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There ought to be a (revised) law

Tuesday, Jan 26, 2016

* Ugh

Civil forfeiture is basically a money grab by government.

Under these laws, cops can seize property that they say is being used to commit a crime or was purchased with money they say came from doing something illegal.

The problem: The person doesn’t even have to be convicted of a crime in order for the government to confiscate the property.

Instead of seizing the yachts of drug kingpins, too often cops are nabbing the cars from little old ladies.

Don’t think so? Ask Judy Wiese of Moline.

She is a 70-year-old woman who cleaned houses and lived on $730 a month.

As first reported by the The Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, she lent her 2009 Jeep Compass to a grandson so he could drive to work.

The car was seized by police because the grandson’s driver’s license was revoked.

She told the newspaper that her grandson had told her otherwise.

Regardless, Judy hadn’t broken any laws. She was just a grandma helping out a grandson.

That was back in August. And this month she was still fighting to get the car back.

It seems that even though she did not commit a crime, she had to go to court and prove that her car was not connected to a crime nor was it the proceeds of crime.

She couldn’t afford a lawyer, struggled to write legal motions and was scolded by a judge for not having something notarized.

When her case ended up in the newspaper, a lawyer volunteered his services and her car was returned after being held for months.

You gotta be kidding me.

* But it’s all too real…

* Forfeiture law means woman paying for grandson’s crime

* Woman’s Jeep seized for grandson’s crime to be returned

* Editorial: Join chorus, demand due process in forfeiture laws

* Editorial: Let Wiese case spark reexamination of Illinois’ forfeiture laws: Equally importantly, we urge all who were moved by Ms. Wiese’s case to be energized and involved in demanding a reexamination of unfair forfeiture laws that allow governments to take the property of Illinois citizens without ever convicting them of a crime.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - WutBudget - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:17 pm:

    Fantastic overview of civil forfeiture given by John Oliver:

  2. - 360 Degree TurnAround - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:19 pm:

    the Governor is probably looking for things to say in his state of the state, since he has no accomplishments, maybe he can talk about this.

  3. - 360 Degree TurnAround - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:19 pm:

    Grass Bowl, get me an executive order on this, stat!

  4. - Concerned - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:19 pm:

    Thank you for focusing a light on this “for profit” police tool. However well-intentioned the concept, civil asset forfeiture has turned priorities upside down, created a powerful incentive for law enforcement agencies to grab “low hanging fruit” and generally made a mockery of the twin concepts of innocent until proven guilty (beyond a reasonable doubt” and punishment follows culpability.

  5. - Just Observing - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:20 pm:

    Civil forfeiture is a big fraudulent, vile government scam. Law enforcement agencies all over the U.S. are interested in lining their budgets by hook, nook, or crook.

    Learn more here:

  6. - plutocra03 - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:20 pm:

    There is a hunger for asset forfeitures because money accrues to the arresting department’s coffers.

    As always happens, a good idea morphs into something that ensnares innocent people. It is past time to bring due process into asset forfeiture programs.

  7. - cdog - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:21 pm:

    Could happen to anyone. Very sad. Good for the reporters and attorney that righted this wrong.

  8. - Shanks - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:23 pm:

    …Yep…I agree, this law needs to be revised. For the government to take property/money, there needs to be a conviction and it needs to be reasonable that the property/money was illegally obtained. I am all for taking money from criminals…not innocent people.
    And for revoked license, she needed to prove how she purchased her vehicle? C’mon.

  9. - Ghost - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:31 pm:

    articles aren’t loading…. i thought this typemof forfeiture required drug crimes.

    two quick points 1. if the tequire a criminal conviction to seize, then all property invlved in crime will be placed in the name of a law abiding straw man. the conviction of owner is a giant red herring. the question is teally whether the property was used in a crime. cant mess with motives or every crim will unvolve grannies house and car.

    2 forfieture for drug crimes in general is way over heavy handed. we ned to seriously reeavulate the war on drugs. particuarly since we allow oxycodone freely to those with resoruces. most of our jails could be emptied if we turned drug use and sales into fines UNLESS there was an attached violent offense. get caught selling drug, pay money. get caught selling drugs and you have a weapon… forfeiture, jail time, and get soaked in brine….

  10. - Slick Willy - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:31 pm:

    Even the two men that developed the policy for the Feds are calling for its discontinuation due to rampant abuse. I mean, what could possibly go wrong when you have a policy that provides police with a profit motive, there is no meaningful standard of proof required to seize the asset and the burden of innocence is placed directly on the property owner?

