Trump’s wall could take money from military housing, base repairs

guvendemir/iStock(WASHINGTON) — Family housing for service members in Wisconsin and South Korea, schools on military bases in Germany, and upgrades to Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Air Force bases in Alaska could be on the chopping block with President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration to use billions in military construction money to build a border wall.

The president declared a national emergency from the White House Rose Garden Friday after signing the declaration, a move administration officials argued would free up funds appropriated by Congress for military construction to help build the wall, and allow Trump to deliver on his campaign pledge after congressional Democrats repeatedly rejected his demands.

Under the terms of the declaration, the administration would have access to $3.5 billion from the Pentagon’s military construction budget, along with $2.5 billion from the Pentagon’s drug interdiction program and $600 million from the Treasury Department’s drug forfeiture fund.

The $3.5 billion in military construction funds could be taken from a wide range of projects, including landing pads and maintenance facilities for the new F-35 fighter jet in California; waste management facilities at Guantanamo Bay; a high school for military children in Japan; and special operations forces training facilities in North Carolina, according to a list of projects provided to ABC News by a congressional aide.

When asked whether the decision could harm morale in the military and among military families, Trump claimed Friday that military officials told him they felt the border wall was more important than the projects that could be canceled or delayed.

“Some of them haven’t been allocated yet and some of the generals think that this is more important. I was speaking to a couple of them. They think this is far more important than what they were going to use it for. I said: ‘What were you going to use it for?’ and I won’t go into details, but didn’t sound too important to me,” Trump said.

A senior administration official said lower priority military construction projects, such as repairs that could wait until next year, would be targeted. The official insisted nothing that impacts lethality or readiness would be impacted.

While it’s still unclear exactly which projects will be targeted, some projects on the list of vulnerable projects include special operations forces training centers and operations facilities for Navy SEAL training. Delay of construction of these types of projects could directly affect readiness, ABC News contributor Col. Steve Ganyard, a former Marine Corps pilot, said.

“While some things can afford to slide a year, there are construction plans that go for 10 years. Any time you disrupt long term planning budgets, it has second or third order effects. It’s not as simple as sliding everything one year. It could disrupt a lot of things,” Ganyard said.

And experts also warn about the potential consequences of reallocating $2.5 billion from the Pentagon’s drug interdiction program.

Those funds are usually used to fund federal, state, and local law enforcement investigations into drug traffickers and violent gangs, according to ABC News Contributor John Cohen, a former Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary.

“The Department of Defense interdiction monies are used to pay for intelligence-gathering, are used to fly airplanes and to support ships that are in the ocean that are actually interdicting loads of drugs en route United States,” Cohen told ABC News’ Devin Dwyer.

“In a sense, we’re taking money from effective operational programs and putting them to support a wall which will have at best a marginal impact on drugs flying into the country,” Cohen said.

The plan is also being met with resistance even from Republican senators on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. James Risch said: “If it has to be that way … leave MilCon alone.”

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5 victims, shooter dead; 5 police officers injured in Aurora active shooter situation

Chalabala/iStock(CHICAGO) — Five victims were killed and at least five police officers were injured by gunfire in Aurora, Illinois when a gunman opened fire in an industrial warehouse, according to authorities.

The gunman, identified as Gary Martin, 45, was killed by responding police officers, according to Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman.

The shooting unfolded at the Henry Pratt Company, a warehouse in Aurora, a town about 40 miles west of Chicago.

The first 911 calls came in at 1:24 p.m. local time, according to Ziman. She said that Aurora police officers were on scene within four minutes “and were fired upon immediately.”

SWAT teams entered the 29,000 square foot warehouse to locate Martin, Ziman said. When they found him, they engaged him in gunfire, ultimately killing him.

Law enforcement sources told ABC Chicago affiliate WLS late Friday night that Martin was told Friday he was being fired from the company where he had worked for about 15 years as an assembler, and that it was during his termination meeting that he produced his gun and began firing, then went out into the plant at large and continued shooting.

