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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, January 12, 2006
Coffey arraigned for September rape
By Jarrett Carroll
GUILDERLAND A 28-year-old man, Robert J. Coffey, accused of raping a 14-year-old girl in his Church Road trailer last September, was arraigned on Tuesday in Albany County Court.
Another victim has come forward after a news broadcast showing Coffeys picture.
A 19-year-old victim alleges an incident occurred last July between Coffey and herself, Rebecca Bauscher, from Albany County District Attorney David Soaress office, told The Enterprise yesterday. Soaress office believes more victims may still come forward but would not give a specific number as to how many.
Coffey, of 333 Church Rd., Lot 3, Guilderland, is facing a slew of felony charges from the alleged assault. The charges include first-degree rape, first-degree committing a criminal sexual act, endangering the welfare of a child, second-degree unlawful imprisonment, and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, according to the district attorneys office.
"We expect more charges to be brought forth," said Soares’s spokesman Richard Arthur.
Coffey is accused of raping his 14-year-old neighbor and holding her against her will at his home in the Bockleys Trailer Park in Guilderland. The district attorneys office says that Coffey told the 14-year-old he had a gun and would kill her if she tried to leave, then bound her wrists, and raped her. Guilderland Police also found an undisclosed amount of cocaine in Coffeys possession when they took him into custody, according to his arrest report.
During his arraignment last Tuesday morning, Coffey, who is being represented by attorney Kent Sprotbery, pleaded not guilty. Sprotbery had no commit on the case at this time, but did say Coffey is eager to present his case before a jury.
Soares is calling Coffey a dangerous sexual predator and said in a statement, "We believe that this was not an isolated incident and we encourage other victims to come forward to provide additional testimony."
Arthur would not comment on whether or not the district attorney was open to a plea bargain in the case but told The Enterprise, "We expect this to equal to a lot of time in jail for [Coffey].
If convicted on all current charges, Coffey could face up to 25 years in prison.
Crackdown: Hard line on Civil Service
By Jarrett Carroll
GUILDERLAND Town workers are feeling pressure from a county Civil Service crackdown.
At least one Town Hall worker is losing her job because of the crackdown.
Caitlin Frederick, who became Albany Countys director of Civil Service a year-and-a-half ago, is taking a hard line on enforcement. She is following state mandates that dictate what each county must enforce.
"It’s not fair and it’s not right," said Thadeus Ausfeld, who runs the town’s water plant.
Hes concerned that qualified state-certified workers who know how to run the plant will be replaced with inexperienced newcomers if they fail the Civil Service exam, which is now being required of them.
When asked if an employee with over a decade of experience should be fired if he fails his Civil Service exam, Frederick responded with a concrete yes. She did say some rare exceptions could be made through the states authority and re-tests are possible with certain positions, depending on the number of applicants and candidates who have successfully passed the exam on the countys Civil Service lists.
If none of these stipulations are met or the employee fails the exam multiple times, they must be removed from their position according to Frederick.
"I have to deal with these issues all the time," Frederick said.
Some town employees in Guilderland have simply never taken the Civil Service exam or have had their jobs reclassified by the state and are now required to take the test, no matter how many years of service they may have. A variety of factors have caused the problem, including administrative oversight, poor communication between municipalities, and lax enforcement.
Albany County was audited by the state in 2004, which may have prompted some of the increased enforcement. The audit occurred before Frederick took over as director, and she called it procedural. Albany County’s last audit before that was in 1984 and, even though Frederick did not know how the state chose counties for audit, she said, "We were about due."
Guilderlands town supervisor, Kenneth Runion, believes the changes in Civil Service examinations are because of the states audit and the countys new director, Frederick. The county has reexamined and reclassified several positions for taking Civil Service exams, including animal-control positions which Runion says caught the town by surprise.
Frederick says the state audits are used only as administrative tools to help identify areas that need improvement and are not used to punish or investigate counties that are not up to par.
"It [the audit] didn’t reverse anything we were trying to do. It helped us to move forward," Frederick said.
In the past, Frederick said, the countys smaller municipalities did not report their entire lists of employees, and the Civil Service Department had been slow in sending out exam notices; there were other administrative problems as well, she said. These are problems which Frederick says she is working hard to stamp out, to prevent future incidents.
