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US official: Debris in photo belongs to Boeing 777

First published: July 29, 2015 at 6:52 pm
Last modified: July 29, 2015 at 6:52 pm

WASHINGTON — Air safety investigators have a “high degree of confidence” that a photo of aircraft debris found in the Indian Ocean is of a wing component unique to the Boeing 777, the same model as the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared last year, according to a U.S. official said Wednesday.

Air safety investigators — one of them a Boeing investigator — have identified the component as a “flaperon” from the trailing edge of a 777 wing, the U.S. official said.

A French official close to an investigation of the debris confirmed Wednesday that French law enforcement is on site to examine a piece of airplane wing found on the French island of Reunion, in the western Indian Ocean. A French television network was airing video from its Reunion affiliate of the debris.

The U.S. and French officials spoke on condition that they not be named because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly.

At the United Nations, Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told reporters that he has sent a team to verify the identity of the plane wreckage.

“Whatever wreckage found needs to be further verified before we can ever confirm that it is belonged to MH370,” he said.

If the debris turns out to be from Malaysia Airlines flight 370, it will be the first major break in the effort to discover what happened to the plane after it vanished on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board while traveling from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Beijing. A massive multinational search effort of the South Indian Ocean, the China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand came up dry.

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Police: David Sweat still cooperating a month after capture

First published: July 29, 2015 at 3:53 pm
Last modified: July 29, 2015 at 4:02 pm
Sweat

RAY BROOK — The New York state police major who led the manhunt for two killers who broke out of a prison said surviving escapee David Sweat is still cooperating with investigators a month after his capture.

Maj. Charles Guess said Wednesday every interview with Sweat so far has been fruitful and he expects more as the investigation continues.

Sweat and Richard Matt broke out of Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora on June 6. Matt was shot and killed by searchers June 26. Sweat was shot and captured two days later.

Sweat began giving investigators voluminous details of the escape shortly after his capture. Guess said that police now know about 85 percent of the path the men took as they eluded an army of searchers for about three weeks.

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Fort Drum honor guard escorts remains of WWII pilot home for burial

First published: July 29, 2015 at 3:28 pm
Last modified: July 29, 2015 at 4:00 pm
ASSOCIATED PRESS
The remains of a World War II fighter pilot, Lt. Edward F. Barker, are transferred from a commercial airplane to a waiting hearse at Albany International Airport on Wednesday. Barker was a 21-year-old Army Air Force pilot from Herkimer when he failed to return from a training mission in Papua New Guinea in 1944. A graveside service with full military honors will be held on Saturday.

ALBANY — While growing up in Boonville, Mark Shoemaker heard plenty of stories from family members about his Uncle Eddie, a World War II fighter pilot who never returned from the Pacific Theater.

“I knew him just as if he were living in the house,” said Shoemaker, a Vietnam veteran.

On Wednesday, the remains of 2nd Lt. Edward F. Barker were returned to New York for burial in his Mohawk Valley hometown, more than 70 years after he failed to return from a training mission over Papua, New Guinea. The flag-draped casket bearing Barker’s remains was transferred from a commercial flight to a waiting hearse by an Army honor guard from Fort Drum. The hearse then made the 65-mile drive west to Herkimer, where Barker will be buried this weekend following a graveside funeral.

The Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced last week that the remains had been identified.

After graduating from high school in 1940, Barker worked at a garage and then at Remington Arms in neighboring Ilion before enlisting into the U.S. Army in 1943. After completing training as a pilot in the Army Air Forces, he was sent to New Guinea in the southwest Pacific. On Sept. 30, 1944, he took off in his P-47 Thunderbolt for a training mission. The DPAA said a search was launched when Barker’s plane failed to return to base, but nothing was found.

In 1962, a U.S. military team discovered P-47 wreckage on a mountain, but no evidence of the pilot could be located. Another team visited the site in 2002, again without discovering any remains. A decade later, an excavation of the same site uncovered human remains, wreckage, military gear and personal items, including Barker’s dog tags and flight school ring.

