JP Morgan Under OCC Investigation for Serious Debt Collection Abuses; Warnings Ignored for Over Two Years

I bet JP Morgan wishes it never hired Linda Almonte.

American Banker has released the first in what will be a series of stories on debt collection abuses by the New York bank. It confirms critics’ worst accusations against the financial services and belies Jamie Dimon’s tiresome assertions that JP Morgan is better than its peers. Dimon may still be right if you think excelling in abusing and extorting customers is commendable.

The American Banker story discusses the operations of a unit that handled delinquent credit card borrowers. Handling these accounts involved using three different computer systems that communicated reasonably well on current borrowers but not with delinquent or defaulted ones. As a result, the operation had involved a high level of manual checks to make sure the amounts borrowers owed were accurate before they were sent off to collection (which in high population states, was an in-house operation, but for most, involved the use of outside law firms.

In 2008, JP Morgan installed new management in the San Antonio operation that oversaw ligitigation, including the verification of borrower information. Edmond Helaire came in as the lead, and the story makes clear that his newly hired deputy Jason Lazinbat went on a campaign to improve results, procedures be damned. Linda Almonte, who was a process specialist who had worked at WaMu, joined in 2009 and was fired, as she charged in a wrongful termination lawsuit, for refusing to send files to collection that has obvious problems in them. Almonte filed a whistleblower complaint with the SEC in 2010 (see an Abigail Field story for more detail). Her charges:

1. Chase Bank sold to third party debt buyers hundreds of millions of dollars worth of credit card accounts. . .when in fact Chase Bank executives knew that many of those accounts had incorrect and overstated balances.

3. Chase Bank executives routinely destroyed information and communications from consumers rather than incorporate that information into the consumer’s credit card file, including bankruptcy notices, powers of attorney, notice of cancellation of auto-pay, proof of payments and letters from debt settlement companies.

4. Chase Bank executives mass-executed thousands of affidavits in support of Chase Banks collection efforts and those Chase Bank executives did not have personal knowledge of the facts set forth in the affidavits.

Now I’d not expect the SEC to know what to do with this (as in these are not securities law issues) and I don’t know whether she tried complaining to the FTC or the OCC then. However, the American Banker story quotes current and recent employees who confirm that he bad practices that Almonte called out are still very much alive. Specifically:

“We did not verify a single one” of the affidavits attesting to the amounts Chase was seeking to collect, says Howard Hardin, who oversaw a team handling tens of thousands of Chase debt files in San Antonio. “We were told [by superiors] ‘We’re in a hurry. Go ahead and sign them.'”…

The records the law firms used to sue people sometimes differed from Chase’s own files at an alarming rate, according to a routine Chase presentation prepared by Almonte and later submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Some law firms’ records disagreed with Chase’s in almost 20% of cases sampled, a rate far above what is regarded as an acceptable level of errors.

“That’s horrendous,” says a former Chase attorney who was informed of the numbers by American Banker…

Borrower correspondence sent to the San Antonio facility, such as bankruptcy notifications, address changes, and hardship requests were being dropped on an unmanned desk, according to a 2009 printout from Chase’s troubleshooting log….

“I understand there were documents trashed, yes,” she says. [Carol] McGinn retired from the San Antonio facility in June of 2010 after she says she became uneasy with how it was being managed.

And of course, there are robosigners too:

One of Chase’s most prolific affidavit signers was Ruben Alcaraz… By law, collection affidavits require the signer to be familiar with the bank’s pertinent records…

Numerous former employees say that Alcaraz and his colleagues rarely if ever reviewed such files. They routinely signed stacks of affidavits on flights and in meetings, which in some cases were attended by Helaire, Lazinbat and Chase compliance staffers. Nobody objected, Almonte and others say.

Alcaraz also describes himself in the court documents as an “officer of the bank” and an “Assistant Treasurer.” High-level Chase management had instructed the staff to stop signing documents using such titles around the middle of the last decade, four Chase sources say. But Lazinbat ordered them to do it anyway.

One has to assume that Almonte signed a confidentiality agreement as part of the settlement of her suit against JP Morgan. Yet it appears she had decided to step forward again despite the risk of having an army of lawyers come after her:

“This is not an accident anymore,” Almonte now says. “The same people who created this problem at Chase are still in charge. They aren’t going to fix it unless they’re forced to.”