  11. - Mason born - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:34 pm:

    This is a golden oppurtinity for the executive and legislative branches to put aside their differences and right a wrong both at the state and federal level. Who knows it might actually start a trend.

  12. - D.P.Gumby - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:35 pm:

    This is exactly what happens when public agencies are turned into unregulated capitalist vultures, which happens when public agencies are starved for operating funds.

  13. - Dr X - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:38 pm:

    Jeep gone? Madigan

  14. - Judgment Day (On The Road) - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:40 pm:

    “Civil forfeiture” has been turned into open ended administrative corruption.

    Try finding out from any LE agency (at any level) exactly how much Civil forfeiture they have done.

    This is an area where not only do we need Due Process (because there isn’t any), but we also need transparency (which, if it’s possible, we even have less of).

    There’s just a lot of transparency issues that need to be addressed with Civil forfeiture:

    What property/items are they seizing from who? If Civil forfeiture happens, what charges were filed? If no charges were filed, what is the legal basis for the Civil forfeiture?

    IMO, Law Enforcement in general needs to understand something. When they use Civil forfeiture to in effect ‘legally steal’ people’s possessions, folks don’t just forget that.

    And because most of the time, Civil Forfeiture happens to everyday folks, before long there’s a real wedge driven between law enforcement and the general public.

    Short term profitable, medium and long term unbelievably foolish.

  15. - crazybleedingheart - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:41 pm:

    More sneak-tax on the poor and middle-class.

    Raise honest revenue, fairly.

  16. - NIU Grad - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:43 pm:

    The worst part is that this isn’t a hidden tool by police departments. In fact, they’ll show off by promoting that they’re being “tough on criminals” but not on taxpayers. Sycamore recently publicized the purchase of top-of-the-line cruisers using this policy, as did the DeKalb County Sheriff. Local governments don’t want to challenge it, because it’s removing line items from the budget and saving money. Only state/federal reform can clean that up.

  17. - frisbee - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:44 pm:

    I used to pass out pamphlets for Forfeiture Endangers American Rights when I was in college. Glad to see more people finally talking about this policing for profit, nevertheless it is unfortunate this grandmother got caught up in this mess.

  18. - crazybleedingheart - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:46 pm:

    ==In fact, they’ll show off by promoting that they’re being “tough on criminals” but not on taxpayers.==

    Yes, the eternal optimistic self-definition of the American people is their undoing.

    Give to the rich, I’ll be one someday.
    Take from the poor, that will never happen to me.
    Punish the criminals, they don’t live in my house.
    Bleed those who make bad choices, mine are above reproach.

  19. - Anotheretiree - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:52 pm:

    I would add to this injustice the laws about “structuring” that can make it a crime to take your own money out of the bank. These situations are the end result of the conservative get tough on crime mantra. The very people who decry Gov power and individual rights.

  20. - blogman - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:54 pm:

    Not only do the police departments profit but so do the State’s Attorneys Offices. There seems to be very little accounting for the amounts of money or cars or other property seized. They are very aggressive in DUI cases too. Try to find out how much they receive annually.

  21. - Beaner - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:55 pm:

    This is a greasy program, often without the financial controls and oversight taxpayers expect. Forfeit assets are not always spent in the manner dictated by statute. I rank it right up there with the Casino industry. I sincerely doubt Asset Forfeiture is applied in any kind of fair or equal basis.

  22. - Huh? - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:56 pm:

    The City of Petersburg has a pickup truck with a bold label stating the vehicle had been seized by the police using this law.

  23. - Former State employee - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:56 pm:

    Rich, thanks for focusing on this

  24. - Hank - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:58 pm:

    Scott Reeder’s single sentence writing style annoys to no end. Not to mention his “blame government for everything” mentality.

    Though in this case, government’s obviously the problem.

  25. - Skirmisher - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:59 pm:

    Thank you for shining another light on this outrage. No one in this country should be deprived of their property without due process, and I include even the worst villains as having this basic protection of the law.

  26. - crazybleedingheart - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:59 pm:

    ==- blogman - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:54 pm:

    Not only do the police departments profit but so do the State’s Attorneys Offices. There seems to be very little accounting for the amounts of money or cars or other property seized. They are very aggressive in DUI cases too. Try to find out how much they receive annually.==


  27. - Anony - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 1:00 pm:

    The Illinois State Police for FY16 submitted their requested budget to the General Assembly last year with a $2mil line item INCREASE for Civil Assit Forfeiture. In FY14 and FY15 this line item was $2mil, and it jumped to $4mil for FY16.

