Police Corruption

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The Fine Line Between Drug Raids and Armed Robberies

It seems Philadelphia's drug cops have adopted a nasty habit of raiding corner stores accused of selling paraphernalia, then smashing security cameras and just straight-up stealing cash and merchandise.

The accused officers are denying everything, of course, but the Philadelphia Daily News found multiple former informants who acknowledge being paid with cigarettes. Hmm, I wonder where those came from.

It's truly remarkable how often the soldiers in the war on drugs can be found committing worse crimes than the people they're investigating.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

This week, we have some drug cops whose misbehavior may not reach the standard of corruption, but is certainly worth noting. And then we have the usual corrupt cops. Let's get to it:

too much drug cash can corrupt cops
In Orlando, Florida, Orange County Sheriff's Office narcs are under investigation for allegedly failing to turn up for drug searches after drinking cocktails for lunch as supervisors watched. The Sheriff's Office has confirmed it is investigating at least a half-dozen officers, including at least two sergeants, and there could be a "pattern" of bad behavior in the unit. The unit was already under fire after drug cases had to be dropped because officers got caught lying. This latest investigation came as a result of yet another investigation, this one of one of the narcotics sergeants involved and some missing evidence.

In Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a Manitowoc DARE officer was arrested March 2 for driving while intoxicated. Officer Michaelyn Culligan, 40, was arrested after the car she was driving got stuck in snow bank. Culligan has resigned from her DARE position, but is still on the force pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

In New York City, a New York prison guard was arrested March 4 after being caught with 15 kilograms of cocaine. Officer Edinson Rosales, 29, was ensnared in a sting operation by the DEA, NYPD, and Department of Corrections investigators, and agreed to carry the cocaine to Detroit for $15,000. He was to return from Motor City with $400,000 in cash proceeds from the sale of the cocaine, for which he was to have earned another $5,000. Now he faces charges of criminal possession of a controlled substance and eight to 20 years in state prison.

In Boston, an MIT police officer was arrested Saturday upon taking possession of a Fedex package containing 340 OxyContin tablets. Fedex workers had become suspicious of the package and notified police it contained a large quantity of prescription drugs. Officer Joseph D'Amelio was in uniform and driving an MIT police cruiser when he went to pick up the pills -- and Boston police were waiting for him. He is now charged with trafficking more than a hundred grams of OxyContin, for which he faces a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence if convicted.

In New York City, a former Customs and Border Protection supervisor at JFK International Airport pleaded guilty March 12 to charges relating to bribery and drug importation. Walter Golembiowksi, 66, was arrested during a long-term investigation into the trafficking of large quantities of hashish, other drugs, and other contraband into the US through JFK. The feds seized more than 600 pounds of hash and arrested 60 people involved in the ring. Golembiowski was caught on tape on multiple occasions accepting bribes from co-conspirators to allow illegal drugs and counterfeit goods to pass through Customs without inspection. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import narcotics, conspiracy to commit bribery, and conspiracy to commit bribery during an undercover sting operation (who knew?). He's looking at up to 50 years in prison.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

From murder most foul to ripping off Crimestoppers, our corrupt cops run the gamut this week. Let's get to it:

evidence locker
In New York City, a former NYPD narc who resigned last year in the face of corruption charges was arrested Monday in the shooting death of his ex-girlfriend. Former officer Jerry Bowens, 43, was one of five officers arrested last year in a scandal in which they were accused of taking drugs and cash they had seized and using it to pay a confidential informant. After those arrests, the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office dismissed charges or vacated convictions in 183 cases involving those officers. That investigation is continuing, but probably now means little to Bowens, who is facing a murder charge.

In Philadelphia, a jailed former Philadelphia police officer was charged March 3 with plotting from his jail cell to assault two suspected drug dealers he believed were cooperating with authorities against him. Former officer Malik Snell is in federal detention awaiting retrial on charges he participated in an attempted robbery of a drug house and ripped off other drug dealers. He is now accused of threatening "to inflict bodily injury" on the two men he suspected were government witnesses. He also is accused of stealing $40,000 in cash at gunpoint from one of the men.