The towns position
"This is the first time I’ve seen something like this happen in 20 years of town politics," Runion said about the Civil Service changes. Runion believes the county may be going overboard with some of the testing it now requires, where previously no testing was required for a position.
The superintendent of the transfer station was an exempt position previously, but now requires a Civil Service exam. Guilderlands transfer station superintendent did pass the exam and is now set in that position, according to Runion.
He also told The Enterprise that a town fire inspector had failed an exam, but, because there were not enough applicants on the waiting list, he was able to take the exam again and is currently waiting for the results. New York State requires a minimum of three applicants on the Civil Service waiting list and a failing exam grade before an employee can be removed from a position.
The appointee for Guilderlands newest position, deputy police chief, has to take the Civil Service exam as well. Reunion said that Carol Lawlor, who filled the position last week, will have to take the exam in February.
A letter was recently sent from the Albany County Civil Service Department to the Guilderland Town Hall asking for a job description for the position of one of the towns bookkeepers. Runion said that he sent a letter back to the county saying the position was created by the State Legislature and town-appointed positions are not testable; they are appointed positions.
"I kind of joke around that they will have a test for my position some day," said Runion, who is an elected official.
Town Clerk Rosemary Centi said she has had no problems with the Civil Service examinations and the town clerks office has not been affected. But that is not true with some of the other town departments.
The town assessors office is losing a staff member because of a failed examination.
"A position had been replaced because they failed the exam," said Town Assessor Carol Wysomski, who did not want to reveal the name of the employee being let go.
Pamela Conti, the worker losing her job, did not want to comment to The Enterprise. She replaced an employee of three years and would have held the position for one year in March. Conti took the exam in September, failed the test, and was supposed to be replaced in January, but was given an extension until March 1. Wysomski said she is now starting the interview process to replace Conti from the Albany County Civil Service list.
At the water and wastewater management department, Superintendent William West sees some inherent problems with the current Civil Service regulations. West does not believe the exams make an employee more qualified for a job. Calling the exams "procedure", West says the tests do not reflect jobs like water treatment in small towns.
"The exams are so generic in nature, it’s hard to pertain to certain jobs," West told The Enterprise.
West said he has a long-term employee who, because of a switch in job title, now has to take a Civil Service exam. He said, "It won’t really affect him as long as he passes the exam."
"It’s tough to take a trainee or a laborer and move them up, and they have years of experience for the job, and now they have to take an exam," said West.
He continued, "There’s some pressure on people who have been here a number of years and who are more than qualified, but still have to take the exam."
When asked where the changes on Civil Service exams are coming from, West responded by saying his employees are more than qualified for their jobs and "They made some changes down there [Civil Service department], and they’re trying to get everyone under their wing."
Another town employee who is concerned with the Civil Service changes is Ausfeld. Speaking only for himself and not for the town of Guilderland or its other departments, Ausfeld said he is worried about his employees job security. One of his employees has been working there for 12 years.
"All of a sudden Albany County wants everyone to take exams," Ausfeld said, recalling when suddenly all three of his employees were required to take the exam.
"I believe there is some type of problem with this system, when I have someone with 12 years’ experience who never took the exam, and all of a sudden has to when they should have done so in the first two years of training if they were going to test them," said Ausfeld.
The employees at the water plant are all certified by New York State to run the plant, he said. If they are forced to be replaced because of possible failed examinations, it would take at least two years for new employees to be trained and certified, according to Ausfeld. This is a waste, says Ausfeld, of town resources and taxpayers money.
"I don’t know who’s at fault, but I can see it’s a lot of wasted tax-payer money," Ausfeld said.
Ausfeld does not believe the Civil Service system is working in these situations and said a new trainee off the Civil Service list would not be qualified to run his plant. "There’s not anyone on that list who can run this plant. I’m not comfortable having someone with no experience run this plant," said Ausfeld.
Starting in his own position back in 1981, Ausfeld himself did not take a Civil Service exam until he was there for five or six years. He believes that the exam should be given during the first two-year training period, if an examination has to be given.
When asked what would happen to a town employee who could not pass a Civil Service exam, Runion said, "Unless another position opens up ... they wouldn’t be allowed to be employed by the town according to Albany County Civil Service." All employees that are removed from a position are notified in writing by the Albany County Civil Service Department.