    That is one heck of an increase from year to year, taking people’s money. Be careful traveling with cash on the interstate.

  28. - Flannery Fan - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 1:02 pm:

    Well I’ll be doggoned!

  29. - Mama - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 1:12 pm:

    Either the city of Moline or the court should refund Judy Wiese of Moline for all the money she lost due to fighting for her rights to get her car back.

  30. - Mama - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 1:16 pm:

    “The Illinois State Police for FY16 submitted their requested budget to the General Assembly last year with a $2mil line item INCREASE for Civil Assit Forfeiture. In FY14 and FY15 this line item was $2mil, and it jumped to $4mil for FY16.”
    The Civil Assit Forfeiture is one line-item the guv should veto!

  31. - Beaner - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 1:18 pm:

    A problem is neither the police nor State Attorney are required to use common sense to apply the Statute. The rule is to go after the big profits of big drug runners. I once audited the State Police’s operation and can tell you 18 year old kid in an old car was on his way to Ann Arbor for his Freshman year at Michigan. He was pulled over and had a pellet rifle in the back seat, along with all his worldly possessions. The trooper asked him about drugs and the kid popped the trunk and gave the officer a tin with two gram of cannabis…just enough to role a joint with your new friends at college. He lost ALL his possessions, car, $750 cash he had on him, clothes, all of it. I have scene baby cribs taken in asset forfeiture, dishes and pots and pans from the kitchen and flat ware. The Illinois State Police…watch out, they are professional thieves. Sadly, this is all fact and no exaggeration. They will even take your baby’s crib.

  32. - Rufus - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 1:21 pm:

    Judge Gregory Chickris and Assistant State’s Attorney Justin Umlah — nominate for Jerks of the Year award.

  33. - Wondering Woman - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 1:26 pm:

    “most of our jails could be emptied if we turned drug use and sales into fines UNLESS there was an attached violent offense. get caught selling drug, pay money. get caught selling drugs and you have a weapon… forfeiture, jail time, and get soaked in brine….”

    But then wouldn’t jail just become a debtors prison for those who can’t afford the fines?

  34. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 1:39 pm:

    It’s hard to believe this un-American nonsense still goes on.

    I’ve been hot on this issue for years. You won’t find a lawmaker, anywhere, federal or state, anywhere on the spectrum, who is not aware of this abuse and “wants to do something about it.”

    Enough already. No more talk. I don’t understand why these abuses have not been ended by now.

  35. - And The Kicker Is... - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 1:40 pm:

    An innocent woman like Wiese goes through heck to get her car back and prays that the ever-mounting storage fees don’t exceed the value of the car. But, if there’s a lien on the vehicle, by a title loan company or Honest John’s Used Car Lot–We Cater To People With No Credit, the vehicle in question gets returned to the lender almost immediately.

    Why should loan sharks get vehicles back almost immediately, without hiring lawyers, when Wiese and countless others are treated like criminals?

  36. - @MisterJayEm - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 1:44 pm:

    Like so many aspects of the War on Drugs, this draconian measure was proposed as a way to combat kingpins, but its effects have rippled far across society.

    – MrJM

  37. - thechampaignlife - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 1:49 pm:

    This is an entirely predictable outcome. What would you expect when the system has the beneficiaries of property seizures be the ones that determine when property should be seized? For that matter, the municipality that the police report to should not be the beneficiary either.

    Ideally, the money would go to the local school district or some other completely arms length entity (e.g. local food back, homeless shelter, etc).

  38. - Menard guy - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 1:52 pm:

    The Illinois Securities Department has seized millions in proceeds from securities fraud in Illinois. 100% of it has been returned to the victims of those crimes. Be careful you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water here. The fact is, no matter who seizes property in Illinois, the owners of that property always have due process. There’s more to grandma’s story. Had she come in with a notarized affidavit and a title, she likely would’ve gotten her car back immediately. The police are not the bad guys here, and the forfeiture laws are not draconian. They are complex, and people need to understand them before they bash them.

  39. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 1:55 pm:

    ===forfeiture laws are not draconian. They are complex===

    And that complexity makes them draconian to a working poor grandma who didn’t do a thing wrong other than lend her grandson her car.


  40. - Travelguy - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 1:58 pm:

    Rauner failed to fulfill his constitutionally-required duty of presenting a balanced budget. Can we use this law to seize some assets for the people?

