Crime, Local News, News, Top Video, West Bay

Police allege former chief slapped his wife, had pattern of abuse

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CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Cranston’s former police chief allegedly hit his wife “with an open hand” before being arrested Thursday night and charged with two misdemeanor crimes.

Marco Palombo, 53, was booked and briefly placed in a jail cell at the very department where he was once chief Thursday night. He was released on personal recognizance and is due in court on Dec. 12 to face charges of domestic disorderly conduct and domestic simple assault.

According to the 11-page arrest report obtained by Eyewitness News, police were called to Palombo’s home by a family member who reported he was “out of control,” before the call disconnected.

Officers who responded to Palombo’s home were told he had struck his wife. “I observed the skin on her right cheek and neck to be covered in red irritation consistent with being slapped,” Sgt. Ryan Shore wrote in the report.

Shore also said Palombo’s wife reported the alleged assault was part of a pattern of abuse.

“[She] went on to state that this isn’t the first time that physical abuse had occurred and she had also had to have surgery on her thumb due to a prior incident which went unreported to police,” the report said.

Palombo was informed at his home that he would be arrested, and was “extremely reluctant and irritated by the decision,” according to police, and asked to speak to someone with a higher rank.

Palombo was arraigned by a justice of the peace at the Cranston Police Department Thursday night and released on $1,000 personal recognizance.

The office of attorney Peter DiBiase confirmed he is representing Palombo in the criminal case, but declined to comment on the charges.

Palombo served 27 years on the Cranston police force before resigning as chief in 2014 amid the parking ticket blitz scandal.

Local News, News, West Bay

Cranston deputy fire chief returns to work amid assault case

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) – Cranston’s deputy fire chief is back on the job even as he faces criminal charges tied to an alleged fight with a lieutenant.

Cranston spokesman Mark Schieldrop confirmed to Eyewitness News that Deputy Chief Paul Valletta has been taken off administrative leave, more than a month after the city placed him on paid leave following his arrest.

Further information on why Valletta was allowed to return to work was not immediately available.

Valletta – who is also the head of the city’s firefighters’ union, IAFF Local 1363, and an influential State House lobbyist – was arrested last month on misdemeanor charges of simple assault and disorderly conduct following an incident at fire station 6 that was reportedly captured on audio recording. He was placed on leave two days after the incident.

According to a police affidavit, Valletta and Lt. Scott Bergantino got into an argument about overtime, and Bergantino made a disparaging remark about Valletta’s mother.

The affidavit states Bergantino told police, “Deputy Chief Valletta approached him and pushed him up against the chalkboard, punched him in the head two times, and then threw him over a recliner and onto the floor.”

Chip Muller, an attorney representing Bergantino, said his client suffered a concussion in the alleged assault.

Valletta pleaded not guilty to the charges late last month and told Eyewitness News outside court, “I’m looking forward to the truth coming out, then I’ll be back to work doing what I love doing.”

According to the online court schedule, Valletta is due for a pretrial conference on Thursday.

Local News, News, Top Video, West Bay

Two years later, law keeping high-level sex offenders away from schools remains unenforceable

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CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) – It was mid-September when police put out a “Code Red” sex offender notification about a man living in a Cranston neighborhood who had been convicted of sexually assaulting two women. The 27-year-old is a “level 3” sex offender, which means he’s considered at high risk to reoffend.

That’s when the calls starting coming in to Cranston Police.

“The property directly abuts the preschool, so you can imagine the concern that’s there,” Colonel Michael Winquist said in an interview with Eyewitness News.

Neighbors questioned why the man had been allowed to register at that address when a school was so close by. A state law passed in 2015 should have stopped him from living within 1000 feet of a school.

“Obviously those laws are in effect to protect people in the neighborhood,” Winquist said. But his hands are tied, he explained, because of a legal battle over the law that has left it unenforceable for two years.

The class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court back in 2015 with the help of the ACLU, on behalf of seven level 3 sex offenders. The lead plaintiff, John Freitas, has since died. But the remaining six have continued fighting the 1000-foot law, and a federal judge has put a restraining order on the law while the legal challenge is ongoing.