About the future of Civil Service examination, Frederick said she did not want to see people lose their jobs, but examination regulations would have to be enforced.
"We’re doing the best we can to retain them [civil servants], but we’re not 100-percent successful," said Frederick.
Bilked: FMS PTA loses $14k, plans to refund what it has
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND A local PTA lost thousands of dollars when a fund-raising company abruptly shut its doors last month.
"We really need to let parents and the community know," said Denise Eisele, president of the Parent-Teacher Association at Farnsworth Middle School. "We’re not just worried about the money. Kids went out in good faith. What we feel most sorry about is they sold to neighbors, to grandparents it cascades down."
The Farnsworth PTA had a contract with IPI Fundraising Inc., a company based in Newark, Del. About 316 Farnsworth students sold about $28,000 worth of merchandise including chocolates, candles, wrapping paper, and ribbon, Eisele said.
The money was collected from customers in advance. The goods were to be mailed directly to them from IPI.
By contract, half the money, or about $14,000 was sent to IPI; the other half the profit was to be used by the PTA for a variety of school projects and programs.
But on Dec. 14, IPI sent an e-mail, Eisele reported to The Enterprise this week, saying that it had closed its door and was unable to fill orders or refund customers money.
Eisele said her PTA had used the same company last year for its annual fund-raiser and had no problems.
"We had no control over what happened," she said. "We want to let people know we’re working as hard as we can."
IPI Fundraising Inc. was founded in 1988, according to a report from the Better Business Bureau of Delaware; its president is Justin DiNorscia.
Calling the company’s phone number results in a message that it is out of service; going to the listed website results only in the message, "No web site is configured at this address." DeNorscia’s phone number is not listed in Newark, Del.
Christine Sauers, president of the Better Business Bureau of Delaware, told The Enterprise this week that IPI had "been in business a number of years and resolved complaints in the past."
The bureaus report notes that it processed a total of 12 complaints about IPI in 36 months, the bureaus typical reporting period. All 12 of the complaints were in the last year, it says.
Nine complaints involved "delivery issues" that were all "unpursuable," it says. One complaint, involving a "service issue" was resolved. And, of two "refund or exchange issues," one was resolved and one had no response, the report says.
"During the holiday season, we started to notice a spike in complaints," said Sauers. "They had some unanswered. We tried to act quickly."
Most of IPIs customers, she said, are schools or clubs.
Sauers suspended IPIs bureau membership on Dec. 15 because of the unresolved complaints.
Asked about the amounts of money that were lost, she said, "It varies."
She said the bureau contacted the local press and sent a notice to school districts in the state of Delaware. "Anybody in the nation can contact us," she said about IPI because it is based in Delaware.
Sauers concluded, "We do recommend everyone contact the police. If a company is filing for bankruptcy, perhaps they can become a debtor to try to get their money back...I don’t know how long that would take."
Laurie Sitler, a spokesperson for the Delaware Department of Justice, told The Enterprise Tuesday that the state’s attorney general is "not involved yet" in the IPI case. The Delaware State Police are investigating the matter, she said.
Sauers referred The Enterprise to Detective Pauline Waibel with the Delaware State Police. Waibel declined comment, saying only, "My investigation is ongoing."
Groundwork for the fund-raiser at Farnsworth was laid with the opening of school, said Eisele. Notices were sent home so parents could discuss with students whether or not they wanted to participate.
Students who chose to sell merchandise had packets illustrating the goods, which ranged in price from a few dollars on up.
Although the merchandise was not religious, Eisele said, many people bought it for holiday giving.
Some parents called, Eisele said, upset when merchandise hadn’t arrived. "They notified us there were delays in delivery," she said of IPI.
"Then some people started receiving the things and we thought, ‘Great, it’s late but it will be in time for Christmas.’"
But then deliveries stopped again. "By December 12, we really started to realize things were going bad," said Eisele. "Then our rep got an e-mail saying everyone is laid off, our doors are closed, no one is getting a refund."
This was on Dec. 14, just before the school holiday break.
A phone chain was set up to inform people of the situation, Eisele said.
The PTA met this past Thursday and set three dates during which it will refund half of each customers money.