In Vivian, Louisiana, a Vivian police officer was arrested last Friday on charges he bought a stolen gun on the street and sold it back to a drug dealer when he found out it was stolen. Officer James Arthur, 34, went down after one of four rifles reported stolen in nearby Shreveport in March 2008 turned up in a drug raid in November. The Caddo Parish Sheriff's Department investigated and found out that Arthur had bought the gun, a Bushmaster XM15 assault rifle worth $1,250, for $300 on the street, but had then resold it to a "known drug dealer" after checking a national firearms registry and seeing it listed as stolen.

In Erie, Pennsylvania, a former Erie police lieutenant was sentenced March 4 for repeatedly stealing cocaine from the department evidence locker. Robert Liebel, 47, had pleaded guilty in January to nine misdemeanors for the 2007 and 2008 thefts. He was sentenced to at least 77 days in prison and between nine and 22 months on house arrest, plus three years probation. Liebel admitted stealing the coke for his personal use.

In Lebanon, Ohio, a Warren Correctional Institution guard was charged March 5 with trying to sneak 200 grams of marijuana into the prison. Guard Stephen Howard, 49, was arrested two days earlier after being caught trying to smuggle the dope inside hollowed-out markers and a Subway sandwich. He faces charges of attempting to convey drugs onto the grounds of a detention facility and possession of criminal tools, both felonies.

In Jacksonville, Florida, a Jacksonville Police narcotics detective was fired Wednesday over his role in a Crimestoppers hot-line scam. Detective James Narcise was accused of providing inside information on the location of criminals to a female friend, who would then use it to collect the reward money. The department apparently took that offense more seriously than his fatal shooting of an 80-year-old man during a drug sting in 2007. He was cleared of any wrongdoing in that case.

Asset Forfeiture: Highway Robbery in Texas

Police in small town Tenaha, Texas, near the Louisiana line, have found a way of turning law enforcement into a lucrative racket. According to a recently filed federal lawsuit, police there routinely stopped passing motorists -- the vast majority of them black -- and threatened them with felony arrests on charges such as money laundering unless they agreed to sign over their property on the spot.

teaching evil: US Dept. of Justice assets forfeiture program logo
More than 140 people accepted that Hobson's choice between June 2006 and June 2008, according to court records cited by the Chicago Tribune, which ran a lengthy article on the practice this week. Among them was a black grandmother who handed over $4,000 in cash and an interracial couple from Houston who handed over $6,000 in cash after police threatened to arrest them and send their children to foster care. Neither the couple nor the grandmother were charged with any crime.

The waiver form that the couple signed giving up their rights is particularly chilling. "We agree that this case may be taken up and considered by the Court without further notice to us during this proceeding. In exchange for this agreement, no criminal charges shall be filed on either of us as a result of this case, and our children shall not be turned over to CPS."

Officials in Tenaha, which sits on a heavily traveled highway between Houston and popular gambling destinations in Louisiana, said they were fighting drug trafficking and were operating in accord with state asset forfeiture law, which allows local police agencies to keep drug money and other goods used in the commission of a crime.

"We try to enforce the law here," said George Bowers, mayor of the town of 1,046 residents, where boarded-up businesses outnumber open ones and City Hall sports a broken window. "We're not doing this to raise money. That's all I'm going to say at this point," he told the Tribune.

But civil rights attorneys said what Tenaha was doing amounted to highway robbery and filed a federal class action law suit to halt the practice. Tenaha officials "have developed an illegal 'stop and seize' practice of targeting, stopping, detaining, searching and often seizing property from apparently non-white citizens and those traveling with non-white citizens," according to the lawsuit, which was filed in US District Court in the Eastern District of Texas.

One of the attorneys involved, David Guillory of Nacogdoches, told the Tribune he combed through county court records and found nearly 200 cases where Tenaha police had seized cash and property from motorists. In only 50 of those cases were drug charges filed. But that didn't stop police from seizing cash, jewelry, cell phones, and even cars from motorists not found with contraband or charged with any crime.

The practice was so routine in Tenaha that Guillory was able to find pre-signed and pre-notarized police affidavits, lacking only the description of the "contraband" to be seized.

