Trump administration moves to protect faith-based foster care agencies that don’t serve LGBT couples

SALT LAKE CITY — The Trump administration on Wednesday made a decision in support of a faith-based foster care agency in South Carolina, announcing that religious organizations are protected by federal religious freedom law and can receive government money even when they won’t serve LGBT or non-Christian couples.

“Faith-based organizations that provide foster care services not only perform a great service for their communities, they are exercising a legally protected right to practice their faith through good works. Our federal agency should not — and, under the laws adopted by Congress, cannot — drive faith-motivated foster care providers out of the business of serving children without a compelling government interest,” explained a statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Miracle Hill Ministries, a Christian organization based in Greenville, had been at risk of having to close its foster care program or adjust its screening process for prospective foster parents if HHS didn’t grant it a waiver to nondiscrimination law. Miracle Hill, like many conservative, religious foster care agencies, has been under fire for the last year for refusing to work with LGBT couples for religious reasons.

The Trump administration’s decision, although long-expected, sparked an outcry among liberal legal activists, who argue that religious freedom shouldn’t protect discrimination.

President Donald Trump, second from right, speaks in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, as he hosts a roundtable with conservative leaders to discuss the security and humanitarian crisis at the southern border. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is second from left.

Susan Walsh, Associated Press

President Donald Trump, second from right, speaks in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, as he hosts a roundtable with conservative leaders to discuss the security and humanitarian crisis at the southern border. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is second from left.

“This is yet another example of the Trump administration using religion to advance a regressive political agenda that harms others. And this time, the target is not only religious minorities but also our most vulnerable children — those in need of loving homes,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, in a statement.

HHS’s decision unfairly harms prospective foster parents who don’t share a faith-based agency’s beliefs, said Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, to the Greenville News.

“Prospective foster and adoptive parents should be judged only on their capacity to provide love and support to a child — not their faith,” she said.

However, those who support the government’s decision say punishing Miracle Hill would have done more harm than good. Foster children are better off when more agencies are open to serve their needs, they argue.

“We applaud HHS for their effort to protect faith-based foster care providers, and we urge HHS and the Trump administration to continue their efforts … to preserve the freedom of these providers to continue their important work,” said Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank, in a statement.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, tweeted, “We can have our culture arguments, but not at the expense of vulnerable children who need loving homes.”


Already, religious agencies have closed in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Illinois because they wouldn’t serve LGBT couples and couldn’t stay open without government funds.

Faith-based adoption and foster care agencies emerged as a key battleground last year in the ongoing clash between the rights of the LGBT community and religious objectors to same-sex marriage. Four state legislatures considered new protections for religious agencies, and measures passed in Kansas and Oklahoma, according to a Deseret News analysis.

The rights of faith-based adoption and foster care agencies were also debated in courtrooms across the country, including in Michigan, where the ACLU has challenged a state policy allowing religious organizations that won’t serve LGBT couples to receive government funds, the Deseret News reported. In each case, judges were asked to consider whether religious agencies that won’t serve all applicants should still be eligible for government funds.

In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster believes the answer should be yes. He appealed to the Trump administration in 2018 on behalf of Miracle Hill.

Miracle Hill has been in hot water with South Carolina’s Department of Social Services for the last year, after officials learned that the agency turned away any prospective parent who didn’t agree with a set of conservative Protestant religious beliefs.

“As early as January 2018, DSS sent a letter raising concerns that the agency was violating federal and state nondiscrimination laws, as well as DSS policy, by requiring applicants to meet strict religious standards — namely, being a practicing Protestant and not being in a same-sex relationship,” The Intercept reported in October.

The agency sends ineligible couples directly to the state Department of Social Services or to other, less restrictive agencies, the article noted.

Thanks to the Trump administration’s decision on Wednesday, Miracle Hill can continue to operate in accordance with its conservative religious beliefs.