"That’s all we have," said Eisele.
The refund sessions will be held at Farnsworth Middle School on Jan. 23 from 6:30 to 8 p.m.; on Jan. 30 from 6:30 to 7 p.m.; and on Feb. 13 from 7 to 8 p.m.
Eisele stressed how concerned the PTA is about the loss to people, especially those who could ill afford it.
"I expected people to be very angry," Eisele said. "People brought these [sales packets] into their places of work and over to their neighbors.
"For the most part, people have been very understanding," she concluded. "I’ve just been amazed at the support from parents."
Programs to be cut
"This is our only fund-raiser," said Eisele.
The money goes for a wide variety of school projects and programs.
Grants are given to teachers that have funded such things as the schools butterfly garden or a poetry jam where students recite their work.
The Farnsworth PTA also funds celebrations for students both entering and leaving the school. Theres a sixth-grade ice-cream social so elementary students coming into the school can get to know each other and there is an eighth-grade moving-up program as students prepare to leave for the high school.
"We help with the dance; we decorate the gym. It’s like a graduation celebration," said Eisele.
Asked what the PTA will do now without its funds, Eisele said, "We had a board meeting to look at each of the programs...We may not be able to do the grants. We’re definitely committed to Moving Up Day; we’ll put together something that will not cost a lot."
Eisele said that contributions from anyone who wants to help make up for the fund-raising loss are welcome.
"Anyone who wants to help can contact me," she said, giving her phone number 453-6155 and her e-mail address email@example.com.
Asked if the Farnsworth PTA is considering legal action, Eisele said, "According the New York State PTA representative, other PTA’s in the state are in the same situation. The attorney is waiting until all the information is gathered."
JoAnn Incalcatera, treasurer with the New York State PTA, told The Enterprise that, in her 20 years of PTA involvement, "This is probably the biggest impact I’ve seen."
Occasionally, she said, over the years, there has been an isolated incident or two of a PTA getting bilked, but nothing on this scale.
She says she knows, so far, of a half-dozen different PTAs hurt by IPI. The state has 1,500 units and word has been sent out in a newsletter to try to gather more information, she said.
Asked about legal action the state organization might take on behalf of the local PTA’s, Incalcatera said, "It becomes very difficult because each unit enters into contracts individually."
The state organization does put out a resource guide with a section on finances, she said, detailing what PTAs should look for when signing contracts.
Future tips, learned from the IPI experience, Incalcatera said, will include not paying in full for a product until it is received.
"An IPI hook or selling point," she said, "was the materials were mailed directly to the homes so the PTA wouldn’t have to deal with distribution." Most fund-raising companies, she said, send materials to the PTA, which then sends payment.
Another tip, she said, would be to continuously check on a companys status, even it had been solid before and used successfully before.
"Unfortunately," said Incalcatera, "when things do go bad, they go bad quickly."
James Martinez, a spokesman for the National PTA, headquartered in Chicago, said he was unaware of any complaints about IPI until hearing from The Enterprise.
"We rely on state PTA’s to provide information on relevant issues," he said. "No one has raised it."
He did say the national organization has guidelines "tips for choosing companies" when putting on fund-raisers.
"It’s not a policy," he said. "Local PTA’s are free to make their own choices. They’re responsible for running their own finances."
He added, "We encourage PTA’s to take out insurance; that’s not just for an instance like this."
"It was a very unforeseen event," said Farnsworth Principal Mary Summermatter, who is new to Guilderland this school year. "We’ve had many successful fund-raisers in the past," she said, based on what she has learned about the school. "We truly are extremely saddened by this event....We support the PTA 100 percent."
Eisele lauded Summermatter and her secretary, Donna Meister, for being very supportive fielding phone calls and sending out letters to parents.
Asked if the current crisis will change school policies on fund-raising, Summermatter said, "We always look carefully at companies. We are very careful and will continue to scrutinize companies."
Asked what the school will do about events and programs that, in the past, have been paid for with PTA funds, Summermatter said, "We’ll try to do as much as we possibly can. They add so much more," she said of the PTA "It’s a terrible loss."
Asked if children at the school were feeling betrayed or angry by IPIs reneging on its contract, Summermatter said that she meets weekly with the schools counselors and she hasnt heard of any such problems.