"The whole thing is disproportionately targeted toward minorities, particularly African-Americans," Guillory said. "None of these people have been charged with a crime, none were engaged in anything that looked criminal. The sole factor is that they had something that looked valuable."

It's not just Tenaha, and it's not just blacks. Hispanics in Texas allege they are the victims of discriminatory highway stops and seizures, too. The practice is especially prevalent on the handful of US highways heading south from the I-10 corridor toward Mexico.

One prominent state legislator, Sen. John Whitmire, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said police across the state are increasingly relying on seizures to fund their operating budgets. "If used properly, it's a good law-enforcement tool to see that crime doesn't pay," said Whitmire. "But in this instance, where people are being pulled over and their property is taken with no charges filed and no convictions, I think that's theft."

Whitmire said the problem extends beyond Tenaha, and he's going to do something about it. On Monday, he filed a bill that would require police to go before a judge before attempting to seize property under the asset forfeiture laws. Ultimately, he said, he is looking for a law that allows police to seize property only after a suspect is charged and convicted in court.

"The law has gotten away from what was intended, which was to take the profits of a bad guy's crime spree and use it for additional crime-fighting," Whitmire said. "Now it's largely being used to pay police salaries -- and it's being abused because you don't even have to be a bad guy to lose your property."

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's jail and prison guards gone wild this week, and a veteran California cop whose pill problem got the best of him. Let's get to it:

In Bangor, Maine, a former Penobscot County jail guard was sentenced Tuesday to six months in jail for smuggling marijuana and prescription drugs into the jail for prisoners. Lori Call pleaded guilty to two counts of trafficking in prison contraband. She also faces two years probation, random drug tests, and substance abuse counseling.

In New York City, a guard at the Sing Sing state prison was indicted Monday for accepting cash and cocaine from an undercover agent. Ashley Harris, 47, was arrested February 19 at a Bronx gas station after taking $500 and eight ounces of cocaine from the agent, who was posing as a drug dealer. Harris was indicted on six counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance, which prosecutors said was destined for the prison. His arrest was the culmination of a three-month sting by state narcs and the Department of Correctional Services.

In Kingston, New York, an Ulster Country Jail guard was arrested last Friday on charges he trafficked drugs at the jail. Guard Peter Portalatin, 23, went down after investigators determined he had smuggled heroin, Oxycontin, marijuana, and tobacco into the jail and set him up in a sting. He now faces charges of bribe receiving in the second degree, attempted criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree, receiving reward for official misconduct in the second degree, attempted promoting prison contraband in the first degree and tampering with physical evidence, all felonies. He was also charged with official misconduct and resisting arrest, both misdemeanors. He returned to the county jail as a prisoner until he makes his $10,000 cash bail. Oh, and he's now a former jail guard. He was fired the same day he was arrested.

In Texarkana, Arkansas, a former Miller County jail guard was sentenced February 26 to a whopping 28 years in prison for smuggling contraband hidden in food items to inmates. Jordan Michael Waller, 26, carried tacos, pizzas, and chili to work with him and used the food to hide cell phones, chargers, methamphetamine, marijuana, syringes, tobacco, and rolling papers. Family members testified that Waller suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, but that it was manageable with medication.

In Alameda, California, an Alameda police officer was arrested February 26 for visiting the residence of a terminally ill person and telling the family police provided medication disposal services, but keeping the pills for his own use. It did not appear to be an isolated incident, said police commanders. Sgt. Ronald Jones, a 26-year-year veteran of the department, was charged with two felony counts of using fraud, deceit or misrepresentation to obtain a controlled substance. He is on administrative leave.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A pair of cops turned thugs in St. Louis are jeopardizing a pile of drug convictions, a cop turned thug in Dallas will stay behind bars until trial, a Customs and Border Patrol officer heads to prison, and a Massachusetts town still can't find pot that went missing from its police department half a decade ago -- but it's trying. Let's get to it:

In Los Angeles, a former Customs and Border Patrol officer was sentenced last Friday to seven years in federal prison for conspiring to smuggle marijuana and illegal immigrants across the border. Former officer Luis Francisco Alarid, 32, also forfeited $175,000 in bribes he had received for his efforts. He pleaded guilty in November to conspiring to smuggle more than 100 kilograms of marijuana and bribery. Court documents reveal that Alarid allowed several vehicles containing contraband to cross the border unmolested during his seven-month tenure at the Otay Mesa border crossing, including a minivan loaded with 260 pounds of pot and four illegal immigrants. He went down in May, when the Border Corruption Task Force caught him trying to admit vehicles containing undocumented immigrants and 23 pounds of pot.