The remains were positively identified earlier this year as Barker’s through evidence collected from the site and DNA provided by Shoemaker and his sister.

Shoemaker, 67, said his grandmother and mother — Barker’s younger sister and only sibling — often talked about the 21-year-old pilot who as an outgoing teenager had been president of his high school class and manager of the football team. Both women died without ever finding out what happened to Barker.

On Saturday, he’ll be laid to rest with full military honors at Calvary Cemetery in Herkimer in a plot next to his mother’s. It’s a belated homecoming, but one for which Shoemaker is thankful.

“We finally get to put him next to her,” said Shoemaker, who flew helicopter gunships in Vietnam. “That’s a big deal to me.”

It’s the second time in two years that the remains of a WWII airman from the Mohawk Valley have been returned from Papua New Guinea. In early August 2013, Sgt. Dominick Licari’s remains were brought home for burial in Frankfort, 4 miles west of Herkimer. Licari died when his two-man bomber crashed into a jungle-covered mountain in 1944. His remains weren’t recovered until April 2012 and were identified later that year.

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US Olympic hero Jim Craig to auction memorabilia

First published: July 29, 2015 at 3:41 pm
Last modified: July 29, 2015 at 3:41 pm

NEW YORK — The American flag that goalie Jim Craig wrapped around his shoulders after the U.S. Miracle on Ice victory at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics is on the auction block.

The flag is one of 19 items in “The Jim Craig ‘Miracle on Ice’ Collection,” which also includes Craig’s Olympic gold medal, as well as the jersey he wore against the vaunted Soviet Union and in the gold-medal win against Finland. Also included are the only mask Craig wore during the Winter Games, his skates and goalie equipment, and the goalie sticks from the games against the Soviets and Finland.

Asking price for the collection is $5.7 million. The items are on display through Sunday at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago.

Lelands.com announced the private sale on Wednesday.

One of the centerpieces of the collection is the flag Craig draped over his shoulders as he skated around the rink searching the stands for his father after the Finland game. The image is well-known in American sports history and the flag is valued at $1 million to $1.5 million. The price of the gold medal is pegged between $1.5 million and $2 million.

Craig joins former U.S. teammate Mike Eruzione, who auctioned several Olympic items just over two years ago, including the jersey he was wearing in the Soviet game. Eruzione, who scored the game-winning goal in that game, netted around $1.5 million and said he sold the Olympic items to benefit his three adult children and a grandson, along with the Winthrop Foundation, which finances charities in his hometown of Winthrop, Mass., just outside Boston.

Craig said he decided to sell the items “so my children and grandchildren will be financially secure in the future.” Craig, who has made a living as a motivational speaker, has a 26-year-old son and 24-year-old daughter.

“Over the years, I’ve loaned my Olympic memorabilia to museums and other venues so it could be accessible to fans to enjoy,” Craig said. “It is my hope that whoever purchases this will do the same.”

Proceeds from the sale also will benefit several charities that Craig supports.

The U.S. victory by a bunch of fuzzy-faced college kids over one of the best teams in hockey history is one of the great moments in American sports history.

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Coast Guard official: Search for teens is ‘active and open’

First published: July 29, 2015 at 9:24 am
Last modified: July 29, 2015 at 3:13 pm
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Petty Officer 3rd Class Charles Camarda, left, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Matthews scour the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Savannah, Ga., Tuesday, looking for two missing teenage boaters. Camarda and Matthews are crew members from Air Station Clearwater, Fla.

TEQUESTA, Fla. — Coast Guard and state officials visited the Florida home of one of two missing teenage boaters Wednesday, and a spokesman told news reporters the search for the boys is still “active and open.”

Capt. Mark Fedor of the Coast Guard said, “There’s been a lot of rumors that the search has been suspended. I just want to refute that. The search has not been suspended.”

The Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife officers were at the home of 14-year-old Perry Cohen for almost an hour Wednesday afternoon.

As they left, Fedor offered no further comment and didn’t take questions.

Earlier, a U.S. official in Washington had said the Coast Guard was suspending the search.