“This decision preserves all of the foster care agencies currently available for children in South Carolina by ensuring faith-based organizations can continue to serve this vulnerable population,” said Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary for the Administration of Children and Families, to the Greenville News. “The government should not be in the business of forcing foster care providers to close their doors because of their faith. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right.”

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Parking rage? Utah skier fed up with full lot tried to take officer’s gun, police say

BIG COTTONWOOD CANYON — The parking lot at Brighton Ski Resort has been packed on a nearly daily basis this winter, particularly on weekends.

One man apparently fed up with the parking situation took his anger too far, police say, when he allegedly tried to grab an officer’s gun.

The incident occurred Saturday while a Unified police officer was working a second job at Brighton Ski Resort.

“The ski resort was very busy and the parking lot was completely full. Parking lot attendants had closed the parking lot and were turning the vehicles around because the lot was full,” the officer wrote in a Salt Lake County Jail report.

As Nathan Sheffield Harrison, 21, of American Fork, approached in his car he repeatedly honked his horn, according to the report.

“I approached (Harrison’s) car and asked him why he was honking his horn. (Harrison) began yelling and screaming that he had a season pass to ski and that I needed to let him through,” the report states.

The officer told Harrison he would have to turn around like everyone else. Instead, he “rolled up his window and drove straight toward the signs and cones blocking the road. A parking attendant stepped in front of his vehicle yelling at him to stop. (Harrison) continued to drive forward,” according to the report.

The officer said he started banging on Harrison’s window telling him to stop, and the parking lot attendant slapped the hood of his car.

“(Harrison) sat in his car yelling, screaming and waving his arms around,” the report says.

The officer said he then opened the passenger door and yelled at the man to keep driving down the mountain.

“(He) immediately grabbed my coat and began pulling me into his vehicle. I yelled for him to exit the vehicle at which time he began pulling and swinging his arms around, hitting me multiple times,” the officer wrote in the report. “(Harrison) began swinging closed fists at me and screaming something unintelligible.”

The officer said he fought back in an attempt to subdue Harrison but it seemed to have no effect.

“I then felt (Harrison) reaching and grabbing the holster to my gun. I believed he was attempting to disarm me,” the officer wrote.

Harrison was able to get the police officer on the ground and push his head into a snow bank, according to the report. “The snow was very deep and I was completely unable to breathe as he pushed my head into the snow.

“I could not see or breathe at this time. I covered my firearm with one hand and was able to kick (him) off of me.”

The officer said he pulled his gun on Harrison at one point as he waited for backup to arrive. The man was eventually taken into custody and transported to jail in a police vehicle with a cage.

Harrison was convicted of disorderly conduct in 2016 and 2017. After his 2017 conviction, he was ordered by the court to undergo mental health treatment and anger management, according to court records.

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Feds add charges, defendants in billion-dollar fraud case against polygamous Kingstons

SALT LAKE CITY — Federal prosecutors have filed a new indictment against the executives of an energy company, including two more employees, with ties to a northern Utah polygamous group, alleging a billion-dollar renewable fuel tax credit scheme.

A grand jury returned a second superseding indictment charging Washakie Renewable Energy CEO Jacob Kingston and CFO Isaiah Kingston, and California businessman Lev Dermen with at total of 46 counts of mail fraud, money laundering, filing false tax returns and destroying records.

The new indictment also names Jacob and Isaiah Kingston’s mother, Rachel Kingston, who is listed as the company’s special projects manager, and Jacob Kingston’s wife, Sally Kingston, the compliance manager.

Washakie, a biodiesel company with corporate offices in Salt Lake City, describes itself as the largest producer of biodiesel and chemicals in the Intermountain West.

The indictment alleges the Kingstons and Dermen, also known as Levon Termendzhyan, the owner of multiple California-based fuel companies including Noil Energy Group, conspired to file $1.1 billion in false claims for fuel tax credits, causing the IRS to issue $511 million in refunds to Washakie.