  41. - Menard guy - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 2:02 pm:

    No, you’re wrong Rich. When property is seized, the owners are identified and notified. They are told exactly what they need to do, and given the necessary forms to do it. In most cases it is a simple thing from their perspective, it is complex from the perspective of the officers doing the seizures. This car was never FORFEITED, only SEIZED. There is a reason the kid was revoked, which is conveniently not reported. He wasn’t simply expired or suspended, but permanently revoked, likely for a felony, which means driving grandma’s car could’ve been a felony offense. The key principle to keep in mind with forfeitures is that innocent owners NEVER lose their property. This story is a non story…

  42. - And The Kicker Is... - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 2:10 pm:

    ==This car was never FORFEITED, only SEIZED.==

    Ah, yes. A hugely important distinction. Because it is absolutely possible to drive a seized car, not one that is forfeited. Is that your testimony, sir?

    Sure, she might get her car back, eventually. In the meantime, there is Real Life to be lived. So get real.

  43. - Ahoy! - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 2:12 pm:

    I do not understand how this does not violate property rights. That judge should be reprimanded at the very least. Yes, this law should be revised, but it is just a starting point to a thorough study and action to reduce the abuses of police and the criminal justice system. We’ll see how the police unions cooperate.

  44. - Beaner - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 2:21 pm:

    A great PR program which allows Judges, States Attorneys and Police to become thieves…racist thieves. A horrible program uniformly poorly and unequally enforced without ANY consideration if the individual is involved at all in the drug trade, let alone a big drug dealer.

  45. - Harry - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 2:21 pm:

    Civil forfeiture is one of the worst ideas ever to come down the pike, and letting police departments and court systems keep the money they seize compounds it and gives them an incentive to steal in all but name.

    Original idea was to deny organized crime bosses the use of ill-gotten gains to hire the best lawyers and run out the legal system. But like RICO (supposedly aimed at organized crime) and the PATRIOT Act (terrorists), as soon as it was in place the government started going after the little guys.

    To my mind, a clear violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, but the courts have tended to uphold it. It is not something free citizens, as opposed to cowed subjects, should stand for.

  46. - Harry - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 2:25 pm:

    Oh, and you not only don’t have to be convicted, you don’t even have to be charged. There are cases out there like, “State of XXX vs. $380″ where the name of the person being robbed doesn’t even enter into it because the theory is it is the asset itself that is at fault.

    Menard Guy is WAYYYYY wrong.

  47. - Concerned - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 2:25 pm:

    Menard, the remedy you cite has always been available to the government upon proof of wrongdoing where the government has the burden. The problem I, and many, many others have with forfeiture is that the government is not required to prove anything–the owner of the property has the burden of proof in forfeiture. Impose a requirement that before a forfeiture can occur, the government has to charge the owner with a crime and PROVE it! Neither of those two things are required under existing forfeiture law. That is as wrong as can be.

  48. - anon - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 2:53 pm:

    THis should be an issue that the political left and right can agree upon. Get ‘er done.

  49. - AC - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 2:54 pm:

    These types of laws impact used and classic car buyers as well. Having bank receipts, ebay car deposit receipts, along with names and phone numbers of the car seller hasn’t been enough for some members of law enforcement. Worse, some take advantage of the poor by offering to settle for a fraction of the amount. It’s bad enough that I’d be far more worried about law enforcement than I would be criminals if I were using cash to buy a vehicle. I never knew this extended to the vehicle itself, this is contrary to everything we should stand for as Americans.

  50. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 3:02 pm:

    –THis should be an issue that the political left and right can agree upon.–

    They do. It’s inexplicable, bordering on unforgivable, that there hasn’t been serious movement on this issue.

    The lives wrecked by their procrastination….

    Local governments book projected revenue from this travesty when preparing their budgets.

    Give that a think. They need to “find” the forfeitures to hit their number.

    It’s outrageous.

    One of the many weaknesses in the Obama Administration was it’s unwillingness to address this issue, on all levels. A true failure of presidential leadership.

    The DEA, under its former weirdo reefer madness administrator, gave seminars around the country teaching law enforcement on how they could cash in on this un-American practice.

    Enough, already.

  51. - Steve - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 3:29 pm:

    Can you believe that the Koch brothers have been major donors to IJ? Those Koch brothers always seem to be on the side of the little lady fighting big government. Those Koch brothers must be bad people because , you know, Jane Mayer says so.

  52. - crazybleedingheart - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 3:58 pm:

    ==The key principle to keep in mind with forfeitures is that innocent owners NEVER lose their property. ==

    I get defending your personal cash cow. That’s logical.

    But this sentence is just plain scary, man. This is wacky snake-handler-level unshakeable faith in a system where any “oopsie” in wee considerations like notice, evidence, or fair hearing, results in a giant windfall for the biased, invested mistake-maker.