People who escaped the building when the shooting began described the chaos inside.

John Probst, a Henry Pratt employee who escaped, described to WLS seeing a man holding a pistol equipped with a laser sight, shooting indiscriminately. Probst told WLS he recognized the shooter as a coworker, though authorities have not confirmed whether Martin was employed there.

There would have been approximately 30 people in the building at the time of the shooting, Probst said.

Another witness who escaped the building with Probst and later ended up hiding out in a nearby home, described the chaos and confusion inside, and his split-second decision to flee.

“We got out of the back door as soon as we heard shots,” Howard Sebby told ABC News. “We saw one guy get shot, he was a co-worker, he was shot in the arm and back, I think they took him to the hospital.”

Sebby also said he saw the shooter “running,” though it was unclear where the gunman may have been going.

Little information about Martin was immediately available. It was not immediately clear whether he has a criminal record in Illinois. WLS reported that Martin was convicted of felony aggravated assault in Mississippi in 1995.

EMERGENCY UPDATE | 3 p.m.

THE SHOOTER HAS BEEN APPREHENDED! The area is still on lock down!

More information will be provided soon.

— City of Aurora, IL (@CityofAuroraIL) February 15, 2019

Aurora police noted that the location has been “secured” but a “continued police presence will remain as investigation [sic] continues.”

Active Shooter Incident has been secured. Shooter is no longer a threat to the area. Continued police presence will remain as investigation continues. Parents please contact your local school districts for dismissal plan https://t.co/P4y7X7K4og

— Aurora (IL) Police (@AuroraPoliceIL) February 15, 2019

Nearby hospital, Rush-Copley Medical Center, tweeted that they have received two patients who are being treated for non-life threatening injuries connected to the shooting.

Rush Copley is assisting those involved in the active shooter incident in Aurora. The hospital has received two patients who are being treated for non-life threatening injuries.

— Rush Copley (@rushcopley) February 15, 2019

The Chicago field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had announced earlier that it responded to the scene.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that the president has been briefed and is monitoring the situation.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, thanked the “brave” first responders, and called it “a scary, sad day for all Illinoisans and Americans.”

“I am monitoring the situation in Aurora, Illinois. This is a scary, sad day for all Illinoisans and Americans. Thank you to the brave first responders who risked their lives this afternoon and apprehended the shooter,” she wrote on Twitter.

I am monitoring the situation in Aurora, Illinois. This is a scary, sad day for all Illinoisans and Americans. Thank you to the brave first responders who risked their lives this afternoon and apprehended the shooter.

— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) February 15, 2019

The Illinois Fraternal Order of Police issued a statement hailing the heroism of the responding officers.

“Every police officer dreads days like this one, yet these four courageous Aurora officers and their colleagues did not hesitate to literally put their lives on the line today to stop further bloodshed,” the statement said. “These four heroes willingly ran into harm’s way to protect their fellow citizens and very nearly paid the ultimate price.”


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Florida man receives $980,000 tax refund after reporting $18,497 in wages

Piotrekswat/iStock(WASHINGTON) — A Florida man who reported $18,497 in wages is in trouble after he received a $980,000 tax refund based on a false tax return that he filed, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Tampa, Florida.

The complaint, which was filed Jan. 18, said the tax refund came after Ramon Christopher Blanchett reported $1,000,000 in federal income tax withheld on one of his forms.

Blanchett, according to the complaint, had reported wages from two employers on his 2016 Federal Income Tax Return form, which he self-prepared and filed on Feb. 21, 2017.

The complaint said Blanchett described himself as a “free-lancer.” On one form, Blanchett listed his employer as Bridges Nursing and Rehabilitation and said he was paid $17,098, with $1,000,000 of federal income tax withheld. The complaint said Blanchett was actually paid $2,098 in wages, with no income tax withheld.

“Based on Blanchett’s submission of the Form 1040, falsely representing that $1,000,000 in taxes had been withheld, the U.S. Treasury issued check number 403808854305, made payable to Blanchett, for $980,000,” the complaint said.