The Kingstons — members of the Davis County Cooperative Society or the Kingston Order, which practices polygamy — are charged with conspiring to launder the proceeds in hundreds of financial transactions between the accounts of various entities totaling $3.2 billion to make it look like Washakie was buying, selling and processing renewable fuel.

In addition to false paperwork, the Kingstons and Dermen also rotated renewable fuel and other products through various places in the U.S. and other countries, including Panama, to make it appear that they were involved in legitimate renewable fuel transactions, prosecutors allege. They allegedly used “burner phones” and other covert means to communicate with each another.

Jacob Kingston, Isaiah Kingston and Lev Dermen used some of the money for Jacob Kingston’s $3.1 million home in Sandy, a $1.8 million 2010 Bugatti Veyron sports car, a $3.5 million Huntington Beach home for Dermen, and $483,000 in taxes on a waterside mansion in Turkey, according to the indictment.

Jacob Kingston, Isaiah Kingston, and Dermen are accused of transfering more than $134 million in fraudulent proceeds from Washakie to Turkey both directly and through other entities, including SBK Holdings USA, a company Dermen and Jacob Kingston created in California.

According to the indictment, Jacob Kingston, Rachel Kingston and Isaiah Kingston transferred $20 million to a bank account in the Turkey in the name of Jacob Kingston.

The Kingston brothers are also accused of running money through the Davis County Cooperative Society, also known as “the Order,” and used it build out the Washakie plant.

Jacob Kingston and Isaiah Kingston also destroyed records before being served with federal search warrants, tried to bribe government officials and hired an “enforcer” to intimidate or harm witnesses, according to the indictment.

Rachel Kingston is also charged with removing or destroying records before the search warrants were executed in February 2016.

Prosecutors argued to keep Jacob Kingston, Isaiah Kingston and Dermen in jail pending trail because they are a risk to flee to Turkey. Rachel Kingston and Sally Kingston were released with GPS ankle monitors after a court appearance this week.

The Kingston brothers and Dermen were originally charged in August with a total of 15 counts of money laundering and filing false tax returns. Prosecutors filed a superseding indictment adding more charges in November. They have pleaded not guilty.

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Here’s how Sen. Mitt Romney’s first town hall went amid government shutdown

FARMINGTON — As shutdown woes and border wall debates dominated his first town hall meeting Tuesday, Sen. Mitt Romney emphasized the need to breach political divides and for Republicans and Democrats to listen to each other.

“We’ve become so divided … we don’t even get the same news or the same facts,” Romney told a packed house at the Davis County building in Farmington.

As the government shutdown crept into its 32nd day, residents showed up to share their thoughts and concerns with Romney, R-Utah, during an oftentimes emotional meeting. Nearly 300 people filled the County Commission chambers and two overflow rooms.

Romney opened the meeting by telling the crowd he was there to listen to what they had to say.

U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks with audience members following his first town hall meeting in Farmington on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks with audience members following his first town hall meeting in Farmington on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

He then asked the residents if they think he’s “too tough” on President Donald Trump or “not tough enough.” The majority of residents in the room raised their hands for the second option.

While topics including education and Russia were brought up, the majority of comments and questions focused on the federal government shutdown that has now topped 31 days and the contested border wall.

One woman’s voice rose as she said that she worked for the state for many years and “they managed never to use the state workers as hostages.”

“How is that OK now, and why over a wall that most of the people do not believe in, and what are you going to do?” the woman asked the senator.

Another woman said she and other members of her family work for the government and have been affected by the shutdown, urging Romney to help end the impasse.

Romney said his perspective has been “illuminated” over the past few weeks, agreeing “this is not the way to get things done.”

Throughout the meeting, he said though he agrees with building a stronger southern border, he disagrees with the shutdown and will do what he can to help end it.

He said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has set up two votes that could potentially end the shutdown. The votes will take place on Thursday.