“Right now there’s nothing to stop someone from living immediately next to a school,” Winquist said.

The lawsuit claims offenders’ rights are violated by the 1000-foot residency requirement, forcing them to move from their homes even if they lived there prior to incarceration. In many cases, according to the suit, offenders are staying with family and would become homeless if they had to move.

The definition of “school” is also undefined in the 2015 law, leaving individual cities and towns to determine when a sex offender is in violation. The suit says the word “could be interpreted to include an adult dance school, a yoga studio, or a school for the culinary arts, cosmetology, or martial arts.”

“Nothing happened, no child was harmed that precipitated this law,” said Megan Smith, an outreach worker at the House of Hope, a nonprofit that helps people dealing with homelessness and housing issues.

She and other advocates mobilized after the 2015 law was passed, identifying and contacting more than 30 level 3 sex offenders across the state who lived within 1000 feet of a school and could potentially be forced to move.

“Had the 1000-foot law been implemented, it would have put 64% of the city of Providence off limits,” Smith said.

She says as it is, few landlords are willing to rent to sex offenders, and public housing authorities won’t accept them as applicants. Assuming sex offenders can find a market-rate apartment willing to house them, Smith say many can’t find high enough paying jobs to afford the rent.

Because of this problem, dozens of sex offenders in Rhode Island are homeless. Col. Winquist estimated 45 are currently living in Harrington Hall in Cranston, one of the few shelters that accepts them. Police regularly stop by the shelter to do compliance checks, but police and advocates agree that sex offenders will have better success reintegrating into society if they have permanent housing.

“By having someone have a permanent residence, statistics show they’re less likely to offend,” Winquist said.

Potentially compounding the problem could be a new law passed during a special session last week, limiting the number of registered sex offenders in a homeless shelter to 10% of the total population.

“If it is signed by the governor…it would make 40-50 people immediately street homeless” in the state, Smith said.

Numerous organizations including House of Hope, the ACLU, Crossroads, Amos House and the Roger Williams University School of Law have asked the governor to veto the bill.

A spokesperson for Gov. Gina Raimondo did not return a phone call or email Thursday asking whether the governor would sign it into law.

Meanwhile, the legal challenge over the 1000-foot residency requirement remains ongoing. The federal lawsuit is still in the discovery phase.

The attorney general’s office says the restraining order against the 1000-foot rule actually allows level 3  sex offenders to live closer to schools than lower risk offenders; the law keeping level 2 sex offenders 300 feet back is still in effect.

In the meantime, police are conducting sex offender notifications and patrolling areas where level 3 sex offenders live. Sex offenders are still held to strict registry requirements, and have to pass frequent compliance checks.

To check if a sex offender is living near you, you can visit the sex offender registry.


Crime, Local News, News, Top Video, West Bay

Cranston deputy fire chief arraigned in firehouse assault case

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WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — The city of Cranston’s deputy fire chief faced a judge Tuesday on criminal charges tied to an alleged fight with a lieutenant that was captured on audio recording.

Paul Valletta, who’s also the head of the city’s firefighters’ union, IAFF Local 1363, was arraigned Tuesday on misdemeanor charges of simple assault and disorderly conduct.

“I’m looking forward to the truth coming out, then I’ll be back to work doing what I love doing,” Valletta said after leaving court. He walked away without commenting further.

According to a police affidavit obtained by Eyewitness News, Lt. Scott Bergantino and Valletta got into an argument on Sept. 9 at fire station 6, where firefighters had gathered to participate in a “Fill the Boot” drive. According to the complaint, Bergantino and Valletta began to argue about overtime, and Bergantino made a disparaging remark about Valletta’s mother.

The affidavit says Bergantino told police, “Deputy Chief Valletta approached him and pushed him up against the chalkboard, punched him in the head two times, and then threw him over a recliner and onto the floor.”

According to court documents, Bergantino recorded audio of the altercation and turned it over to police. Multiple other firefighters also witnessed the altercation.