Crews have been searching for Cohen and Austin Stephanos for six days.

The teen’s capsized boat was found Sunday, and the Coast Guard said it was searching the waters from Daytona Beach, Florida, to South Carolina.

The Coast Guard’s relentless hunt for the 14-year-old fishermen had entered its sixth day with questions growing over how long it could go on. Decision-makers were juggling a mix of “art and science,” Chief Petty Officer Ryan Doss said, trying to balance the knowledge of how long people can survive adrift with the unknowns on whether the boys had flotation devices and drinking water and what their physical condition is.

“We know it can happen,” Doss said of finding the boys alive, “and we’re hoping it happens again.”

Laurence Gonzales, the author of “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why,” said the general rule of thumb is humans can stay alive three minutes without air, three days without water and three weeks without food but examples of defying that abound. The longest someone has been known to survive in the open ocean without water was about five days, he said, but the unknowns about the teens mean anything is possible.

“People will constantly surprise you,” said Gonzales, an author of four books on survival whose own father was a World War II pilot who survived being shot down. “You’ll think, ‘Surely this guy is dead.’ And you’ll go out and there he will be alive.”

Dr. Claude Piantadosi, a Duke University medical professor who authored “The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments,” said “the odds are against” the boys, but the search should continue. He wondered if they could be clinging to a cooler believed to have been aboard the boat and maybe used it to catch rainwater. Even so, the former Naval officer and avid boater and diver knows they are fast reaching the edge of survivability.

“Every hour that passes at this point,” he said, “the chances go down.”

Five hundred feet above the Atlantic on Tuesday, an eight-person Coast Guard crew aboard a C-130 plane flew in a grid pattern to survey the ocean below. Two men flopped on their bellies on a cargo ramp, scouring the waters, while other crew members searched from the windows or used a joystick to manipulate a camera scanning the seas.

Mostly they saw vast expanses of water — some of it murky, some so clear turtles could be seen swimming 50 feet below the surface.

Occasionally, they spotted something and looped around, sometimes dropping flares.

A white rectangular shape that looked like a pillow. A box. Something greenish. But none of the items turned out to be worthwhile clues.

“Frustrating,” one crew member remarked on their headset.

“Very,” said another.

After nearly 10 hours of flying, without success, the crew looked bleary and tired as it diverted the plane around a lightning storm on its way home. Even without any major break in the search, the crew knew the importance of their work.

“You search like it’s your mom out there,” Petty Officer Garrett Peck said.

The saga of the two boys from Tequesta began Friday. Their parents believed their fishing outing would take them to a local river and waterway, as was the rule in previous solo trips, not the deep waters of the Atlantic. A line of summer storms moved through the area that afternoon, and when the teens didn’t return on time, the Coast Guard was alerted. Their 19-foot boat was found overturned Sunday off Ponce Inlet, more than 180 miles north of where the boys started.

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Western NY man arrested, charged with supporting Islamic State

First published: July 29, 2015 at 2:28 pm
Last modified: July 29, 2015 at 2:28 pm

WASHINGTON — U.S. authorities arrested a man in western New York and charged him with supporting Islamic State by traveling to Turkey to help the militant group, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.

Arafat Nagi, 42, of Lackawanna, was charged with attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization after the FBI discovered he had purchased military equipment and traveled to Turkey twice to meet with members of Islamic State.

“Thanks to the combined efforts of law enforcement and community members, this defendant is no longer capable of achieving his goal of joining the most despicable group of our time,” U.S. Attorney William Hochul told reporters.

Nagi had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, court documents said. He traveled to Turkey in October 2012 and July 2014 with the aim of meeting with members of the group, according to the documents.

Among the items Nagi is accused of purchasing prior to the trips were body armor, a machete and night vision goggles.

A resident of Lackawanna, a Buffalo suburb, last August told the FBI that Nagi regularly argued with residents about his beliefs, according to the complaint.

The resident said Nagi was angry about the killing of rebels in Yemen and blamed the United States for their deaths, the complaint said.