Blanchett’s other form listed his employer as Sizzling Platter, LLC. in Murray, Utah and reported $1,399 in wages with no federal income tax withheld, which the complaint said was accurate.

The complaint said Blanchett deposited the money into two SunTrust accounts, then was given a cashier’s check for the $980,000 after his funds were frozen for suspected fraud in May 2018. He then opened a Grow Financial Money Market account in July by depositing the cashier’s check, claiming the money was from “the estate of his deceased father,” according to the complaint.

The complaint said IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) seized $919,251.94 from three Grow Financial Credit Union accounts in Blanchett’s name, as well as a 2016 Lexus RC 350 that he purchased with the money. Blanchett also had $809.94 in a Grow Financial Credit Union account, which the complaint said came from a refund from Progressive Insurance when he canceled his car insurance.

There was no attorney listed for Blanchett.

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Texts between right-wing protester and Portland police prompt investigation

Karen Ducey/Getty Images(PORTLAND) — An investigation is underway into text messages that a police lieutenant exchanged with the leader of a right-wing group amid violent protests in Portland, Oregon.

Portions of the text messages, obtained by local newspaper The Willamette Week, show conversations between Portland Police Lt. Jeff Niiya and Joey Gibson, the leader of a group called Patriot Prayer.

The Willamette Week reported that some of the text messages, which were obtained through a public records request, shows Niiya warning Gibson that one of his associates who may have had a warrant out for his arrest should avoid doing “anything which may draw our attention.”

In others, Gibson acknowledges that the fact that he was running for Senate — a bid he ultimately lost — would likely draw more attention to the protests in 2018.

“I will be using Portland and Seattle protesters as a part of the campaign so it will impact you guys unfortunately, so I appologize [sic] now ahead of time,” Gibson reportedly wrote in one of the texts to Niiya.

Portland mayor Ted Wheeler described the text messages as “disturbing” and has called for a “thorough investigation of this matter.”

“It is imperative for law enforcement to remain objective and professional, and in my opinion, these text messages appear to cross several boundaries,” Wheeler said in a statement released Thursday.

For his part, Gibson believes the issue is being overblown and he believes the texts show he and Niiya simply being respectful of one another.

“I do this with police officers all over the country wherever I go, [I] just like to have some open communication,” Gibson said in a video he posted to Facebook on Thursday in response to the Willamette Weekly story.

“Now most of the police officers that I talk to are very respectful. That doesn’t mean they like me it doesnt mean that they back me, but they’re very professional and they want to basically do everything they can to de-escalate things whenever possible. It’s just common sense when you have potential violence that’s going to erupt … it’s very important to have open communication with the police so that we know what to expect from one another,” Gibson said in the Facebook video.”

Gibson added that Niiya “truly did not want violence.”

“That’s what I saw. He did not want conflict, he did not want groups clashing with one another,” he said.

The Portland Police Bureau shared a statement with ABC News confirming that the department “continues to look into the public records that have been released this week.”

“There is an on-going investigation and the Bureau cannot comment further on details involving personnel matters. While this investigation proceeds, direction has been given to Lieutenant Niiya to cease any further conversation with any event organizers. Additionally, Lieutenant Niiya is not participating in Rapid Response Team (RRT)-related activities until an investigation can be completed,” the Portland Police Bureau said in a statement.

Police chief Danielle Outlaw said in the statement that it is “imperative that we come together to hear people’s concerns and ideas.”

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Border agent unlawfully detained 2 women for speaking Spanish, ACLU says in lawsuit

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — A border patrol officer has been accused of unlawfully stopping two women for speaking Spanish at a Montana convenience store, according to a law filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Video of the incident, which occurred in May, went viral at the time.

“Ma’am the reason I asked you for your ID is because you came in here and I saw you were speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of out here,” the officer tells one of the women in a video first released last year.

When the incident was first reported, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Andrew Meehan said speaking Spanish alone “is not enough” to pull someone over or ask for ID.