In Dallas, a former Dallas County sheriff's deputy will remain behind bars pending trial for allegedly stealing cocaine from a man he thought was a South Texas drug trafficker, but who was really an undercover officer. The judge in the case made the bail decision February 19 after watching a video of former deputy Standric Choice, 36, doing the rip-off at a local truck stop. Choice faces charges of engaging in a drug conspiracy while wearing his weapon. Choice was one of three men charged in the scheme. One pleaded guilty February 17, another has pleaded not guilty. Choice's trial date is April 13.

In Dracut, Massachusetts, the Dracut Police Department is still trying to figure out who got away with $80,000 worth of marijuana in 2003. The pot was stored in a padlocked outdoor storage locker at the back of the police station when it vanished more than five and a half years ago. Investigations by then Middlesex County DA Martha Coakley (now Massachusetts attorney general) and the State Police in 2003 and by Coakley's replacement, Gerry Leone, in 2007 didn't come up with enough evidence to arrest anyone. Now city selectmen have begun a third investigation, calling in the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, which conducts investigations of local departments if invited. Lie detector tests of police officers began in December. But the clock is ticking; the statute of limitations on prosecuting the crime will run out in a few weeks.

In St. Louis, more than a thousand drug convictions are under review because of corruption cases filed against two St. Louis police officers in December. Officers Bobby Lee Garrett, 48, and Vincent Carr, 46, were arrested by the FBI and accused of stealing thousands of dollars from a drug dealer, planting money, drugs, and a gun, and covering it all up. Carr pleaded guilty February 13, while Garrett is pleading not guilty. The cases against Garrett and Carr have already caused St. Louis prosecutors to drop 47 cases, and they are reviewing another 986 convictions to see whether the pair played a significant role in them. Federal prosecutors have already "put the brakes on" three cases before charges were filed and are reviewing another 45 to 50 more.

Law Enforcement: Belated Justice for Kathryn Johnston as Judge Sentences Atlanta Narcs Who Killed Her to Prison

A federal judge in Atlanta Tuesday sent three former Atlanta narcotics officers to prison for their roles in a misbegotten drug raid that ended in the death of a 92-year-old woman and shone a disturbing light on police practices in the Atlanta police drug squad. The victim, Kathryn Johnston, was killed when the three officers fired 39 rounds at her after she fired one shot at them as they were breaking down her door on a bogus drug raid.

Kathryn Johnston
US District Court Judge Julie Carnes sentenced former officer Arthur Tesler to five years in prison, Gregg Junnier to six years, and Jason Smith to 10 years. All three sentences were less than those called for by federal sentencing guidelines.

Johnston was killed about 7 p.m. on November 21, 2006. Three hours earlier, Tesler arrested and roughed-up a small-time drug dealer named Fabian Sheats and threatened to send him to prison unless he gave up another drug dealer. Sheats eventually pointed out Johnston's home, apparently at random, telling Tesler and his partners he saw a dealer named "Sam" with a kilo of cocaine there.

The three officers wanted to make a buy, but didn't consider Sheats reliable, so they called an informant named Alex White to come make the buy. But White was unavailable, so the trio simply wrote a false affidavit saying they had watched White make a cocaine buy at Johnston's home. Shortly before 6:00 p.m., they had their no-knock search warrant. An hour later, Johnston was dead after firing upon the intruders she apparently thought were robbers.

Then the cover-up kicked in, with the trio creating more false documents to hide the truth. But their cover-up fell apart when their informant, Alex White, grew frightened and went to the FBI.