Let’s hope she succeeds. She’s right, of course. The fact that JP Morgan kept Lazinbat in place said it had no intention of shaping up. And one has to assume that the occasional warnings from on high that he should be doing some things differently were seen as pro forma. Put it another way: if the see-no-evil-if-it’s-done-by-bank OCC is taking this case “very seriously,” it’s likely to be every bit as bad as the American Banker account suggests.

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  1. Conscience of a Conservative

    Servicing Conumser and mortage debt just ins’t as profitable as it used to be….

    1. Elizabeth Riggin

      When Banks fail, so does America. Thanks for this info! Knowlege is powerful in this day and age. Only a few ever realize that and hopefully more people will read this post.

  2. psychohistorian

    Thanks for the posting.

    We keep hoping something sticks that changes the dynamics of the game but so far “they” continue to be out of jail and fully in charge.

    1. Mark P.

      Our president has personally stated what an exemplary, astute businessman Mr. Dimon is.

      So, no, nothing will happen and we can froth on the Internet till the cows go home. They are scum and they are running the show.

    2. sgt_doom

      A JPMorgan primer on corporate crime:

      J.P. Morgan Settles SEC Charges in Jefferson County, Ala. Illegal Payments Scheme

      J.P. Morgan to Pay $228 Million to Settle Charges By SEC, Others

      J.P. Morgan Securities to Pay $153.6 Million to Settle SEC Charges of Misleading Investors in CDO Tied to U.S. Housing Market

      J.P. Morgan Chase Simultaneously Settles Charges for $135 Million


      (Way too many to copy — just view all the links there, please!)

  3. LucyLulu

    “Alcaraz also describes himself in the court documents as an “officer of the bank” and an “Assistant Treasurer.” High-level Chase management had instructed the staff to stop signing documents using such titles around the middle of the last decade, four Chase sources say.”

    You have to give them credit, if nothing else, their management policies are consistent across their different businesses.

    Last July I was pursuing a rather intriguing recently recorded document that had been signed by a “Chase VP” out of Monroe, LA. I called the contact number listed which apparently fed into the main switchboard at the lender and requested to speak with the signer. The operator asked her dept and position, I said I only knew that she was a “VP” (having a little fun), probably in the mortgage dept. The operator actually went out of her way to be helpful and spent several minutes tracking the employee down, and told me the employee worked in a different building and location. Two transfers later I was speaking with a different operator, who answered the phone with a professional (not), “Yeah?”, and informed me that she couldn’t put me through to the employee, as said employee had no phone at her desk (and worked 2nd shift so wasn’t there). In fact, employee had no office either, I was told that her desk shared a room with the desks of numerous other employees but I could speak with the employee’s supervisor if I liked (who lied to me, but that’s another story). I could not get a phone number to call back in case we got disconnected, apparently policy prohibits them from giving it out, and when I asked the name of the company and dept I had been connected with, the line went silent. With some additional coaxing, I managed to extract only that I was on the line with “Chase”. As in a one word answer. Oh, and the employee wasn’t in the office anyways because she worked 2nd shift.

    Being the vice president of a bank has never necessarily held much prestige but geeesh……. times must be tough at JPMorgan/Chase these days. This was after the OCC consent orders had been signed, and Monroe, La routinely does the documentation for Chase that comes into this county.

    I was also surprised to see this week that new mortgages are still being executed in the name of MERS. For some reason I just assumed that with all the problems associated with MERS, along with the fall off in securitizations, lenders would have migrated away from the practice. Lenders have no need to practice risk management?

  4. YankeeFrank

    I wonder if this has anything to do with the mass dismissal with prejudice docs Chase’s in-house lawyers have been filing on their own credit card collection cases in NY. A friend was being sued after defaulting and put in a standard answer. A few months later she received the dismissal from Chase. Later I read commenters on NC had similar experiences. That is where I get my notion that this was done en masse, though it could’ve just been coincidence.