He added, however, that it’s possible the agent “very well could have been following procedure.”

“[The] agent used a poor choice of words, for sure,” Meehan said in May.

The women said the officer first asked where they were born, then asked to see their ID’s. Responding to questions from the women, the officer in the video maintains they were not racially profiled.

The incident took place in Harve, a small town in northern Montana less than an hour drive from the Canadian border.

A spokesperson said in a statement that CBP does not typically comment on pending litigation.

The ACLU said the incident is consistent with the agency that is “out of control.”

“More broadly, this kind of abusive CBP activity reflects an out-of-control agency emboldened by a vehemently anti-immigrant administration,” the ACLU said in a post explaining the Montana incident.

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2 potential suspects under arrest after attack on ‘Empire’ star Jussie Smollett: Police

ABC News

(CHICAGO) — Two potential suspects in the alleged racial attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett have been arrested, Chicago police said Friday.

Police clarified that the two men were placed under arrest Wednesday night after police met them at the airport.

They have not yet been charged yet, police said.

“Police can detain the potential suspects for an additional 24 hours past the 48 hour holding period under special circumstances, but it must go through the prosecutor’s office and has to be clear process,” police added to ABC News.

Police also confirmed that “they have a relationship with [Jussie].”

This news comes hours after police told ABC News they were classifying them as potential suspects.

“Detectives have probable cause that they may have been involved in an alleged crime and we are working to corroborate the allegations and investigative timeline as our investigation continues,” police said.

They also shut down any reports that there was evidence to classify the alleged attack as a hoax.

“While we haven’t found any video documenting the alleged attack, there is also no evidence to say that this is a hoax,” police added. “The alleged victim is being cooperative at this time and continues to be treated as a victim, not a suspect.”

Chicago PD had confirmed Thursday that they identified and were questioning the two “persons of interest” in the alleged racial attack. One of them has previously appeared on “Empire,” according to a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation.

Police say they were tracking the two suspects and were aware of who they were “for a while,” and that investigators learned that the two individuals were returning to Chicago on Wednesday from Nigeria.

The two suspects are U.S. citizens of Nigerian descent, they added.

Detectives also questioned Smollett Thursday, the official said.

Attorney Gloria Schmidt, who is representing the two persons of interest, told Chicago CBS station WBBM that her clients were detained at O’Hare Airport Wednesday evening and were unaware of the attack on Smollett.

“When they first learned what happened to him, they were horrified,” Schmidt said. “This is someone that they know, this is someone that they work with, so they don’t want to see somebody go through that … They really don’t understand how [police] even got information that linked them to this horrific crime, but they’re not guilty of it.”

Late last month, Smollett, who portrays a gay musician on Fox’s “Empire,” told police he was brutally attacked in what authorities are calling a suspected hate crime.

He said the attackers put a noose around his neck, poured an unknown substance, likely bleach, on him and used their hands, feet and teeth as weapons in the assault, according to police. Smollett said the attackers also yelled “This is MAGA country” during the attack.

He was subsequently hospitalized and released, local authorities said.

In his first interview since police say he was attacked last month, the singer and actor said on “Good Morning America” that he was heartbroken when he found out that people questioned the details of his story.

“I have to acknowledge the lies, and the hate. And it feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me much more. A lot more,” Smollett, 36, told ABC News’ Robin Roberts. “And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now.”

Prior to the police identifying and interviewing the two persons of interest, Smollett said he believes the two men in the photo released by police in the days after the attack are the perpetrators.

“I don’t have any doubt in my mind that that’s them,” Smollett said. “Never did.”

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Alligator found during drug bust at Pennsylvania home: Authorities

Chester County District Attorney(CHESTER COUNTY, Pa.) — A drug raid in northeastern Pennsylvania turned up more than heroin and crack — police also discovered a 3-foot-long alligator.