"They’re our first line of defense," she said.
She has taken calls from parents, Summermatter said, concluding, "We appreciate the community’s support in every way, shape, and form."
Nabbed: Police charge former school TA
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND A teaching assistant at Farnsworth Middle School who resigned last month was arrested yesterday for endangering the welfare of a child and unlawfully dealing with a child.
Jeffrey G. Kramm, 45, of 12 Crisafulli Drive in Colonie, was arraigned in Guilderland Town Court by Judge John Bailey Wednesday afternoon and sent to Albany Countys jail, pending bail.
Kramms victims were three 13-year-old boys, said Guilderland Police Lieutenant Curtis Cox.
"The school district initiated the investigation back in December because of suspicious behavior," Cox told The Enterprise yesterday.
"It came to our attention he was meeting with students out of school, giving them rides, not to school-sponsored events," said Gregory Aidala, superintendent of the Guilderland schools. "We did not think that should take place, and let him know."
Kramm resigned on Dec. 23, Aidala said.
"This past Monday," Cox said, referring to Jan. 9, "the parents came forward and said activities were continuing."
Asked what, specifically, these activities were, Cox read from the New York State Penal Law for the two misdemeanor charges. For endangering the welfare of a child, he said, Kramm had committed "knowing acts in a manner likely to be injurious to the physical, mental, or moral welfare of a child" younger than 17.
For unlawfully dealing with a child, it meant purchasing and providing for them alcohol and tobacco in the form of cigarettes, Cox. said.
Kramm also purchased various gifts for the boys, gave them money, and provided transportation for them to purchase marijuana at various locations, police said.
"There’s no indication of anything of a sexual nature," Cox said when asked.
"Additional charges are pending," said Cox, stating they were likely.
Guilderland Police are asking anyone who had similar experiences with Kramm to call them at 356-1501. Youth Services and Criminal Investigation are handling the case together, said Cox.
In his 22 years with the Guilderland Police, Cox said, "I don’t recall a situation like this."
He urged, "Any time parents see a relationship like this going from professional to personal, it doesn’t always mean there’s a problem. But they should monitor behavior and call us if there is a problem."
"A few too many"
Superintendent Aidala, an educator for a quarter of a century, said he considered the situation "highly unusual" as well.
He said that Carl Duda, the Guilderland Police officer stationed at Farnsworth as a school resource officer, had pursued the investigation even after Kramm resigned.
Asked if he thought the problem could be more widespread than just the three students, Aidala said he believed it was limited to those few. "But that’s a few too many," he said.
Kramm began working for the district in November of 2001, said Aidala, and he went through the state-required clearance and fingerprinting.
As a teaching assistant, Kramm was not exposed to a wide range of students, Aidala said, perhaps as few as 10 or 15, certainly not as many as 100.
"Teaching assistants work under the supervision of a teacher, in small groups or individually, in a classroom setting, with other students and adults around as well," Aidala said. "They are generally very caring individuals."
Kramm also did one-on-one tutoring for the district, for example, when a student was suspended from school. These tutoring sessions "definitely never took place in his home," said Aidala but rather in public settings like the Guilderland library.
Asked how administrators distinguish between teachers’ healthful involvement with students and behavior that goes awry, Aidala said, "In a general sense, we hope teachers will have good rapport with students, be approachable, friendly, and have high expectations.
"There is a line you have to draw that says the relationship does not involve, for example, providing rides to events outside of school."
Letters about Kramm’s arrest will be sent home to parents today (Thursday), Aidala said. "We’ve alerted our staff. We’ll have social workers available if students have questions. We will be prepared to address any situation that might come up."
Aidala advised parents with questions or concerns to call the Farnsworth principal, Mary Summermatter.
He concluded, "I want to assure the public we realize these are serious allegations. We will cooperate fully with the police. I want parents to know we’re handling the situation."
Officer Davenport suspended
By Matt Cook
ALTAMONT An Altamont Police officer has been suspended in response to a complaint of harassment.
Last week, Colin Abele, of Berne, a clerk at Ketchums Service Store, wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor, accusing Officer Joshua M. Davenport of intimidation and harassment. This week, Altamont Public Safety Commissioner Anthony Salerno announced that he has completed an investigation of the complaint, and the officer has been suspended without pay and will be required to attend human-relations training.