In her sentencing statement, Judge Carnes criticized the Atlanta Police Department for its performance quotas for search warrants and arrests, saying the "pressures brought to bear did have an impact on these and other officers on the force." If anything good came from Johnston's death, it will be "a renewed effort by the Atlanta Police Department to prevent something like this from ever happening again," Carnes said. "It is my fervent hope the APD will take to heart what has happened here," the judge said.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Uniformed cops, jail guards, narcs, and assistant police chiefs -- all gone bad this week. Let's get to it:

too much drug cash can corrupt cops
In Otisville, New York, an NYPD officer was arrested last Friday for allegedly laundering money for her boyfriend's drug trafficking operation. Officer Yaniris Balbuena, an eight-year NYPD veteran, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering for receiving thousands of dollars in drug proceeds from her boyfriend, "a known narcotics trafficker in the Bronx." She deposited over $230,000 in cash in nine bank accounts she controlled. She's now looking at up to 20 years in federal prison.

In Bowling Green, Kentucky, two assistant police chiefs were indicted by a federal grand jury February 5 on prescription drug charges. They were also accused of threatening a witness. Assistant Chiefs Johnny Lee Travis, 41, and Maxie Christopher Murphy, both of Glasgow, Kentucky, are accused of illegally possessing hydrocodone between February 2004 and January 2008, and intimidating and threatening a witness between November 2007 and June 2008. They're looking at up to 21 years in prison each.

In Albany, Georgia, a Dougherty County narc was arrested February 11 on sexual assault charges. Dougherty County police officer David Gilliam, 41, a member of the Albany Dougherty Drug Unit, faces counts of sexual battery, false imprisonment, and violation of oath of office for allegedly trying to rape a 26-year-old woman while he worked an off-duty security job at the hotel where she was staying. Gilliam worked for the department since October 2005 and spent the last two years on the dope squad. He was fired the same day he was arrested.

In Fall River, Massachusetts, a Bristol County jail guard was arrested February 11 for allegedly smuggling drugs into the county prison. Marco Moniz is charged with conspiracy to violate drug laws and delivering contraband to a penal institution.

In Indianapolis, a former Indianapolis Metro Police officer pleaded guilty last Friday to running a marijuana distribution ring. Former officer James Davis was one of three Indy Metro Police officers busted in an FBI sting last year. Davis, Robert Long, and Jason Edwards were accused of robbing marijuana dealers and selling their stashes, so the FBI rented a house, rigged it with surveillance cameras, and put out the word the pot was there. The trio got busted in June when they broke in to steal five pounds of pot and $18,000. Davis will get 10-to-15 years instead of a possible 35 in exchange for testifying against his erstwhile comrades, who go to trial next month. He will be sentenced May 1.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

There may be something rotten in the dope squad in Philly, something definitely was rotten in Beantown, and yes, another jail guard goes down. Let's get to it:

In Philadelphia, the city District Attorney's office announced Monday in was opening a probe into a city police narcotics officer accused by a former confidential informant of falsifying evidence to make cases against suspected drug dealers. Officer Jeffrey Cujdik, 34, a veteran of nearly 12 years with the department, has turned in his gun, and the FBI is about to join the department's internal affairs unit and the DA's office in investigating the case. Suspicions about Cujdik and his informant, Ventura Martinez, were first raised more than a year ago by a suspicious defense attorney in a drug case. Martinez lived in a house owned by Cujdik, an apparent violation of department rules for keeping snitches at arms' length, and had been earning $200 or $300 a pop for turning up drug or guns cases for his handler. But Cujdik ended the relationship and threw Martinez out of the house in December, and Martinez is saying Cujdik regularly fabricated evidence to make drug busts. Now, Philadelphia public defenders say they are reviewing the cases of people jailed in cases involving Cujdik, and so are prosecutors.

In Boston, a former Massachusetts state trooper pleaded guilty Monday to conspiring to distribute the prescription pain reliever OxyContin and using extortion to collect drug debts. Former trooper Mark Lemieux was one of four people, including a retired state trooper, arrested in May 2007 on OxyContin conspiracy charges. The retired trooper, Joseph Catanese, had worked with Lemieux on a drug task force. He pleaded guilty last fall to using extortion to collect drug debts and conspiring to obstruct justice. Two civilians in the case have received three-year prison terms. Catanese and Lemieux have yet to be sentenced.