  5. Z

    In regards to Linda Almonte, leave it to the women in this country … PLEASE! … at least the ones with power in the corporate world or in the governmental agencies (though I don’t have any idea how much power Almonte had), because they have so much more courage and moral certitude than the males with power. They can’t stomach the corruption while the men in power roll around in it like pigs in mud … they actually seem to lust for it (at least the ones that climb into the upper tiers of those worlds). I don’t think that necessarily holds for the general population; essentially I don’t believe that there is any noticeable gap … or certainly much less of one than in corporate and bureaucratic environments … between men’s and women’s moral behavior.

    I just wished that we had some more women in the political leadership in this country, especially at the federal level (which I don’t think end up being much … if any … better than the men) that realized that you don’t have to strap on a pair of balls to be a leader.

    But I know that it’s not as simple as that … the horse owners that back these candidates want a “certain” breed: pro-war, pro-authoritarian, pro-corporate power … and they won’t finance ANY candidates … men or women … that don’t have that in them.


    1. sgt_doom

      You, of course, are right, Z.

      I mean, the fact that Hillary Clinton was chair of the US-financed Millennium Challenge Corporation (Timothy Geithner, co-chair) when they spent $11 million on private contractors in Honduras, then after the financed overthrow of President Zelay (just ’cause he wanted to raise their national minimum wage by a few pennies, after all), they continued to send said private contractors there another $6.5 million, even though they claimed they had suspended payments.

      And everyone is down with Blyth Masters, creator of the credit default swap, endless CDO variants, and carbon derivatives, so that fraudster Jeremy Rifkin can go around urging everyone to re-fund the banksters by buying them.

      And so many other women involved in the destruction of workers’ rights, the fundamental basis for all other rights — once they destroy workers’ rights (and really in America, they have, and elsewhere) then it’s relatively simple to destroy all other group rights (women, minorities — assuming they actually ever had any, etc.).

      No, guilty and sociopathic women don’t get a free pass, such as sociopathic greedhead men shouldn’t either.

      You may wish to halt your thought-free cognitive processes, and attempt to actually reflect upon reality, for a change.

      Oh, and thankfully due to those firings of the top three dudes at Scotland Yard, they have now re-arrested Rebekaeh Brooks — another one of your criminal non-criminal women, no doubt?

      1. sgt_doom

        Sorry, almost forgot Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state, whose 100% anti-worker voting record, together with her 100% pro-war voting record, define her as another guilty woman, not deserving of one of those free passes.

        (Wonder if she’s related to the Australian Maj.Gen. Cantwell, who is running a major assault on fundamental women’s rights down under?)

      2. Z


        I’m not sure that you are agreeing with me … which you did explicitly … or not … which you seem to be doing implicitly.

        Obviously I was writing in broad generalities and the main point that I was making is that in corporate amerika and the u.s. governmental bureaucracies that women tend to have more moral certitude than the men. It was Bunny Greenhouse that pointed out the corruption and waste of no-bid contracts with halliburton and such, Cathleen Rowley who exposed the fbi’s mistakes leading up to 9-11, and Cheryl Watkins that helped exposed enron’s misdeeds. And then of course there was Brooksley Borne and Elizabeth Warren … though I have thought less of the two as time has passed … and many others. Obviously these are just individual cases, but they add after a while. I do not believe this holds … that women are more moral than men in this country … within the general population and with elected governmental officials in the federal government.

        If you disagree with me, what is it that you disagree with me with? Do you not agree that there seems to be an outsized amount of women doing whistleblowing within corporate amerika and the governmental bureaucracies considering the amount of women that are in positions of power within those entities when compared to the men? AGAIN, I’m not saying that women are inherently more moral than men in this country. I actually suspect that it has something to do with the cultures within these entities that seems to almost absolutely corrupt the men in them as they snake their way to the top, while for some reason the women seem to be less affected.

        I’m a man by the way in case you suspect that I am being biased in this matter by my gender.


      3. Z

        And by the way, I totally agree with this comment of yours:

        ” … guilty and sociopathic women don’t get a free pass, such as sociopathic greedhead men shouldn’t either.”

        No shit. It’s just as damaging to society whether sociopathic actions are initiated by men or women.

        Also, by the way, all but one of your examples do not apply to my hypothesis. Maria Cantwell is an elected federal official, Rebekah Brooks is from England, and Hillary Clinton … who I deplore along with her husband … may have been appointed by obama, but was an elected official and certainly corrupted by the process and falls under that umbrella from my point of view.