Nagi was due to appear in court in the Western District of New York on Wednesday. His charges carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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Trump lands in new controversy over breast-feeding comments

First published: July 29, 2015 at 2:24 pm
Last modified: July 29, 2015 at 2:24 pm

WASHINGTON — Republican Donald Trump on Wednesday pushed back against a lawyer he had berated when she requested a break to pump breast milk for her then-infant daughter, the latest controversial remark to emerge in his presidential campaign.

Trump did not deny getting angry and calling the woman “disgusting” in 2011 but lashed back after reports of the incident emerged late on Tuesday.

Miami-based lawyer Elizabeth Beck was questioning the wealthy developer and television personality in a Florida real estate case when she asked for the break, according to court testimony first reported by the New York Times.

Trump abruptly ended the deposition and questioned his own lawyer’s request for a bathroom break, according to the testimony.

“She wanted to breast pump in front of me at dep(osition),” Trump said on Twitter on Wednesday. Beck told Reuters that was untrue.

“I’m exasperated now because he’s telling falsehoods,” she said.

Trump, known for his brash style, has come under fire for his comments on Mexican immigrants, veterans and other Republican presidential candidates even as he climbs in opinion polls.

On CNN earlier on Wednesday, Beck said, “He got up, his face got red, he shook his finger at me and he screamed, ‘You’re disgusting, you’re disgusting,’ and he ran out of there.”

Afterward, Trump fired back on Twitter: “So many people who know nothing about me are commenting all over T.V. and the media as though they have great D.J.T. insight. Know NOTHING!”

But Beck defended her remarks and said she had witnessed his behavior during numerous in-person interactions with the mogul over several years.

“I know what I saw,” she said. “You know how they behave in certain circumstances.”

Trump lawyer Alan Garten told the Times he thought Beck’s request was a bid to buy time, but his comments did not reflect a position on breast-feeding.

Beck, whose firm is still involved in litigation with Trump, rejected that argument and said Trump later flew to her law office in Miami to finish the deposition.

The Times also cited depositions for several lawsuits since 2007 that it said showed the candidate’s raw edge and his tendency to exaggerate business deals.

Trump representatives did not return a phone call seeking comment.

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Olympics chief: Boston failed to deliver on ‘promises’ to USOC

First published: July 29, 2015 at 1:26 pm
Last modified: July 29, 2015 at 1:27 pm
ASSOCIATED PRESS
In this July 28, 1984, file photo, the Olympic flame is flanked by a scoreboard signifying the formal opening of the XXIII Olympiad after it was lit by 1960 gold medalist Rafer Johnson during the opening ceremonies in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Los Angeles could put in a bid to host the 2024 Games, joining London as the only city to hold the Olympics three times.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — IOC President Thomas Bach said Boston was firmly to blame for its aborted bid for the 2024 Olympics, saying the city failed to deliver on “promises” made to U.S. Olympic leaders when they selected the Massachusetts capital as the American candidate for the games.

Bach also said Wednesday the IOC has a “commitment” from the U.S. Olympic Committee that it will put forward a bid city for 2024, though he declined to endorse any other contender. Los Angeles is considered the USOC’s likely choice ahead of the Sept. 15 deadline for official submission of candidates.

The International Olympic Committee leader gave his first extensive comments on the demise of the Boston bid, which was dropped amid poor public support, strong local opposition and lack of full political commitment.

“From the outside, I gave up following (the bid’s troubles),” Bach said. “It was pretty confusing. Every day there was a new project coming from Boston or new people and new ideas. I really gave up following it in detail. But what we could see in a nutshell what happened there is that Boston did not deliver on promises they made to the USOC when they were selected.”

Bach also said he hopes the decision on the next U.S. bid city will involve discussions that are “a little bit more oriented on facts than emotions.”

Ever since Boston was selected as the U.S. nominee ahead of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, the bid struggled to gain local support and wallowed in approval ratings below 50 percent amid concern over the potential cost to taxpayers.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said he wouldn’t throw his weight behind the bid without a full report from a consulting group. And Mayor Marty Walsh said Monday he wouldn’t be pressured into signing the host city contract if it would stick the city and state with paying for any cost overruns.