Both Valletta and Bergantino were placed on paid leave two days after the incident, according to Cranston Mayor Allan Fung’s spokesperson Mark Schieldrop. He said Mayor Fung was notified of the altercation one day after it happened, and initiated an internal investigation.

Chip Muller, an attorney representing Bergantino, said Tuesday that his client suffered a concussion in the alleged assault.

Muller said Bergantino was “concerned for his safety” when it comes to returning to work, in part because of a “rift” that has emerged at the fire department in light of the incident.

“We hope the prosecutors and the courts take the assault charge seriously,” Muller said. “It’s bad enough for a citizen to do that to another human being, but to have a superior do that to another person at work is just outrageous.”

Muller also said Bergantino plans to file a union grievance about the overtime issue.

The vice president of the firefighters’ union on Tuesday said Valletta is still the union’s president, but has recused himself from the grievance committee until the case is resolved.

Valletta entered a not guilty plea and is due back in court on October 26.

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Local News, News, Top Video, West Bay

DCYF: Training school staffers assaulted by juveniles

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Four staff members at the Rhode Island Training School were assaulted by juvenile residents Wednesday night, a spokesperson for the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) said.

Rhode Island State Police confirmed they were called to the facility at 11:20 p.m. Wednesday for a report of a disturbance, and found workers had been injured trying to control the residents.

Kerri White, a spokesperson for DCYF, said the alleged assaults took place outside after a fire alarm activated and a sprinkler system went off.

Four employees, known as juvenile program workers, were assaulted while attempting to maintain order in the courtyard, White said. One was taken to the hospital to be treated for injuries to his face and head.

“He has a broken jaw and a broken eye socket,” said Jerry Minetti, the president of the Local 314 union that represents the juvenile program workers at the training school. The training school houses underage delinquents accused of serious offenses.

Minetti said it’s not uncommon for residents to intentionally break sprinkler heads in order to be evacuated from the facility. He said some tried to climb the fence in the recreation yard, which is not topped with barbed wire.

“I was disgusted,” Minetti said about the alleged assaults. “This is not a daycare. This is a correctional facility. We house a lot of dangerous kids here who have committed very serious charges.”

Minetti said the union has already filed a health and safety grievance with the DCYF because of under-staffing concerns and violence in the training school facilities.

He said unlike traditional correctional officers, juvenile program workers are not equipped with any tools like pepper spray or shields, which he said could have helped control the situation Wednesday night.

“They need to get this under control,” Minetti said, referring to the DCYF. “A plan has to be put in place to make sure no one else gets injured.”

Minetti said he does credit the new DCYF director, Trista Piccola, with hiring some new juvenile program workers to replace recent retirements.

Minetti said the union would prefer staffing levels to remain at a 1:8 ratio with residents. He said the ratio was closer to 1:12 during the melee Wednesday.

In response to the union’s concerns, the DCYF told Eyewitness News the training school follows standards published by the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), which require staff-to-resident ratios of 1:8 from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and a ratio of 1:12 overnight from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The chaos on Wednesday happened shortly after the switch to the overnight shift, but Kerri White said the ratios were still well above the requirements, with three workers supervising 20 residents and another two workers supervising nine residents.

White also said a federal decree that the training school is under and the JDAI are “adamantly opposed” to the use of pepper spray at juvenile detention centers. She said other weapons like shields would be “highly inappropriate” for the population, and in conflict with the mission of the school.

DCYF said state police took statements and are looking into whether further charges are warranted for the residents involved. State police declined to comment further on their ongoing investigation, other than to say the juveniles would be referred to Family Court.

State police would not say how many juveniles are facing charges.

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Crime, Local News, News, Top Video, West Bay

School psychologist arraigned for allegedly failing to report sexual assault claim

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — The Cranston High School West psychologist accused of not reporting sexual assault accusations against a teacher was formally arraigned Tuesday morning.

George Blessing had a not guilty plea entered on his behalf to a misdemeanor charge of failing to report sexual abuse of a child in an educational program. The judge allowed him to continue to be released on personal recognizance.

Cranston police said a student at Cranston West told Blessing on February 1 that science teacher Charles Pearson had sexually assaulted her. Blessing was required by law to report any allegation of sexual assault within 24 hours.