  53. - kissfan - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 4:00 pm:

    Beaner - Need to get your facts straight. If what you say is true, then the property seized from the kid going to college was transferred back to him without filing. Why may you ask???? Because the 2 grams of weed was not a felony. The cash and bb gun didn’t matter. I’m not saying some young Troop got too deep into something he had little knowledge about but I can guarantee you this case you mentioned was never filed on. Period. I was a M/Sgt in a MEG unit for 16 years and was the asset forfeiture officer for both Investigations and Patrol. If this incident happened, the property would be returned and the Trooper would receive some training to ensure compliance with statutes.

  54. - All the king's men - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 4:44 pm:

    Quick question on this Rich, in the case of a forfeiture where the party to whom the property belonged is not the party responsible for the crime for which the item was forfeited, does the owner have any sort of liability to be seen as accessory to the criminal? Or does that not apply in these cases?

  55. - DuPage Great Grandma - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 5:42 pm:

    Kiss fan @4PM
    The abuse of civil forfeiture law was brought to the public’s attention in 2013 through the New Yorker article “Taken”

    In the cases described no felony was committed. I believe later some of the small towns were such abuse took place were charged with Piracy. Don’t know the outcome.

    But I do believe the laws have been and are abused.

  56. - NoGifts - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 7:02 pm:

    The problem is punishing people by confiscating their property when they have not been convicted of a crime. It has sounded unconstitutional to be from the start.

  57. - Payback - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 8:20 pm:

    In legal history asset forfeiture is an arbitrary remnant of medieval English law from the Dark Ages prior to the Magna Carta in 1215. Property has less rights than people according to this legal theory. An example of this reasoning would be trying and convicting a pig or domestic animal for witchcraft.

    Eminent Domain to seize private property as currently practiced by IDOT is an un-American remnant of a feudal system where all land was owned by the King (the Kings forest, the Kings highway, etc.) and everyone live on the Kings land with permission by fee (feud.)

    You have your house mortgage paid off and the title in “fee simple?” You think you own your house? Don’t pay your taxes (fees) to the sovereign (king) in Illinos and see who owns your house. State sovereignty, national union, the state motto!

  58. - relocated - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 8:27 pm:

    In the last Sangamon county sheriffs race the undersheriff spoke to a civic club about his office’s accomplishments. He spoke at length about the drug interdiction program and made repeated comments about the amount of money and items seized. When asked later in the program why there was little effort being made to stop the flow of a particular illegal drug he replied, pehaps too candidly, “they dont have any money.”

  59. - Blue dog dem - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 9:50 pm:

    Maybe we can use the money from these seizures and provide mandatory, working body cams for all law enforcement.

  60. - Blue dog dem - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 9:51 pm:

    ……and tasers.

  61. - frisbee - Wednesday, Jan 27, 16 @ 8:07 am:

    ====In the last Sangamon county sheriffs race the undersheriff spoke to a civic club about his office’s accomplishments. He spoke at length about the drug interdiction program and made repeated comments about the amount of money and items seized. When asked later in the program why there was little effort being made to stop the flow of a particular illegal drug he replied, pehaps too candidly, “they dont have any money.” ====

    The SJR also ran a story on the Drug Interdiction & Response Team (DIRT) and how it was fully funded by asset forfeitures. I couldn’t find that article but here is just a taste of what they are taking in Sangamon County
    “In addition, the DIRT team seized 377 illegal prescriptions, seven guns, four vehicles and $60,156 in cash. The sheriff’s office can use money it seizes to offset costs the team incurs, Campbell said.”

  62. - Payback - Wednesday, Jan 27, 16 @ 2:13 pm:

    Drug interdiction & response teams sound a lot like “you’re not from around here, are you boy?” Have an older junky car? You get profiled and stopped. Have a nice newer car? You must be a city slicker drug dealer so you get stopped.

    IL & out of state concealed carry license holders should be aware that seizure is spelled out in SB836, which NRA touted as an “improvement” to Rep. Brandon Phelps carry bill when passed on 5-31-2015.

    “Upon the request of the officer, the licensee or non-resident shall also identify the location of the concealed firearm and permit the officer to safely secure the firearm for the duration of the investigative stop.” Continues, “If the licensee or non-resident is transported for treatment to another location, the firearm shall be turned over to any peace officer. The peace officer shall provide a receipt which includes the make, model, caliber, and serial number of the firearm.”

    Notice how the statute does not specify that the peace officer has to return your legally carried firearm. Come down to the station next week and maybe we’ll return your property if we feel like it?

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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