“We can understand his disappointment at Bostonians not wanting to host and pay for his $10 billion party,” No Boston Olympics co-chair Christopher Dempsey said. “But the demands that the IOC makes to host cities is unreasonable. It’s not a good deal for taxpayers.”

The USOC cut ties with Boston on Monday, with less than two months to find a replacement for a race that includes Paris; Rome; Hamburg, Germany; and Budapest, Hungary. Toronto and Baku, Azerbaijan, are also likely contenders.

Bach is determined to have a strong candidate from the U.S., which hasn’t hosted a Summer Games since Atlanta in 1996.

“For us the situation has not changed,” he said. “We had a commitment from USOC for an Olympic candidature for 2024. We have this commitment. We’re sure that USOC will deliver on this commitment, and that we will have on the 15th of September, a bid from the United States.”

“The United States is one of the few countries in the world who has the luxury of having a number of cities which are capable of organizing Olympic Games,” he added.

Bach wouldn’t comment on the prospect of a bid from Los Angeles, which staged the 1932 and 1984 Olympics and now seems poised for a shot at joining London as a three-time host. Several IOC executive board members have already spoken in favor of a Los Angeles bid.

“It is now an internal issue for USOC to determine the most appropriate city,” Bach said. “It’s not up to the IOC to give unsolicited advice on this. I’m sure that USOC will find the best solution.”

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As Medicare, Medicaid turn 50, a look at the programs’ past, present

First published: July 29, 2015 at 1:27 pm
Last modified: July 29, 2015 at 1:27 pm
ASSOCIATED PRESS
On July 30, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signs the Medicare Bill into law while former President Harry S. Truman, right, observes during a ceremony at the Truman Library in Independence, Mo. At rear are Lady Bird Johnson, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and former first lady Bess Truman. When Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law, Americans 65 and older were the age group least likely to have health insurance.

WASHINGTON — When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law on July 30, 1965, roughly half of Americans 65 and older had no health insurance.

“No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine,” Johnson said at the bill signing. “No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years. No longer will young families see their own incomes, and their own hopes, eaten away simply because they are carrying out their deep moral obligations to their parents, and to their uncles, and their aunts.”

Fifty years later, virtually all seniors have coverage, a far higher rate than younger people.

“It’s hard to imagine a world without Medicare and Medicaid,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said Wednesday at the official commemoration. “Medicare and Medicaid aren’t just about health care; they are about who we are as a nation, about living up to our own values.”

Presidents and lawmakers of both political parties have collaborated to expand Medicare benefits and to shore up finances.

Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income and disabled people, got off to a slower start, but now covers an estimated 69 million people, making it the largest government health program. It pays for nearly half of U.S. births and a little over half of the nation’s nursing home bill.

But the long-range solvency of both programs remains cloudy. A mix of tax increases, benefit cuts, and reductions in payments to service providers will be needed sooner or later, experts say. The longer policymakers wait, the more wrenching the changes.

Today, Medicare and Medicaid together cover about 1 in 3 Americans. Here’s a look at the programs, then and now:

THEN: In 1965, life expectancy at age 65 was 13.5 additional years for men, and 18 years for women. That’s using Social Security data for “cohort life expectancy,” which takes into account improvements in survival during the later years of life.

After Medicare’s enactment, Social Security offices around the country signed up 19 million people for coverage effective July 1, 1966.

NOW: In 2015, life expectancy at age 65 has risen to 19.3 years for men and 21.6 years for women.

Nearly 56 million seniors and disabled people of any age are enrolled in Medicare. Even with the World War II generation passing away, total enrollment is rising by more than 2 million people a year as baby boomers reach 65 and qualify.

THEN: Segregated hospitals and nursing homes were common, particularly in the South.

NOW: Although racial and ethnic health disparities persist, segregated facilities are unheard of. As a condition of receiving Medicare and Medicaid payments, hospitals and nursing homes have to assure the government that they don’t discriminate, or they can’t be paid. Hospital desegregation proved much less divisive than integration of public schools.