It wasn’t until late March that police said they learned of the allegations against Pearson, when four students came forward. Pearson was charged with 12 counts of second-degree sexual assault, and police said at least one of the alleged sexual assaults happened after Blessing was first notified. Police have called Blessing’s actions “inexcusable” and “perplexing.”

“This particular child reported abuse, and this professional psychologist failed to report. That’s concerning on many levels,” said Peg Langhammer, the executive director of Day One. “I think one of the worst things that happened as a result of this case is that another child was abused after the report was made.”

Langhammer said her organization goes into schools to train personnel on mandated reporting laws, and also seeks to educate the public. Rhode Island law requires all people who are made aware of abuse of a child to report it to the Department of Children, Youth and Families.

In this case, police have said they appears to be a pattern of alleged inappropriate behavior by Pearson dating back to 2001, when he was accused of inappropriate touching at the Rhode Island Training School and resigned. He was never charged in that case and was later hired at Cranston West.

“This case goes way back. There are several institutions I think that really need to be held accountable,” Langhammer said.

Col. Michael Winquist said Tuesday he would not comment further on the details of Pearson’s case, because it is now in the prosecutorial phase.

According to the Rhode Island Department of Education, George Blessing has a valid certificate as a School Psychologist that is set to expire in 2022. The certificate requires him to have an advance degree in school psychology, but not a Department of Health license to practice psychology.

As he left court Tuesday morning, Blessing declined to comment on the case. He is due back in court on May 8.

Blessing and Pearson remain on paid administrative leave from their positions at Cranston West. Chief Operating Office Ray Votto said an email reminder has been sent out to employees about mandated reporting, and an internal review is underway.

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Crime, Local News, News, West Bay

Cranston police seize $1 million worth of counterfeit designer goods

[anvplayer video=”1145437″] CRANSTON, R.I (WPRI) — Gucci, Fendi and Prada were among the designer trademarks found on counterfeit goods seized from a yard sale on Cliffdale Avenue Friday, Cranston police said.

Eyewitness News was on the scene as detectives seized clothes, shoes, handbags and more from tables set up end-to-end in the front yard of the home. More boxes were stacked in a van, which police said was left with its door wide open when they arrive on the scene.Cranston counterfeit goods

Three Pawtucket men have been arrested in the alleged counterfeit scheme. Stephen Russell, 42, Ryan Peirce, 28, and Robert Brown III, 39 are charged with forgery, counterfeiting or alteration of trademark, and conspiracy.

Update: Grand jury returns an indictment against Russel and Brown, not Peirce.

Police said they received a tip that Russell would be bringing the phony designer goods to the yard sale. 26 designer trademarks were counterfeited, according to police, along with a number of sports team logos.

Police brought in intellectual property investigators to confirm that the goods were counterfeit. If sold in stores, police estimate the value of the items would be worth $1,000,000.

Col. Michael Winquist, the Chief of Cranston Police, called the dismantling of this operation “significant.” He said the monetary losses to companies from counterfeit operations often get passed on to the consumer.

“Often the sale of counterfeit trademark merchandise is overlooked and viewed by many as a victimless crime,” Winquist said. “It has been proven that criminals involved in this activity use the sale of counterfeit merchandise to fund other illegal activities including narcotics trafficking and even terrorism.”

Local News, News, Top Video, West Bay

Family of murdered Cranston baby raising awareness for child abuse

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — It’s been more than six weeks since Giovanni Dimas Romero, a 3-month-old infant from Cranston, died after his father allegedly shook him to death.

To say it’s been difficult for Giovanni’s mother Sandra Romero to cope would be an understatement. But the mother of two, who is now divorcing the murder suspect, is working to prevent another child from suffering a death like Giovanni’s.

Romero and her family have organized a nearly two-mile march in Giovanni’s memory to raise awareness for child abuse on Saturday morning.

Jose Rodriguez, a victim’s caseworker at the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence, is helping the family organize the walk.

“It hits close to home,” Rodriguez said. “I’m a parent myself.”