Of people required to work without pay during shutdown, Romney said, “Some people can’t afford the gas to show up.” In his opinion, “it is wrong for people to be told you have to show up to work, but we’re not paying you,” he said.

The senator said he will support legislation proposed by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., that would require the government to pay those who have to work during the shutdown. But he said he believes Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won’t agree with the measure because “they want pressure to build.”

U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, answers questions from audience members during his first town hall meeting in Farmington on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, answers questions from audience members during his first town hall meeting in Farmington on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

While many commenters said they oppose the wall and the shutdown, a few emphasized the need for it and asked Romney to help get it built.

One woman expressed frustration about representatives and senators who vote to give “so much money … to these other countries in the world.”

“But they won’t give us money to protect our country, and I feel like if you don’t have a wall, if you don’t have some kind of a border, you don’t have a country,” the woman said, pointing to what she called an “invasion” from Honduras and drawing boos from the crowd.

Romney responded, “Sometimes we send money to countries to save the cost of having to be there ourselves. … In other places, there are humanitarian needs.”

“Most people that have come here illegally came here legally in the first place. They got here legally and stayed. So either as tourists, or with a student visa, or other kinds of visas, and they stayed. And who can blame them? This is the greatest country on Earth,” the senator explained.

However, he said the country needs a system that can track those who stay illegally and penalize employers if they hire them. “A fence is going to be helpful, but it doesn’t begin to solve the problem of illegal immigration.”

“We want them coming in (legally), and that is something I want to be able to protect,” Romney said.

U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, answers questions from audience members during his first town hall meeting in Farmington on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, answers questions from audience members during his first town hall meeting in Farmington on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

While the meeting focused on serious issues, there were some lighter moments. Even before the meeting began, enthusiasm was high among those waiting to hear Romney speak. Nearly an hour early, a long line of residents began forming down the hall. Most said they wanted to talk to the senator about the shutdown and wall.

“I wanted to see what Mitt Romney had to say about trying to get the country back on the right track,” Greg Luker, waiting in line for the doors to the conference room to open, told the Deseret News.

“I think the direction it’s going now is not good for the country at all and I want to see if he thinks the Republicans are ever going to do anything about the deficit, and whether he thinks he can reform Trump or whether he should kick him out,” Luker added.

Reed Bitter said he “just wanted to hear Romney” speak. But he said the main issue concerning him during Tuesday’s meeting is that the government should “build the wall, mainly,” Bitter said.

At the end of the hour-long meeting, Romney was met with applause as he thanked the crowd for their questions and comments.

When asked if he was surprised by the turnout, Romney’s chief of staff and campaign manager Matt Waldrip, said, “We would’ve loved to have had that kind of turnout during the campaign.”

He said Romney’s staff was pleased and excited by the crowd and its engagement.

After the meeting, one woman told the Deseret News, “I felt heard by him.” She asked that she not be identified because she works for the federal government and was concerned about losing her job.

“Do I think he’s on my side? No. But I think he picked up pieces of what I said and will use them, I hope,” said the Ogden woman.

Contributing: Matthew Brown

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Utah Jazz’s Joe Ingles has no interest in NBA All-Star Weekend despite petition started for Skills Challenge

SALT LAKE CITY — Charlotte, North Carolina, will be the site of this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend in February, but Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles doesn’t plan on being anywhere near the area.

Despite a Yahoo Sports petition being started last week to get him in the Skills Challenge, Ingles would rather spend the time with his wife, Renae, and twin children far, far away from the festivities.

“You know exactly what my thoughts are on that. You know what my answer’s going to be. I’m going on vacation,” Ingles said. “I’m going to spend time with my kids and my wife. That’s it.”

As of Wednesday morning, ahead of Utah’s game versus Denver, more than 2,400 people had signed the petition with a 2,500 goal in mind. Ingles’ teammate Donovan Mitchell even shared it via social media with the Twitter hashtag #Joe2Skills, while the Yahoo Sports staff has continued to promote it across the web.