THEN: Medicaid eligibility was tied to receiving government welfare checks. Many poor children were uninsured.

NOW: The welfare reform law of the 1990s, and coverage expansions for children that preceded it, broke the link between Medicaid and welfare.

In some states, Medicaid’s coverage for children reaches up into the middle class. About 1 in 3 children, regardless of income, are covered by Medicaid, says the Kaiser Family Foundation. Among poor children, that rises to 3 out of 4.

President Barack Obama’s health care law expanded Medicaid to cover low-income, working-age adults with no children living at home, a major group that had been left out by safety-net programs. The expansion is optional for states, and 30 states plus Washington, D.C., have either accepted it or proposed to do so.

Medicaid has evolved into a blanket program for all low-income people.

THEN: Medicare did not cover prescription drugs.

NOW: Prescription coverage took effect in 2006 under Republican President George W. Bush. Obama’s health care law strengthened the drug benefit by gradually eliminating a coverage gap known as the “doughnut hole.”

“It’s the typical American style of doing things,” said economist Gail Wilensky, Medicare administrator under President George H.W. Bush. “Add a little here, add a little there. It’s messy, but it’s how we do things.”

The incremental approach sometimes finds political acceptance more readily, Wilensky added.

When Medicare was enacted, the American Medical Association opposed it as “socialized medicine.” But Johnson cajoled a promise from the organization that doctors would not resist its implementation.

THEN: Medicare and Medicaid used private insurers behind the scenes to process claims, but not generally to deliver benefits.

NOW: Private insurance plans increasingly are the consumer-facing side of both programs.

About 3 in 4 Medicaid beneficiaries are enrolled in private managed care plans. About 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are in so-called Medicare Advantage plans, a part of the program that has been growing rapidly. The private plans usually offer lower out-of-pocket expenses when compared to traditional Medicare, but restrict choice of hospitals and doctors.

The prescription drug benefit — also known as Part D — is offered through private insurers as well.

THEN: Medicare benefits were not tied to income.

NOW: Increasingly upper-income seniors are being charged more. Higher premiums for “Part B” coverage of outpatient services, as well as for the prescription drug program, kick in at annual incomes of $85,000 for individuals and $170,000 for couples.

It’s a trend that can be expected to continue. As policymakers grapple with Medicare’s long-term financing problems, many beneficiaries who consider themselves middle class and not wealthy could end up paying more.

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Tom Brady vows to fight on; owner Kraft says he regrets not doing so

First published: July 29, 2015 at 10:46 am
Last modified: July 29, 2015 at 12:04 pm
ASSOCIATED PRESS In this Jan. 10, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady holds up the game ball after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Foxborough, Mass. Brady’s four-game suspension for his role in using underinflated footballs during the AFC championship game last season has been upheld by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The league announced the decision Tuesday.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady vowed to fight his four-game suspension Wednesday, and team owner Robert Kraft opened training camp by saying he continues to “believe and unequivocally support” the three-time Super Bowl MVP.

“It is completely incomprehensible to me that the league continues to take steps to disparage one of its all-time great players, and a man for whom I have the utmost respect,” Kraft said. “I was wrong to put my faith in the league.”

Taking the podium a day after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld Brady’s suspension, Kraft said he didn’t fight the team’s penalty a $1 million fine and the loss of two draft picks because he thought the league would go easy on the star quarterback.

Now, he said, he regrets his decision.

“I have come to the conclusion that this was never about doing what was fair and just,” Kraft said, apologizing to fans and to Brady. “I truly believe that what I did in May ... would make it much easier for the league to exonerate Tom Brady. Unfortunately, I was wrong.”

Brady was suspended and the team was hit with unprecedented penalties after the NFL determined the Patriots provided improperly inflated footballs in the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. Investigator Ted Wells zeroed in on two equipment managers — one who called himself “The Deflator” — and said Brady was “at least generally aware” of the illegal deflation scheme.