Even as a victim’s caseworker, Rodriguez says he doesn’t come across murder cases like Giovanni’s often. Police said his cause of death was Abusive Head Trauma, or Shaken Baby Syndrome.

“When I think about violence, I think about shootings that are happening within the city of Providence, Central Falls and Pawtucket,” Rodriguez said. “This is something that is not on my radar on a daily basis.”

The day after Giovanni’s July 9 murder, Cranston Police were quick to publicly say his death was preventable. The murder suspect, Giovanni’s father Elias Romero, did not immediately call 911 after he realized the infant wasn’t breathing, police said.

Sandra Romero and her brother Alex Peña say Romero initially called his mother, attempting to revive the baby, rather than calling 911. He then called Sandra at work, who dialed 911 herself.

“People don’t call for help as much as they should,” Rodriguez said. “There should be no lag in the amount of time between the time of it happening and you dialing 911.” Rodriguez also said parents who become frustrated with a crying child should always put the baby down, and call a friend or family member for help. “We often overlook how fragile a child actually is…we need to be careful.”

Giovanni has now been gone for more than half the time he was alive. His mother remembers him as always smiling; he would light up when he saw his two-year-old brother, Elias Jr. The toddler was in the room when his brother was killed, and the family says Elias Romero initially claimed Elias, Jr. had caused Giovanni’s injuries.

Sandra Romero and Alex Peña said their family has had no contact with Elias Romero since his arrest. If convicted, the family hopes he is never released from prison. Romero’s next hearing on the murder charge is August 30.

The walk to prevent child abuse is scheduled for Saturday morning at 10 a.m. at the Elmwood Avenue entrance of Roger Williams Park.

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Connecticut, Crime, East Bay, Local News, Massachusetts, News, Providence

Men nabbed in East Providence chase now charged in string of break-ins

[anvplayer video=”1045378″ /] PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Police departments in three states are investigating whether a pair of Connecticut men arrested in East Providence were responsible for house breaks in their jurisdictions.

Lyle Solsbury and Maurice Youmans were taken into custody following a police pursuit through East Providence Wednesday afternoon. They’ve since been charged with a string of break-ins in three communities.

Solsbury, 40, of Naugatuck, Connecticut., and Youmans, 38, of Waterbury, Connecticut were wanted in connection with a break-in on Church Street, according to city police. The homeowner was alerted by an app on his phone that the motion detector at his house was breached and he called police.

“He was able to see a picture of a male in his driveway going up his stairs and eventually within his house,” East Providence Deputy Chief William Nebus said.

Police say the man in the photo was Solsbury, and Youmans was waiting in the getaway car. The suspects took off in a black SUV, leading police on a chase until a detective was able to pull the men over on North Broadway.

Police had to use a stun gun to subdue one of the suspects, but officials said no one was hurt during the ordeal.

Surveillance photo from the Church Street break-in
Surveillance photo from the Church Street break-in

Solsbury and Youmans were arraigned in court Thursday on charges of breaking and entering, conspiracy, and two counts of receiving stolen goods. The stolen goods included jewelry from the Church Street home and stolen Massachusetts registration plates, which were used to cover up the car’s Connecticut registration, according to the criminal complaint obtained by Eyewitness News.

Since their arrest, numerous police departments in three states have come forward saying they’re investigating whether the two men broke into homes in their jurisdictions, and police in both Cranston and Foster have now brought charges.

Cranston Police Chief Michael Winquist said both men are charged in connection with a break-in Wednesday on Narragansett Boulevard.

Winquist said he was contacted by East Providence police after items and paperwork found in the suspect vehicle appeared to have been stolen from that home. Officers went to the home to find the rear door had been pried open. The homeowners later identified the evidence as their property.

Foster police have also charged the pair with breaking and entering. Both men were arraigned on the charges from all three municipalities on Thursday afternoon and were given $60,000 bail with surety.

Police say the public’s help was crucial in capturing the suspects, particularly the homeowner’s surveillance camera, which gave police an hours-long head start.

“Without that app, we wouldn’t have had these individuals,” Deputy Chief Nebus said. “We would have had to piece back the last four hours of their whereabouts.”