        1. JamesW

          In reading the comments and replies, I believe it was sex or gender (i.e., women) which was the subject which may have eluded your response.

          Also, check with any experienced certified fraud examiner: women are in the extreme minority of whistleblowers — while FBI SAC Crowley was an excellent example — she is and was the rarity, the other examples really don’t hold up under close scrutiny.

          Plus, there have been a bunch of male FBI whistleblower types, but receive little to no publicity in the corporate myth-media.

          No, too often American women are go-alongs on duplicity.

          No monopoly on moral rectitude….sorry, kiddo!

    2. Z

      I guess in this particular instance implying that this action by Almonte was altruistic MAY be off base since there is some rather substantial financial incentive to whistle blow these days. I’m still glad that she did it … and she may have done it regardless for all I know … but after using her as an example of women sticking up for what is right regardless of the personal and professional costs it’s only fair to note that.


      1. Linda Almonte

        I can understand the comment you made. However, this occured two and a half years ago prior to the new Whistlblower program. I was in the state of Texas (amamzing how many banks put all of their back end processes there) in Texas I had very little to sue on because of their Sabine Pilot and right to work state with very little employee protection. The wrongful termination suit I couldn’t even get the money I was out plus the legal fees, The SEC Claim was a year to the day of when I was fired. I have still not any contact or concern from them I need Congress behind me to even start on this. So money was not an incentive I had everything to lose and nothing to gain m


  6. Linda Almonte

    Actually the story will be continued over the next few days and weeks. I made it to not only the OCC but also FTC, CFPB multiple Attorney Generals Offices etc.. Still hard at work trying to get the SEC to work with me and let me explain to them the evidence I handed over (I went to NY and knocked on their door and made an attorney from their enforcement division sign accepting the evidence). People need to contact their Attorney Generals and have them contact me. Several I have already communicated with including NY they need to move it along more people are impacted every day.

    1. Woodrow Wilson

      Hopefully you’re all set if/when they come after you.

      If not, let “us” know, my guess is you will have all the support you need to keep going in this completely corrupt Plutocracy.

    2. Everybody and his brother

      It’s a privilege to be able to thank you personally for your heroism.

    3. Finance Addict

      Linda, you need to be rewarded for your efforts, à la Sherry Hunt. Any chance of this happening?

      You may think, “Pshaw. I did it because it was the right thing to do.” Of the sincerity of your courageous act I have no doubt.


      For those who are not so altruistic, it is CRUCIAL that they understand why whistleblowing might benefit them financially. We should follow the NFL’s example — bounties *do* work.

    4. steelhead23

      Linda, I join with others in singing your praises, but I also admire you and your lawyers killer instincts. I am reminded of Captain Ahab:
      “Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!”

      Only I hope your fate is a tad rosier. Stick ’em, Linda!

    5. Lisa N.

      Linda, you are the heroine of this epic saga. One person is a majority when they are right and you have been that one person holding firm. Thank you.

    6. Guy_Fawkes

      Hey, Linda….
      So far, I have gotten JPMorganChase to admit my “alleged defaulted note” has three owners to the one alleged note. And, I have written the OCC, my AG, my Senators, Fed US AG (Mortgage Fraud Division) and my local county prosecutor. None of them seem to give a shit.

      Interesting….so, you actually delivered the letters in person and had them sign for it…..and then they actually took notice???

      1. Linda Almonte

        I flew to NY marched in their door and forced them to take it and I wasn’t going anywhere. I had them make me an SEC badge with my photo along with the recieving attorney’s name and their role. I then left the building but not before checking in on Facebook with the photo and GPS location. If anything I don’t give up easily. I have a coffee mug here says “Don’t mess with me I have kids (four of them)


  7. commoner in fief

    The entire inhouse collections staff at chase in chicago was let go last year. I heard rumors it was about something ike thiis and now I know why.

  8. DP

    Meanwhile, folksy crony capitalist and CNBC Squawk Box regular Warren Buffett marvels at what a straight shooter Jamie Dimon is and encourages all Berkshire Hathaway shareholders to read Dimon’s annual letter to shareholders.