The team has denied wrongdoing, but it fired the two equipment managers whose text messages included discussions of football inflation. Kraft repeated Wednesday the team’s claim that the NFL failed to prove its case.

“Six months removed from the AFC championship game, the league still has no hard evidence of anybody doing anything to tamper with the PSI levels of footballs,” said Kraft, who had been one of Goodell’s most loyal allies.

“I was willing to take the harshest penalty in the history of the NFL for an alleged violation of ball tampering because I hoped it would exonerate Tom.”

Brady broke his silence in a 507-word Facebook post earlier Wednesday in which he denied destroying his cellphone to keep it out of the hands of investigators.

“To suggest that I destroyed a phone to avoid giving the NFL information it requested is completely wrong,” he said. “There is no ‘smoking gun’ and this controversy is manufactured to distract from the fact they have zero evidence of wrongdoing.”

Kraft said the league’s claim that Brady trashed his phone was just the latest in a series of statements and leaks that “intentionally implied nefarious behavior” where there was none.

“Tom Brady is a person of great integrity and is a great ambassador of the game, both on and off the field,” Kraft said.

The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl for their fourth NFL title under Brady and coach Bill Belichick.

Brady, who had earlier denied cheating accusations with the tepid “I don’t think so,” more forcefully defended himself in the Facebook post, claiming he cooperated with the investigation except where doing so would have set a bad precedent for his union brethren.

“I respect the Commissioner’s authority, but he also has to respect the (collective bargaining agreement) and my rights as a private citizen,” Brady wrote. “I will not allow my unfair discipline to become a precedent for other NFL players without a fight.”

Goodell had cited Brady’s cellphone swap as new evidence of the quarterback’s failure to cooperate, but the quarterback said he replaced a broken phone only after his lawyers told league investigators they couldn’t have it.

“Most importantly, I have never written, texted, emailed to anybody at anytime, anything related to football air pressure before this issue was raised at the AFC Championship game in January,” he wrote.

The post was liked by 51,000 people including his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, in the first 30 minutes after it was posted on Facebook.

Belichick had been scheduled to speak to the media Wednesday morning, but instead Kraft took the podium first.

Belichick, as is his standard practice, declined to comment on the scandal.

“Nothing really to talk about there,” he said. “We’re going to take it day to day, just like we always do.”

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Watertown Chamber to announce Athena Award winner Thursday

First published: July 29, 2015 at 11:18 am
Last modified: July 29, 2015 at 11:18 am

WATERTOWN — The Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce will announce the recipient of its 2015 Athena Award Thursday morning.

The announcement will be made at 11 a.m. in the lobby of the Fairfield Inn and Suites, 250 Commerce Park Drive.

The award is presented annually to an individual “who is recognized for professional excellence, for providing valuable service to their community and for actively assisting women in realizing their full leadership potential,” according to a chamber release.

Last year’s recipient was Erika F. Flint, executive director of the Watertown Urban Mission.

This year’s recipient will be presented the award at a formal dinner hosted by the chamber Sept. 10 at the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel, 200 Riverside Drive, Clayton.

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Joyce Mitchell says she got ‘caught up’ in escape plot

First published: July 29, 2015 at 10:47 am
Last modified: July 29, 2015 at 10:47 am
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Joyce Mitchell as her attorney Stephen Johnston looks on during a court appearance Tuesday in Plattsburgh. Mitchell, a former instructor in the tailor shop at the Clinton Correctional Facility, pleaded guilty to charges of aiding two inmates convicted of murder by smuggling hacksaw blades and other tools to the pair, who broke out and spent three weeks on the run in June. She faces a sentence of 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison under terms of a plea deal with prosecutors.

PLATTSBURGH — Former prison worker Joyce Mitchell said she got “caught up in the fantasy” of a breakout planned by two killers and told investigators she performed sex acts with one of the men and took naked photos of herself for the other.

Mitchell, 51, formely an instructor in the tailor shop at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, faces a sentence of 2 1/3 to seven years in prison under terms of a plea deal with prosecutors. She admitted to helping prisoners Richard Matt and David Sweat escape.

