attorney Andrew Wylie said earlier the contraband didn’t include power tools used by the men as they cut holes in their cell walls and a steam pipe to escape through a manhole last weekend.

Wylie would not elaborate on the charges Friday as more than 800 law enforcement officers continued to search for the escapees, concentrating in a rural area around the prison in the Adirondacks near the Canadian border. Earlier residents reported seeing two men jumping a stone wall outside Dannemora.

“We’re coming for you, and we will not stop until you are caught,” state police Maj. Charles Guess said in addressing the escapees as he headed a news conference after Mitchell’s arrest.

Guess said officers were getting closer with every step they take on the ground and in the investigation. Though searchers were contending with bad weather so were Sweat and Matt, the major said.

“They’ve got to be cold, wet, tired and hungry” if they haven’t escaped the area or found shelter, Guess said.

Mitchell’s family has said she wouldn’t have helped the convicts break out.

An instructor in the tailor shop where the men worked, Mitchell is also suspected of agreeing to be a getaway driver but didn’t show up, leaving the men on foot early Saturday morning.

Mitchell has a job with a yearly salary of $57,697, overseeing inmates who sew clothes and learn to repair sewing machines at the prison. Amid the criminal case, she was suspended without pay.

Within the past year, officials looked into whether Mitchell had improper ties to the 34-year-old Sweat, who was serving a life sentence for killing a sheriff’s deputy, Wylie said. He gave no details on the nature of the suspected relationship.

The investigation didn’t turn up anything solid enough to warrant disciplinary charges against her, the district attorney said.

Matt was serving 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnap, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of Matt’s 76-year-old former boss, whose body was found in pieces in a river.

The state corrections department would not comment on the investigation into how the two inmates escaped or what Mitchell might have provided them. Prison contraband can include such things as cellphones, weapons, drugs, tools and unauthorized clothing.

On Thursday, a person close to the investigation said Mitchell had befriended the two men and agreed to be the getaway driver but never showed up. The person was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.

A former slipper-factory employee who won three terms as tax collector in her town near Dannemora, Mitchell has worked at the prison for at least five years, according to a neighbor, Sharon Currier. Mitchell’s husband, Lyle, also works in industrial training there.

“She’s a good, good person,” Currier said. “She’s not somebody who’s off the wall.”

The garment shop is intended to give prisoners job skills and work habits. In general, an inmate assigned to such a job might work several hours a day there, five days a week, meaning he would have significant contact with supervisors.

Mitchell’s union, Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000, would not comment Friday on the investigation of Mitchell or the current allegations.

But her daughter-in-law, Paige Mitchell, said this week that her mother-in-law never mentioned Sweat, Matt or any other inmates she encountered. “She doesn’t get too involved,” Paige Mitchell told the Press-Republican of Plattsburgh.

And Mitchell’s son Tobey told NBC that she would not have helped the inmates escape and that she checked herself into a hospital with chest pains on Saturday, the day the breakout was discovered.

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