  9. Judy C.

    It wasn’t only credit cards, it was loans too. I had a car loan with Chase and as my business started to suffer in the economic downturn I fell behind in my car loan. Let me tell you, they violated I don’t know how many state and federal debt collection laws. They called me so many times a day, the 1 day I had a record 12 calls from them. In 1 day! I have the cell phone records to prove it. They continually harassed me, even when I got caught up with my loan. Dirty bastards.

  10. ftm

    Someone really needs to start a wiki just tracking JP Morgan’s criminal activity. (for that matter there should be a wiki for each of the money center crime families)

    The fawning treatment Dimon gets in the pressing is sickening. He really is not too different than a mob boss running a diversified set criminal enterprises.

  11. Jeff

    You way you handle this is to go into one of their branches at the busiest time of day and make a scene. Demand to use their phone to talk to the president of the company. Inform other customers of what’s going on with leaflets. Put a sign on your car with details.

    This corp is spending millions of dollars to buy advertising to attract new customers. You can negate locally and start a “I hate big banks” club.

    Google “credit union finder”.

  12. Wake Up America!

    I am very familiar with the robber barons at Chase.

    I had a credit card with Bank One for many years and the account was acquired by Chase. In fairness to them, I had it many years and used it often without any problems. I had my account set on auto pay and my balance would be paid/deducted each month from my checking account.

    When the financial crisis hit in 2008 I had my first problem with the account. Chase neglected to put through the auto pay and I was hit with a late fee and finance charges. That did not upset me as much as the barrage of phone calls I received from their collections department – starting the day after my payment was due. I explained to the reps the problem and contacted their “customer service” department. While waiting a few days for Chase to fix the problem, they literally blew up my landline and cell with calls day and night. It was unreal. I can’t imagine what the folks who are few months past due must endure.

    They eventually fixed the problem and removed the late fee and finance charge (or so I thought). I was so put off by the experience that I closed my account.

    Several years later, I received a few solicitations from local attorneys offering their service to represent me as “court records recently show you have been sued.” What? Come to find out Chase had sold my account to a local attorney who had filed suit. I checked my credit report and my former Chase account was not evening showing (I thought it would drop off after 7 years – not 2 or 3). How did Chase sell an account that no longer exists or had a zero balance? Calls and letters to Chase were met with outright denial (“we can’t find an account for you on our system”).

    I never received the 30 day demand letter from the attorney who bought my account and was never served. I contacted the court and was advised that until I was served I could not file an answer. The court’s online records showed the attorney was using a private processor but no one ever attempted to serve me (it would have been very easy to do). I kept checking the court’s online system and a few months later they were granted an extension to give them more time to serve me. Letters and phone calls to the attorney went unanswered (how does an attorney who actively sues people never answer their phones?).

    I kept checking the court’s online system and finally my case showed up as “DWOP” – dismissed for want of prosecution. I have not heard a single thing since. I never found out how much I was being sued for as I was advised by the court copies could not be obtained until I was served (?).

    Here’s my theory. When the financial crisis hit, banks brought back to life “zombie” accounts. Sometimes this required injecting life into the “zombie.” By this I meaning adding a balance when a balance was not there. They sold off this “zombie” debt to generate quick cash. Like foreclosures, most lawsuits for old credit card debt goes unchallenged. Many times consumers are not even aware they are being sued until they receive a letter advising of a judgement against them. I have read where many people say they’ve never been served but court records show otherwise. I was lucky in that I caught it and contacted both Chase and the attorney. If there were supporting documents that verified the debt they had to be manufactured. Because my final statment from Chase reflected a zero balance.

    Our entire financial system is corrupt. Unfortunately, the courts and law enforcement almost always support the banks.

    1. Ray Phenicie

      Actually this was going on long before the financial crisis of 2008. See my description below and know that this is drawn from people that I have very close personal knowledge of. Some of these incidents I describe -and there are at least four-have a history going back to the 1990’s. That includes a situation very similar to the one you describe.

  13. Ray Phenicie

    What I am about to say is all anecdotal but is verifiable and factual.
    If a person finds that paying on a debt of say $1750 is no longer a possibility and negotiations on a settlement to find acceptable payments have failed and the amount is subsequently turned over to collections this is what should be expected to transpire as standard practice.

