Mad Minute

CULIACAN, Mexico (AP) — The house former drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán fled in 2014 when Mexican marines had him surrounded underwent some changes recently as the Mexican government prepared to give it away in a national lottery.

The surveillance cameras that covered every angle of the modest home’s exterior were removed. And the hole under a bathtub that Guzmán had slipped through to reach a network of tunnels was covered with a concrete slab.

The Associated Press was given access to the property in a quiet Culiacan neighborhood ahead of the lottery. In recent weeks, Mexico’s Institute to Return Stolen Goods to the People, known by its initials as INDEP, gave it a fresh coat of white paint inside and out and tiled over the spot in the bathroom where the tub and tunnel entry point had been.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been talking up the lottery of seized properties, but gave no mention to the history of this particular house. An expansive home in one of Mexico City’s swankiest neighborhoods and a private box at the famed Azteca Stadium have garnered more attention.

INDEP’s website lists it only as “Casa en Culiacán.” It’s about 2,800 square feet and located, perhaps appropriately, in a neighborhood called Libertad, or “Freedom.” The government values the two-bedroom home at $183,000.

The house had been abandoned for years and the marines did some damage when they searched it, so repairs were necessary.

Guzmán escaped that time through the tunnels, but his freedom lasted only days. On Feb. 22, 2014, the marines descended again, this time in a condo on the coast in Mazatlan.

By that time, Guzmán already had a reputation for daring escapes. He had slipped out of one of Mexico’s maximum-security prisons in 2001, allegedly in a laundry cart.

In July 2015, less than a year and half after his capture in Mazatlan, Guzmán slipped through a tunnel dug up to the drain in his cell’s shower and rode a motorcycle on tracks laid through a tunnel to escape another maxium-security Mexican prison.

The marines captured him again six months later in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, where he had been holed up in another unremarkable home.

Guzmán was extradited to the United States, tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison in July 2019.

INDEP officials, who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak, said they were surprised the house was getting attention. It is not luxurious. There is no swimming pool, none of the ostentation that characterizes other narco properties in Sinaloa.

People nearby said they didn’t know who their neighbor was.

“We never knew anything, we never knew who lived there, we never saw anyone,” said one neighbor, who quickly cut off the conversation. Many locals aren’t interested in speaking of Guzmán or even saying his name in a place where the Sinaloa cartel remains powerful.

The house was well located for its previous purposes. There is a neighbor only on one side. On the other is a subterranean storm sewer — Culiacan built hundreds of kilometers of them to deal with torrential rains — which is where the bathroom tunnel connected to make Guzmán’s escape possible. A school is across the street.

On the morning of Feb. 17, 2014, the neighborhood was suddenly filled with the marines’ grey trucks. They blocked traffic. There was no doubt they were interested in the seemingly unremarkable house.

But they didn’t find Guzmán there. In fact, during his U.S. trial, a witness testified that Guzmán was not in any of the five houses marines searched, despite reports to the contrary at the time.

Five days later, the marines caught up to Guzmán 125 miles to the south in Mazatlan, where he was staying with his wife Emma Coronel and their twin daughters.

INDEP tried to auction off the home last year. It started the bidding at about $130,000. There were no takers.

Now, López Obrador is giving it away as part of the lottery, with the drawing scheduled for Wednesday, the day before Mexico celebrates its Independence Day. It’s the first time Mexico’s national lottery is giving away property. The proceeds are to go to Mexico’s Olympic athletes.

“This raffle is very important and I call on all the people, those who can help buying a ticket, or two or three,” López Obrador said at his daily news conference last week.

In downtown Mexico City, lottery ticket vendors said sales have been good.

Jorge López said he’s been selling 100 to 120 of the $12 tickets daily since last week. “Right now, it’s selling very well.” He said the value of the 22 prizes, many well above that of the Culiacan house, is drawing attention. Some people ask about who the properties’ previous owners were, but not many, he said.

Back in Culiacan, across town near the center, Ignacio Mariscal said he supports the lottery. “Those houses didn’t serve anyone; those people had them,” Mariscal said. “I see it as perfectly fine. It’s to help people in need.”

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Sept. 14 (UPI) -- A Scottish conservation charity is calling on residents to act as volunteer "squirrel spotters" for its annual Great Scottish Squirrel Survey.

Charity group Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels announced it is marking National Red Squirrel Week Sept. 20-26 by attempting to take a census of the country's squirrel population with help from members of the public.

"We are asking everyone to go out and enjoy the outdoors, look out for both red and gray squirrels and add your sightings to our online map at scottishsquirrels.org.uk," Gill Hatcher, communications and engagement officer for SSRS, told the Northern Scot newspaper.