“When we execute a drug search warrant, we never know what we will find,” Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan said in a statement Thursday. “Sometimes it is an armed drug dealer. Sometimes it is the drug dealer’s terrified family. On this day, it was an alligator.”

The juvenile American alligator was living in the kitchen of the Chester County home, some 40 miles northwest of Philadelphia, where authorities executed a search warrant last week.

An adult American alligator grows to be 8 to 10 feet long.

Police also found heroin, crack cocaine, marijuana, suspected fetanyl, drug paraphernalia, material for packaging and selling drugs, and more than $5,000 in cash, according to the Chester County District Attorney’s Office.

“Drug dealers will do just about anything to project an image of danger in order to protect their drugs and cash,” Hogan said. “Some drug dealers use pit bulls or snakes. These drug traffickers kept an alligator in the house. But at the end of the day, the police seized their drugs and money, and the alligator is headed to the zoo.”

Irvin “Gotti” Hawkins, 31, Aki Gathright, 35, and Tyrone Jackson, 40, were all at the residence in South Coatesville, which Hawkins was renting, authorities said. The three men were arrested for drug trafficking and related offenses.

There is no separate charge for possession of an alligator under Pennsylvania criminal law, according to the district attorney’s office.

The alligator was placed in the care of the Brandywine Zoo in Wilmington, Del. The zoo will house the reptile through the summer before transferring it to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park in Florida.

“We will provide care for the alligator and ensure it is healthy during its stay with the zoo,” said Brint Spencer, Brandywine Zoo’s director, in a statement Thursday.

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California Lyft driver rescues toddler found alone in the rain

Santa Rosa Police/Facebook(SANTA ROSA, Calif.) — Del Hedrick was driving for Lyft and had just dropped off a passenger at an apartment complex when something startled him.

“I see a baby, right in front of the car!” he said, according to ABC affiliate KGO. “Rain is pouring, it’s 40 degrees outside and I froze. It was scary. It was a really scary moment.”

The father of two jumped into action, scooping up the toddler from the Santa Rosa, Calif., apartment complex parking lot around 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday night.

“She was barefoot, soaking wet, onesie soaking, wet hair, full diaper — yeah, it was heartbreaking,” he said.

Hedrick knocked on some nearby doors to try and find the toddler’s caretakers. But when nobody recognized her, he took the toddler into his car and turned on the heat, trying “to warm her up and calm her down,” he said.

A video shot by Hedrick and posted by the Santa Rosa Police
shows Hedrick in his car with the toddler, explaining what had happened.

“Cops are on their way,” he said in the video.

Santa Rosa Police arrived soon after and were able to locate the toddler’s family and reunite her with them, the department said in a Facebook post.

The case does not involve neglect or abuse, police told KGO, and the toddler likely walked out an unlocked door. ABC News has reached out to Santa Rosa Police for more information.

In the Facebook post, Santa Rosa Police praised Hedrick as a “community hero,” saying his “actions demonstrate how we all work together to keep our community safe.”

While the toddler is now safe at home, Hedrick was shaken by the incident, according to KGO, and hugged his own kids tight when he got home that night.

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Water rushes onto bus as driver plows through flooded street in California

Twitter/@EricaJoy(OAKLAND, Calif.) — Passengers on a public transit bus in Oakland, California, were up to their ankles in water after a driver plowed through a flooded intersection on Thursday.

The Bay Area has been deluged by record rains this week, causing streets to flood around the region. But one driver’s decision to risk the rising waters has him in trouble with his bosses.

A rider shared video of an AC Transit bus plowing through water several feet deep near the Port of Oakland. The water was higher than the bus’s tires and immediately flooded the interior of the vehicle. Riders can be seen lifting their feet to avoid the rising water.

Erica Joy, who filmed the video, can be heard saying, “That’s wild,” after the bus reached the other side.

Driving through standing water is against AC Transit policy and is part of the company’s training program, officials said.

“No operator with AC Transit is ever instructed to drive through standing water. That is absolutely against all procedure and protocol as well as their nine-week training,” AC Transit spokesman Robert Lyles told San Francisco ABC station KGO-TV.