While most would be flattered, Ingles is different.

“I don’t know who started it,” Ingles said. “I don’t know why they started it, they should’ve known the answer. I’m having some time off.”


The 2019 Taco Bell Skills Challenge is set for Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Spectrum Center as part of the State Farm All-Star Saturday Night. Mitchell has also passed on this year’s dunk contest to prepare for the second half of the season.

“I’ve been there five times in my life and I’ll go a sixth time next year,” Ingles said. “I’m going on vacation.”

Ingles is averaging 11.5 points, 4.9 assists and 3.9 rebounds on 43.2 percent shooting, but has experienced a change in how teams are preparing for him with enhanced scouting. The left-handed shooter caught many by surprise with his stellar play last season, but has had to adjust to being played differently where he admits sometimes has been “probably good and bad.”

“I think I’ve played well at times, I’ve played horrible at times,” Ingles said. “Just trying to adjust to some games they haven’t left me, some games they’ve kind of played the same way in past seasons.

“So, I guess for me it’s just trying to figure out as early as possible how they’re playing me and how I can still be effective,” he added.

Jazz forward Derrick Favors feels Ingles has handled it well, while improving from year to year. Even if he doesn’t want to display his skills on a national platform, his teammates have witnessed his development firsthand.

“He’s coming out and proven he’s one of the top 3-point shooters in the league,” Favors said. “Obviously, one of the best playmakers as far as finding guys for passes. Defensively, he’s good and he’s just gotten better every year.”

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Utah gymnastics: Red Rocks hope to improve upon hot start, raise individual and team scores

SALT LAKE CITY — The Red Rocks defeated Oregon State last weekend in their Pac-12 opener, once again eclipsing a team-score of 197 (197.150).

It marked the third week in a row the Utes have recorded a 197 or better, a fact that continues to make the start of this season historic.

For all of their success, there is still room for improvement, however.

“There are still tenths being left out there,” Utah co-head coach Megan Marsden said. “Tom (Farden) felt that there were probably three tenths of a point left on bars due to handstands alone (against Oregon State).”

There are tenths to be gained on the beam as well.

“We are leaving tenths out there, some on sticking, and we’ve had a couple people wobble here and there,” Marsden said. “That keeps the 9.900 routines away. I have to have them step up to the plate and do the routine they are doing in practice out on the competitive floor.”

It hasn’t been all missed opportunities and lost points for the Red Rocks, though.

The sticking of dismounts has greatly improved this season, and was evidenced against the Beavers.

“We had four stuck bar dismounts, several stuck vaults and I had three stuck beam dismounts. The sticking is definitely better than it was last year,” said Marsden.


Still, the coach expects more from her team.

“I think we are plateauing a bit,” Marsden said. “We need to take it to another level and continue to work.”

OVER THE LIMIT: The Red Rocks had a bit of fun with their luggage on the way home over the weekend. The team posted a video of freshman Hunter Dula hiding in Alexia Burch‘s suitcase, which came as a bit of a shock to Farden, especially once Dula tumbled out after he failed to lift the bag.


The prank started with Dula helping Burch pack. Burch wondered if Dula could fit inside the suitcase, and one empty suitcase later the answer was a definitive yes.

One thing led to another — nearly every Red Rock attempted to lift the Dula-filled case. “We went around to everyone,” said Burch — and before long Farden was duped.

“I went and asked Tom if he had any room in his suitcase, because I ‘thought’ mine might be too heavy,” Burch explained with a chuckle.

UPDATED RANKINGS: For the second week in a row, Utah is the No. 4-ranked team in the country, behind Oklahoma, UCLA and Florida.

On an event level, the Red Rocks are tied for first on vault, are No. 3 on the floor, No. 6 on beam and No. 7 on bars. MyKayla Skinner leads the way, as usual, and is a top-10 gymnast nationally on vault (No. 1), in the all-around (No. 3), floor (No. 5) and bars (No. 6).