SSRS, which is partnering with the Scottish Wildlife Trust for the project, said the COVID-19 pandemic prevented researchers from carrying out their usual annual squirrel surveys in the spring of 2020 and 2021.

"Without the spring survey data, we need the help of squirrel spotters more than ever before. If the public can help us collect as many squirrel sightings as last year, the Great Scottish Squirrel Survey will give us another way to compare distribution data with the same period as in previous years," project manager Mel Tonkin said.

SSRS is dedicated to protecting Scotland's red squirrels from invasive gray squirrels, which were introduced to Scotland during the Victorian period.

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RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (AP) — An employee cost a New York county at least $6,000 in electricity bills by allegedly secretly installing dozens of machines at his workplace in a cryptocurrency scheme, authorities said Wednesday, announcing charges against him.

Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said Christopher Naples, who worked in the county clerk's office as a supervisor of information technology operations, is charged with counts including public corruption, grand larceny, and computer trespass.

An email seeking comment was sent to Naples' attorney. He appeared in court on Wednesday and was released on his own recognizance.

Sini said Naples, 42, who has worked for the county since 2000, had put 46 devices throughout the county center in Riverhead, New York, in locations like an unused electrical wall panel or underneath floorboards. At least some of the devices had been in place since February.

Naples, of Mattituck, New York, is accused of using the devices to mine Bitcoin and other types of cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency units are created by computers solving complex math equations, and the process can result in heavy electricity usage and high cooling costs.

"Mining cryptocurrency requires an enormous amount of resources, and miners have to navigate how to cover all of those electricity and cooling costs," Sini said in a statement announcing the arrest. Naples "found a way to do it; unfortunately, it was on the backs of taxpayers."

Naples faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the top count against him.

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Cryptocurrency litecoin gave up a 20% gain and tumbled back to Earth following a fake press release sent out by GlobeNewswire that referenced a partnership with Walmart.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove confirmed that the press release is not authentic. He also said the retailer has been in touch with the newswire company to investigate how the false press release got posted.

GlobeNewswire is owned by telecommunications company Intrado. It issued a "notice to disregard" the original release at 11:18 a.m. ET.

A number of media organizations, including CNBC, sent headlines on the announcement. Shares of Walmart had little movement on it. Litecoin was down about 2.2%, according to Coin Metrics.

GlobeNewswire said that a fraudulent user account was used to issue the release.

"This has never happened before and we have already put in place enhanced authentication steps to prevent this isolated incident from occurring in the future," said a spokesperson. "We will work with the appropriate authorities to request – and facilitate – a full investigation, including into any criminal activity associated with this matter."

Litecoin tweeted the press release from its official account at 9:50 a.m. ET. CNBC's report on the what turned out to be fake was published five minutes later.

In a statement Monday afternoon, the Litecoin Foundation said a social media team member "was a little too eager and shared the story from the Litecoin Twitter account. This was quickly deleted and we have taken steps to correct future issues."

The Securities and Exchange Commission said it does not comment on such matters.

The news release said that Walmart, the biggest retailer in the U.S., would accept cryptocurrency for payments from shoppers using litecoin. It referenced a nonworking website in the email of one of the contacts listed, raising suspicions.

The release was never listed on Walmart's official corporate website and has been removed from the GlobeNewswire website.

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VIENNA (AP) — Ethiopia's Derara Hurisa was disqualified for wearing the wrong shoes after winning the Vienna Marathon on Sunday.

The 24-year-old Hurisa crossed the line first by three seconds but was later told he had been disqualified because the soles of his shoes were 1 centimeter (0.4 inches) thicker than the maximum 4 centimeters allowed.

Organizers said Hurisa had registered another shoe that met race rules, but switched to the shoes he had used in training to run the actual marathon.

"I can't say at the moment why he didn't run in the shoes that were specified in the form," race coordinator Johannes Langer said.

Leonard Langat of Kenya, who had originally finished second — in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 25 seconds — was declared the winner.

Betesfa Getahun of Ethiopia and Kenya's Edwin Kosgei completed the top three.

Debutant Vibian Chepkirui of Kenya won the women's race in 2:24:29.

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Sept. 14 (UPI) -- A long-lost, 17th-century Baroque painting is being examined by art historians after it was spotted hanging in a New York church.

Thomas Ruggio, assistant professor of visual arts at Iona College, said he was visiting The Holy Family Church in New Rochelle earlier this year when a painting on the wall caught his eye.

"I realized immediately it was an Italian Baroque painting. And I sort of did a double take. Why is it here? I immediately got up and started to take some bad pictures with my cellphone," Ruggio told WABC-TV.

Ruggio shared his photos with art historians in Italy and Manhattan, who quickly identified the piece as a long-lost work by Florentine master Cesare Dandini titled Holy Family with the Infant St. John.