    1. Numerous phone calls to the debtor’s work, cell phone and land line phone will begin and will continue seven days a week from 8 am to 9 pm. Each phone number will be contacted 2-5 times a day. This will go on for 24-72 weeks with several pauses lasting one to six weeks. The longer pauses indicate the account is moving down the food chain in the collections world.
    2. When the account reaches the bottom feeders, stalking begins with automobiles, foot soldiers and observers who move in to surround the debtor singly or in threes and fours. The front door of the home is staked out and drivers follow the debtor to work, circle the work location in a car or on foot, follow her to shopping malls, on trips out of town; in short,everywhere. This stalking begins at around 7 am and will continue into the middle of the evening usually stopping around 10pm. The followers will go to hotels, campgrounds and amusement parks to keep constant vigilance. A game ensues where the debtor is approached on the street in face to face confrontation by the stalkers , sometimes several times in a day with requests for directions and names of local landmarks and hotels even requests for the debtors address-all done with the pretense of not knowing the debtor. At this point in time we are 18 to 48 months out from the point of the failure to resolve. Maybe 56 months. Or 72.
    3. The end game is to mail, sometimes twice a week, pre-approved credit cards with offers to start over on the whole cycle. Now the phone calls begin again to check on the offer and push it over the phone. These calls go on for several months.
    4. If the debt is paid in full to the originator our hapless victim may still expect to be served court papers stating a payment needs to be made or proof of payment sent to the bottom feeder who is not in direct contact with the original debt holder so knows nothing about the actual payment. This bottom feeder is often a struggling attorney who has nothing else to do.

    1. Richard Hershberger

      For a $1750 debt? The process you describe would cost far more than that. Perhaps this explains why said attorney is struggling.

  14. Rob

    You’re doing Obama’s work for him. The fine will be 3-10 million dollars, despite the fact it caused hundreds of millions in grief. Good PR for the administration.

    Net JP Morgan likely profit from operation = several billion.

  15. Ian Lounsbury

    An interesting case in now percolating in a rural town outside Atlanta [Austell, GA]. The debtors purchased an REO [real estate owned] house from Washington Mutual where the valuation was made with a WaMu appraiser. The “appraisal” was five times what the place could sell for on the open market – if it could sell at all. Turns out the house is riddled with defects: termites, wood rot, collapsed flooring, leaking roof, mold in the walls. The electric wires do not end in a circuit breaker box: the street mains have the house distribution wires taped to the ends and left underneath in the crawl space! Hey, who needs a fuse box? Wire it straight in!

    After spending their savings on repairs, the modest-means buyers are exhausted and end up in the bankruptcy courts. The court grants a discharge, and their exempt furniture and goods are placed outside creditor reach by Court Order. A month later, Chase men break in, drill out the locks, and steal every last scrap of goods inside. The owners are literally locked out, left on the street, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The cats were found ejected, in the backyard. No Judgment against them, of course; worse, not even any commencement of any court proceeding!

    A “Motion to Reopen” the bankruptcy is now pending, and then Chase will be facing the music, for “egregious post-discharge creditor abuse.” I expect that the Judge will be hammering Chase with hefty fines.

    Sadly, this criminal behavior seems to be becoming the norm with the big legacy banks. And here’s the final kicker: Chase does not even own the loan, or “service” it. Seems the loan shows up on the books of Freddie Mac. Chase just breaks in anyway.

    1. Guy_Fawkes

      JPMorganChase is now claiming that there were no securitizations done on any of the WaMu loans, and they got these loans thru the FDIC….so now the government is in on the fraud…..nice, huh?

      In my case, JPMorganChase has claimed my alleged defaulted note is owned by three different entities. THREE. DIFFERENT. OWNERS. TO. ONE. NOTE.

  16. kris

    This must be some kind of a joke that Ms Smith is playing on us.
    Did anybody notice Mr Dimon didn’t give a …. about the Fed and released the “test” results?
    As long as he things he’s untouchable, theft will continue and he wouldn’t give a ….
    The issue is, that Al Capone was untouchable, until….

  17. ajax

    I’m used to stories of bad service from banks to customers. This story makes the named bank’s service look really, really bad.

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