Her lawyer, Stephen Johnston, said Mitchell realizes she made a “horrible mistake” by getting involved with Matt and Sweat, who staged an elaborate escape from the maximum-security prison on June 6.

“She got in over her head into something that she never should have started. But she did, and she’s paying the price now,” Johnston said outside court. “I think that to a certain extent, Matt got her to feeling good about herself, better than she had for a period of time, and she was swept off her feet a bit. ... And then when she realized who she was dealing with, everything changed.”

Matt was shot and killed by searchers June 26, about 30 miles west of the prison. Sweat was captured near the Canadian border two days later and sent to another prison.

Mitchell’s sentencing is set for Sept. 28. Johnston said his client will not be able to post the bail of $100,000 cash or $200,000 bond.

In documents first obtained by NBC News, Mitchell told investigators she believed she helped the two inmates escape because she “was caught up in the fantasy” of their plot.

“I enjoyed the attention, the feeling both of them gave me and the thought of a different life,” she said in a statement.

“Matt told me they were getting out and we were all going to be together,” Mitchell said.

In April, Mitchell said, she was alone with Matt in the tailor shop when he grabbed her and kissed her.

“It startled me. He kissed me with an open mouth kiss. I didn’t say anything because I was scared for my husband, who also works for the facility,” Mitchell said.

In May, Matt asked her to perform a sexual act and she so did out of fear, Mitchell said. On two or three other occasions, she said, Matt would come to her desk wearing a large coat in which he’d cut a hole so Mitchell could fondle him.

She said she took photos of her breasts and genitals and gave them to Matt to give to Sweat.

Mitchell told police the escape plan involved the inmates giving her pills to knock out her husband so she could pick them up in her vehicle. Then she was supposed to take them to her home, where Matt planned to kill her husband, whom he referred to as “the glitch,” Mitchell said in her statement. She also said the inmates planned to drive to an unspecified hideout in the woods 6 to 7 hours from the prison in Dannemora.

In another statement, she admitted she passed notes, some of which were “of a sexual nature” to Matt to give to Sweat. Sweat was reassigned from her tailor shop after rumors surfaced that he was romantically involved with Mitchell.

District Attorney Andrew Wylie said separate cases against Sweat and Gene Palmer, a guard who investigators accuse of unwittingly helping the two inmates, are expected to go before a grand jury next month.

“At this time, there are no other individuals who have been identified through the investigation as being involved directly or indirectly” with the escape, Wylie said.

Prosecutors say Mitchell provided hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch tool and a screwdriver to Matt on May 1. Authorities say she became close with the pair and agreed to be their getaway driver. But she backed out at the last moment, forcing the two to flee on foot after they emerged from a manhole near the prison.

Investigators also said Mitchell had discussed killing her husband, Lyle Mitchell, as part of the plot.

Lyle Mitchell was in court Tuesday and declined to speak with an Associated Press reporter.

Wylie said a grand jury could have considered other counts against Joyce Mitchell, including conspiracy to commit murder and sexual-related charges based on allegations involving the inmates. But he said he accepted pleas on two clearly provable charges — first-degree promoting prison contraband, a felony, and fourth-degree criminal facilitation, a misdemeanor— “in the interest of justice.”

The deal requires Mitchell to cooperate with a probe by the state inspector general.

Authorities said she smuggled the tools into the prison by hiding them in frozen meat she placed in a refrigerator in the tailor shop. They said Palmer then took the meat to Sweat and Matt, who were housed in a section where inmates are allowed to cook their meals.

Authorities do not believe Palmer knew of the escape plan. He was released on bail after being arrested on charges including promoting prison contraband.

Mitchell, who was arrested June 12, resigned from her job but remains eligible for a pension, according to corrections officials and the state comptroller’s office.

Matt and Sweat cut through their adjoining cell walls over months, climbed down catwalks to tunnels and broke through a brick wall. They then cut into a steam pipe and cut a chain holding a manhole cover outside the prison to get away, authorities said.

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