In Jamestown, California, a Sierra Conservation Center jail guard was arrested February 2 for allegedly selling drugs to inmates. Jail guard Matthew McCollum, 27, faces charges of possessing drugs in prison, bringing drugs into the prison, selling drugs to inmates, and criminal conspiracy. He had been employed there since August 2008.

Release: Congress Includes Billions in Stimulus Package for Controversial Grant Program Linked to Civil Rights Abuses

For Immediate Release: February 6, 2009 Contact: Tony Newman at 646-335-5384 or Bill Piper at 202-669-6430 Congress Includes Billions in Stimulus Package for Controversial Byrne Grant Program Linked to Racial Disparities, Police Corruption and Civil Rights Abuses More Byrne Grant Money Means More Arrests and Incarceration for Marijuana and other Low-level Drug offenses Funding of Program without Reform a Slap in the Face to Victims of Tulia and Hearne Scandals Last week the U.S. House approved a stimulus package including $3 billion for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants program, a controversial law enforcement grant program linked to racial disparities, police corruption and civil rights abuses. The Senate is currently considering the package. Critics say increased funding for the Byrne Grant program is going to backfire by increasing costs on one of the least productive sectors of the U.S. economy: the prison industrial complex. "The last thing we need in a stimulus plan is an incentive for more arrests, more jail time and more prisons," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug policy Alliance. "If Congress wants to give away billions to local law enforcement, it needs to make clear that the objective is public safety, not catching more young people for possessing a joint." Law enforcement agencies, especially narcotics taskforces, are often evaluated and funded based on how many people they arrest. Since low-level drug offenders are plentiful and easy to catch, it's easy for police to pad their numbers by arresting them, even as violent criminals roam free. The more nonviolent drug offenders the police arrest, the more federal money they receive. The number of Americans behind bars grows, and taxpayers are left footing the bill. It's no wonder, criminal justice reformers say, that the United States ranks first in the world in per capita incarceration rates, with 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's prisoners. The U.S. locks up more of its citizens on a per capita basis than China, Cuba, Mexico, Russia or any other country in the world. Police made more than 1.8 million drug arrests in 2007 (the latest year data is available), about 775,000 were for nothing more than simple possession of marijuana for personal use. The Byrne Grant program is also at the center of some our country's most shocking civil rights abuses. The most notorious Bryne-funded scandal occurred in 1999 in Tulia, Texas where dozens of African-American residents (representing nearly half of the town's black population) were arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to decades in prison, even though the only evidence against them was the uncorroborated testimony of one white undercover officer with a history of lying and racism. The undercover officer worked alone, and had no audiotapes, video surveillance, or eyewitnesses to corroborate his allegations. Suspicions arose after two of the defendants accused were able to produce firm evidence showing they were out of state or at work at the time of the alleged drug buys. Texas Governor Rick Perry eventually pardoned the Tulia defendants (after four years of imprisonment), but these kinds of scandals continue to plague the Byrne grant program. In another Byrne-related scandal, a magistrate judge found that a regional narcotics task force in Hearne, Texas routinely targeted African Americans as part of an effort to drive blacks out of the majority white town. For the past 15 years, the Byrne-funded task force annually raided the homes of African Americans and arrested and prosecuted innocent citizens. The county governments involved in the Hearne task force scandal eventually settled a civil suit, agreeing to pay financial damages to some of the victims of discrimination. In a recent letter to House and Senate leaders, fifteen national civil rights and criminal justice organizations urged members of Congress to shift the Byrne Grant money in the stimulus bill to treatment, rehabilitation and other effective programs instead. The groups include included the ACLU, the National African-American Drug Policy Coalition, the National Black Police Association, National Council on Crime and Delinquency, Justice Policy Institute, and the United Methodist Church. "The war on drugs is a new form of Jim Crow, systematically targeting communities of color and filling our prisons with nonviolent offenders at great taxpayer expense," Nadelmann said. "It is doubtful states could afford their punitive criminal justice polices without federal subsidies. Members of Congress who support the Byrne Grant program are perpetuating injustice and burdening taxpayers" ###

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