The church said in a statement Monday that the painting had been donated sometime in the early 1960s by a former monsignor, who had purchased it from an unidentified London gallery.

The parish agreed to loan the painting to Iona College, which said it will be on display at the New Rochelle campus for the next three months.

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Sept. 10 (UPI) -- The Illinois State Police said a visitor to the Illinois State Fair was reunited with an unusual piece of lost property -- their dentures.

The ISP said in a Facebook post that a fair-goer flagged down troopers to turn over a set of "abandoned chompers" found in the Conservation World area of the fair.

The post was later updated to say the owner had been found.

"The owner has been in contact with the lost and found and should be reunited with their previously misplaced pearly whites very soon. Thank you to all that made this reunion a reality," the post said.

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Sept. 14 (UPI) -- Firefighters in Florida rescued a horse found with its back half stuck in a well.

Palm Beach County Fire Rescue said crews from Battalion 10 and Battalion 9 Special Operations were summoned to a field off Sea Chase Drive near Lake Worth on Monday on a report of an animal in distress.

Crews arrived to find the horse's back legs were stuck in a narrow well, with the top half of the animal sticking out of the ground.

Firefighters secured the horse in a large animal rescue harness and used the crane arm of a heavy duty tow truck to hoist the horse to safety.

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Sept. 10 (UPI) -- A British woman unpacking her suitcase after a trip to Barbados made a shocking discovery -- a gecko that stowed away for a 4,000-mile journey inside her bra.

Lisa Russell, 47, contacted the RSPCA after she spotted the tiny gecko while unpacking her suitcase at her home in Thrybergh, a village near Rotherham, England.

Russell said she initially wasn't sure what the small object was inside the cup of her bra.

"I thought it was a tiny dead creature and then when it moved I started screaming -- it is not what you expect to find in your bra after a 4,000-mile journey," she told the RSPCA.

"The tiny lizard was lucky as the bra was on top of my suitcase on my clean pile -- as it was so hot out there I didn't bother wearing one. It must have been happy in its new pad!"

Russell said the gecko must have been in her suitcase for at least 24 hours, from the time she packed it to the time she started unpacking.

"I am just so shocked not only did it survive the journey, but also the fact it didn't get squashed as my suitcase was so full when we were returning I had to sit on it to get it zipped up," she said.

RSPCA Inspector Sandra Dransfield was dispatched to Russell's home to collect the gecko, which she named Barbie.

"Lisa was quite relaxed about the whole thing and thought it was funny that the gecko had safely made the transatlantic crossing in her bra -- unlike a lot of women the lizard must have found it comfy," Dransfield said.

Dransfield said the gecko did not appear to be injured.

"The gecko has traveled more than 4,000 miles and appears unscathed by her adventure and unlike most holidaymakers did not need to have COVID tests," she said.

Dransfield said Barbie is now doing well in the care of a reptile specialist.

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(Portsmouth.co.uk) Now the 64-year-old from Bedhampton has been told her favourite fast-food joint no longer wants her – because of a row over ice cream.

Bosses at Burger King's branch in Park Road South, Havant, have banned her after she complained about a string of supposedly stingy servings.

It began when Ms Simms bought a large pot of plain ice cream for £1.29 in the summer but hit out over a 'ridiculous' portion.

When she returned to the branch again last month she asked not to be served by the same member of staff for fear of being sold short.

But as she left she claims she was 'ambushed' by Burger King bosses, who told her not to return because her attitude made staff 'uncomfortable'.

'I'm a nice person and I don't behave like that in any way shape or form,' said Susan, who works for the NHS.

'I complained because for some unknown reason they were giving out short measures.

'Now I feel like I've been belittled and treated like I'm nothing.

'It made me really shaky and upset and I've lost my confidence.'

Ms Simms regularly visits the branch in Havant's town centre with a pal, Michael Duval, and has been a loyal customer for 14 years.

If the pair wish to return, Burger King's guest relations team have said they must first issue an apology to prevent 'further altercations'.

But Ms Simms has said she will not bow to pressure and instead hopes to take the complaint higher.

'I don't know what I'd be saying sorry for – I've done nothing wrong,' she said.

'They go on about having a duty of care for their staff, but what about their customers?

'If I went round smashing windows I could understand, but I'm an old lady.'

A spokeswoman for Burger King said: 'Providing a superior guest experience is a top priority at Burger King restaurants, however equally we expect our crew members to be treated with respect. And on this occasion our staff felt uncomfortable with her behaviour.

'We'd be happy to discuss this further with Susan, as per our response to her complaint, so we can reach an agreement and welcome her back.'

Ms Simms' run-in with the fast-food giant comes a year after she was denied compensation from Havant Borough Council over a paving slab.

She lodged a complaint with the authority after tripping over an uneven surface in Havant Park left her with a fractured arm and a haematoma.