Police say a Barrington man also helped, by reporting a suspicious vehicle in that town and taking photos of the license plates. The tip helped police track down the vehicle.

Barrington Police Chief John LaCross asked any residents who witnessed similar suspicious activity or have items missing from their homes to contact their local police department immediately.

“Although nothing was taken during the Barrington investigation, I applaud the homeowner for his quick actions to capture the plate number and vehicle on his cell phone,” the chief said.

Police in Newtown, Connecticut and Sturbridge, Mass. are also investigating the two suspects, along with Rhode Island and Connecticut State Police.

Newtown Police Sgt. Baha Monde said Solsbury was released on bail just last week from charges he broke in to a home there. The burglary was caught on the homeowner’s surveillance camera, and police were about to identify Solsbury by releasing the video the public.

Newtown Police are now investigating whether Youmans and Solsbury could be involved in four other break-ins that occurred there in July.

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Crime, East Bay, Local News, News, Providence, Top Video

Police: Jealous suspect killed ex’s new boyfriend

[anvplayer video=”1041600″ /]PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Andres Arguijo Acosta spent last Friday fishing with friends and streaming videos on his new smartphone, according to a close friend. By daybreak Saturday morning, he was dead.

Providence Police say a Cranston man committed the crime, after entering his ex-girlfriend’s home and stabbing her boyfriend, Arguijo Acosta, because he was jealous. The girlfriend witnessed the crime, the police said.

Fredi Lopez, 32, was formally charged Monday morning with first-degree murder. Providence Police say he showed up at his ex-girlfriend’s Alverson Avenue apartment in Providence before 5 a.m. Saturday.

“He gained access to the house; it may have been from an unlocked door, he may have jimmied the lock to get in,” Providence Police Maj. David Lapatin said. While fighting with Arguijo Acosta–the woman’s current boyfriend–Lopez is accused of grabbing a large steak knife and stabbing him in the chest. Arguijo Acosta was later pronounced dead at Rhode Island Hospital.

Andres Arguijo Acosta (Photo courtesy of family friend Hugo Tamup)
Andres Arguijo Acosta (Photo courtesy of family friend Hugo Tamup)

After talking with eyewitnesses, police found Lopez at his home on Argyle Street in Cranston Saturday afternoon. A police report obtained by Eyewitness News says he had taken his cell phone apart and was cutting his own hair, remnants of which were photographed on his kitchen floor by police. The report says Lopez changed his clothes, discarded his shirt in a barbecue grill outside his home and put his shorts in a plastic bag in the kitchen. Police also towed his car.

Andres Arguijo Acosta was a father of three who worked in the jewelry business, his close friend Hugo Tamup said in an interview with Eyewitness News.

Tamup said he and Arguijo Acosta went fishing together with another friend the day before he was killed.

“He was a nice person,” Tamup said. “I didn’t believe it. I said ‘no, he was with me yesterday.'” Tamup was overcome with emotion, referring to Arguijo Acosta as his “best friend.”

Sayda Moran, who lives next door to the crime scene, said the woman had recently moved to the neighborhood. She had never seen either of the two men.

“I had heard some fighting next door, but we never knew who it was since we never knew who they were,” Moran said.

The victim’s girlfriend was not hurt in the attack, police said, though she was in the room when it happened. There was no previous restraining order between her and Lopez, police said, but a judge ordered Lopez to stay away from her from now on.

The judge also ordered Lopez be held without bail Monday pending a bail hearing on August 17.

In an interview outside court, Lopez’s attorney Joseph Voccola said Lopez and the girlfriend were “off-and-on.” Lopez’s two sisters and a brother attended his murder arraignment.

“Completely out of character,” Voccola said the family told him. “The man’s been here, was gainfully employed for over two decades” in the landscaping business, he said.

Voccola said Lopez is denying the charges, but said he did not yet have all the information to fully comment.

“We don’t even have any information to substantiate these allegations,” he said. “Whenever a life is lost, it’s a tragic situation.”

Annie Shalvey and Bill Tomison contributed to this report. 

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