Other Utes ranked in the top 25 include MaKenna Merrell-Giles (No. 10 on vault, No. 13 on floor), Macey Roberts (No. 13 on vault), Kari Lee (No. 17 on vault) and Cristal Isa (No. 21 on bars).

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Utah homelessness leaders detail timeline for transition to new system once Salt Lake shelter closes

SALT LAKE CITY — The week after the news spread that the Road Home’s downtown homeless shelter won’t be able to meet its state-mandated deadline to close in June, state leaders issued more details about their plans to smoothly transition to a new homeless system.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and other homelessness leaders held a news conference Wednesday to detail the planned timeline for the systematic transformation and how they plan to carry out the transition once the three new homeless resource centers open.

“Really, at the end of the day, the important thing is how do we make sure we get those clients receiving services at the downtown shelter now to the right resource centers when those doors open at each one,” Preston Cochrane, executive director of Shelter the Homeless, told the Deseret News in an editorial board meeting the day before Wednesday’s news conference.

With five months to go before the June 30 target date to open the three new homeless resource centers now under construction in Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake, leaders have formed five task groups responsible for specific aspects of the move, Cochrane said. They include:

  • Client transition — reduce the number of people both sheltered and living on the streets before June 30, as well as develop a plan to assess homeless clients and prepare them to move from the downtown shelter or into housing.
  • Public safety — implement a security plan for clients and recommend safety measures in and around the new resource centers.
  • Funders — hash out contracts and budgets with the new resource centers’ three operators.
  • Infrastructure and technology — ensure the “safe space” fences currently blocking off a segment of Rio Grande Street downtown are removed, as well as identify how to continue using a coordinated services ID card to check clients in and out of services.
  • Communication — ensure those impacted by the transition and the general public are aware of the transition plan.

People staying at the downtown shelter will relocate to either the 200-bed women’s shelter at 131 E. 700 South, the 200-bed men and women’s shelter at 275 Paramount Ave., or the 300-bed men’s shelter at 3380 S. 1000 West in South Salt Lake.

Although many have expressed skepticism the three new resource centers’ beds will be enough to accommodate the closure of the downtown shelter, Jonathan Hardy, director of the Housing and Community Development Division for the Department of Workforce Services, said leaders expect the combined beds will be enough to house those needing shelter, since the Road Home’s downtown site has averaged about 750 people a night.

They anticipate the beds, combined with at least 200 permanent supportive housing units in Salt Lake City’s planning pipeline will be enough. However, if overflow is needed, Hardy said the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall across the street from the Road Home will still be an option, as well as motel vouchers if need be.

The timeline for the transition begins next month, when the 4th Street Clinic’s mobile medical clinic is slated to get up and running, according to state leaders’ timeline. Next, in the spring and summer, security and food contracts are scheduled to be completed and service providers are slated to hire staff.

The women’s and mixed gender homeless centers are scheduled to finish construction by May, as well as be furnished and receive occupancy permits in June, when clients are slated to be moved from the downtown shelter.

The largest shelter, the 300-bed men’s shelter, is behind schedule and isn’t slated to be completed until late summer — perhaps in August. The move of clients won’t happen until perhaps the fall, although construction crews are working overtime and weekends to make up lost ground, Cochrane said.

Meanwhile, the downtown shelter’s closure will slowly phase in, Cochrane said, as the South Salt Lake center’s delay won’t stop clients from being able to move into the other resource centers once they open.

Still, the closure of the downtown shelter won’t happen until everyone is relocated and sheltered, Cochrane said, meaning that date is currently scheduled for fall.

Between 2019 and 2020, more permanent supportive housing units are scheduled to be completed in Salt Lake City, Hardy said.

In the meantime, homelessness leaders will continue lobbying for more affordable-housing options, an issue that must be tackled at greater lengths if Utah is serious about preventing homelessness, Cochrane said.

For more details about the transition timeline, visit

This story will be updated.

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