Salerno would not comment further.
Abele received a three-sentence letter from Salerno telling him, "I have been able to make substantiations regarding the complaint." Abele said he hopes Davenport will take the suspension as a lesson on how to deal with the public.
"I don’t think I want him removed from the force," Abele said. "Just change his conduct."
Abele wrote last week that Davenport "repeatedly and consistently used foul, abrasive, and threatening language when approaching me at my place of employment."
Davenport also threatened to give him traffic tickets for things he didnt do, Abele claimed.
"He informed me the reason he had lied about this was to ‘remind’ me who held the ‘upper hand’ in the village because I had been ‘runnin‘ my mouth about the cops,’" Abele wrote.
Salerno will not put The Enterprise in touch with Davenport, whose phone number is unlisted.
Since his letter appeared in the paper, Abele said, he has heard from a number of people with opinions on the issue.
"I’ve even received a couple of phone calls from village residents at my house," Abele said.
While some of the comments counter his complaints, most people he has heard from commend him for coming forward, Abele said.
Last week, Abele said he was leaving his job to avoid further harassment from Davenport. His plans have not changed.
"It’s time for a change anyway," Abele said. "I’m perfectly willing to put this behind me. I hope that he learned some lessons, and I learned some lessons myself. I’m not closed to the idea that I went a little overboard."
McNulty announces bid for re-election
By Jarrett Carroll
ALBANY The mid-term campaigns are well underway with last Mondays public announcement by Michael R. McNulty, at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Albany, that he will seek reelection for his seat in Congress.
"I want to continue to get this area their fair share," the Democratic congressman told The Enterprise.
McNultys district, which encompasses seven counties, is listed by the Associated Press as 45th nation-wide for receipt of federal funds. These counties include Albany, Fulton, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, and Schoharie counties.
McNulty attended last weeks reorganizational meeting at Guilderland Town Hall to show his support for the Democratic victories in the town. He said he was proud of all the accomplishments made by the elected officials in the Guilderland community.
The congressman has been in office since 1988, replacing Sam Stratton, who retired before the end of his term. McNulty has faced no serious threats in Republican challengers, and the Republican Party has not yet named a candidate for the 2006 seat. If reelected this year, McNulty says, his top priorities are to continue fighting for the removal of troops from Iraq and do whatever he can to help create a Democratic Congress in the upcoming mid-term elections.
"It’s time for the Iraqis to step forward and be responsible for their own security," McNulty said about the war in Iraq. Although he voted with the majority to allow Bush to wage war, McNulty says now the war is completely mismanaged by the Bush Administration and a Republican-controlled Congress.
"On the war in Iraq, the president has been wrong every step of the way," he said. The Capital District congressman cited a $277 billion cost for the war and 17,000 dead or wounded American service people as reasons why the Iraqi government needs to be self-reliant. McNulty said he believes the American troops in Iraq should be brought back home this year.
McNulty said that President Bush’s own 9-11 Commission could make no connection between Saddam Hussein and the attack on New York City, and that Osama bin Laden is still alive, plotting to attack America once again. The congressman said these facts "constituted a tremendous failure of the war on terror," by the Bush Administration.
Another major issue the congressman has taken on is defending and protecting the current Social Security system. McNulty does not want the benefits of private citizens to be shifted over to Wall Street, he said.
"I think it’s a very bad idea to put our Social Security system at risk," said McNulty, who adds financial institutions should not be allowed to make money off working-class America.
Restoring social programs for the working poor and lower-class Americans is high on the priority list for McNulty. According to McNulty, the Republican party’s "policy of Robin Hood in reverse, stealing from the poor to give to the rich, by cutting social programs and giving money to the people who don’t need it," no longer works for America.
The congressmen attributes his accomplishments and long-standing tenure in Congress to the people he represents. In the last election, McNulty won by over 70 percent of the vote and carried all of his counties, including the five counties in his district that are Republican. He ran against Warren Redlich, a Guilderland lawyer.
When asked if he is looking for continued support from the town of Guilderland, the Hilltowns, and surrounding areas McNulty told The Enterprise, "You bet I am, they have all been very good to me in past elections."
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