Lyles said an investigation is underway and the driver could face disciplinary action.

“We don’t expect a bus to drive through standing water and we don’t expect riders to be on buses that are going through standing water,” Lyles said.

The intersection was later closed, though in the interim KGO filmed dozens of cars and trucks driving through the water. A BMW stalled in the deep water before being pushed out by a semitrailer.

San Francisco received a daily record of 2.5 inches of rain on Wednesday, while Oakland saw 1.46 inches. Oakland saw another 0.89 inches of rain on Thursday. Venado, which is about 90 minutes north of San Francisco, received over a foot of rain in the past two days.

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Nine Louisiana State University students arrested over fraternity hazing

BlakeDavidTaylor/iStock(BATON ROUGE, La.) — Nine members of a fraternity at Louisiana State University were arrested Thursday in connection to hazing activities that allegedly took place throughout the fall semester, officials said.

The university confirmed that Charles Eugene Brakenridge, 23, Blake Andrew Chalin, 20, Cade Rain Duckworth, 23, Gaston Thomas Eymard, 23, Shakti P. Gilotra, 22, Joseph Dylan Harkrider, 19, Malcolm Richard McNiece, 23, Alexander Joseph Rozas, 23, and Garrett Joseph Sanders, 21, all were booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on charges ranging from criminal hazing to felony battery.

The young men, who are current and former students, all were members of the university’s now-closed chapter of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.

“This type of behavior is unacceptable and at complete odds with what we expect from our students. It does not belong at LSU,” Jason Droddy, interim vice president for strategic communications at Louisiana State University, said in a statement Thursday. “This is a sad day for the university, but one that illustrates the cultural shift occurring at LSU.”

The Louisiana State University Police Department received a report of hazing involving the Delta Kappa Epsilon chapter on Jan. 18. Subsequent interviews with several pledges, or probationary members attempting to join the fraternity, determined that numerous hazing incidents took place throughout the fall semester, between Aug. 20 and Dec. 8, according to arrest affidavits.

During interviews with police, pledges described incidents in which they were struck with a pipe, punched, kicked and slapped. Most pledges also spoke about an incident in which McNiece poured gasoline on a pledge, who then had trouble seeing because some of the fluid had gotten in his eyes and he had to rush to the shower, according to the arrest affidavits.

One pledge described an incident in which he was forced to strip down to his underwear and climb into an ice machine that was filled with water and ice, where he was made to stay for 30 to 45 minutes and feared he would be “beaten up” if he didn’t obey. He was then taken out and made to lay on top of broken glass on a nearby basketball court. Another pledge was forced to lie face down next to him while they were both “sprayed with a hose, had milk crates thrown at them and were urinated on,” according to the arrest affidavits.

The pledge told police that Duckworth was the individual who made him get into the ice machine and “actively participated” while he was lying on the basketball court, according to the arrest affidavits.

Duckworth and McNiece are not registered students this semester, and Duckworth also was not enrolled in the fall 2018 semester, when the alleged hazing incidents occurred, the university said.

Duckworth faces the most serious charges, including criminal hazing, felony battery and false imprisonment, according to the arrest affidavits.

Duckworth, McNiece and the seven other defendants in the case did not immediately respond to ABC News’ requests for comment.

Delta Kappa Epsilon’s national organization said it cooperated with police in the investigation and “acted decisively” last month in shuttering its chapter at Louisiana State University “upon learning of extremely disturbing hazing allegations.”

“In our ongoing educational programming regarding hazing prevention, we emphasize to our undergraduates that individuals should and will be held accountable for their actions,” the fraternal organization said in a statement Thursday. “We will continue our efforts to eliminate hazing where ever and whenever it occurs.”

It’s not the first time fraternity members at the Louisiana State University have been investigated for hazing. In September 2017, 18-year-old Maxwell Gruver died after authorities said he and other pledges were forced to drink during an alleged hazing ritual at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity’s on-campus house.

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