Consensual Seduction or Cruel Intentions? An Investigation into a Sexual Assault Allegation on Pace’s Campus

Certain names have been changed by the request of the victim, one witness, and the accused party

A rape allegation, an investigation and a sad story of a tumultuous relationship at Pace University.

A rape allegation, an investigation and a sad story of a tumultuous relationship at Pace University.

Infiniti Styles Bowie, Features Writer

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**Warning: this article contains detailed information about alleged sexual assaults and domestic violence**

A sharp scream pierced through the dark room.

Other than the soft click-clacking of my laptop, the room had been deathly still, plagued with un-buried secrets and a lonely trip down memory lane. Now was not the time for tragedy.

Alas, it struck anyway. By the time I was made aware of the elephant in the room, a call to the Residential Director had already been made.

Screenshot of Instagram DM to Michaela by another student.

Rocking back and forth as rivers streamed down her face, a senior biology major at Pace, who chose to use the pseudonym “Michaela” for this article, looked like a terrified child, hugging her knees and shivering as her face crumpled until she was almost unrecognizable.

“I’m just so tired of this,” she sniffed. “I don’t even want to walk at graduation.”

By this, Michaela was referring to the constant side-eyes, jeers, and beratement she had received due to her allegations of rape against a relatively popular student on the Pace Pleasantville campus. The direct message above was just another addition to the pile of hate mail.

Staring out with bloodshot mirrors, Michaela divulged into her tragic story, using the pseudonym Josh to talk about her former close friend-turned-alleged attacker.

“Josh and I were close friends going on two years,” she began. “After New Years, he told me that he always wanted to hook up with me but he knew that I was with [my ex-boyfriend] at the time.”

“[My ex-boyfriend] and I broke up, but I wasn’t with it at first because I didn’t want to start a conflict,” she continued. “But then I started having feelings. [Later on], he came to find me in my friend’s room and told me that he had feelings for me, too.”

Michaela went on to explain that while she was open about their budding relationship, Josh told their friends a different story.

“Josh denied claims that we were talking,” the senior said curtly. “He said that it was all one-sided. After this, I asked him why he lied. He said he didn’t want everyone in his business, including the girls in our group, so I forgave him.”

Michaela revealed that as time went on, the two began having sexual relations. However, according to Michaela, these encounters were sometimes, themselves, one-sided.

“One day, we were having sex and he put me on top of him, told me he was going to [finish] inside of me, and automatically [finished] in me before I could say no,” she said.

Paradise continued to fall for Michaela as she revealed more of her troubles with Josh, including her accounts of witnessing him texting other girls.

“He said he was texting his cousin but he was texting another girl,” Michaela said, before showing physical evidence of his alleged infidelity. “He had a hickey. First, he said a soccer ball hit him in the neck, then he said he fell down the stairs, then he admitted a freshman girl did it.”

He said something offensive to me and I hit him. But then he hit me back harder,” she said, before explaining one chilling phone call she received where “he told me to kill myself and the girls I was with overheard him say it.”

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you. Unless you are suicidal, which Michaela said she was.

“Everyone knew that I was suicidal,” the senior said, “including Josh. I couldn’t understand why he was being like this. I just wanted nice Josh back.”

According to Michaela, Josh had sexually assaulted her multiple times, including when she was asleep and on Pace’s campus. She admitted that she did not realize it was wrong because she was “so in love with him.” However, the night of October 6, 2018 would solidify the end of their torrid love affair.

Michaela’s eyes grew dark, a tight clench in her jaw accompanied by a few shaky breaths before she gave her detailed accounts of what happened that night.

“At 11:30 [at night], I texted Josh the townhouse we were in [for a townhouse party],” Michaela began slowly. “I was already drunk. At 12:09 I did consent to have sex with him but I was drunk texting. Around 1:30, we smoked for the first time that night while I was already drunk. Then my female friends and I went to my room.”

Text messages between Michaela and Josh on October 6, 2018

“Five minutes later, I texted Josh that we were going to go smoke again,” she continued. “I couldn’t tell what was left or right. At some point, I got back to my room and my friend Mia left to take our other friend to her room. She told Josh to take care of me and I left the door unlocked for her to come back.”

For Michaela, here is where the night became hazy.

“He came and tried to lift me but I felt so heavy,” Michaela rubbed her temples, “and I realized that he locked the door. We started kissing and then I basically blacked out. Mia knocked on the door and Josh answered it. He tried to ask me to bring his glasses down that he left but I knew if I did, he would try to take me back to his house. So Mia took them down. At this point, I threw up in the trash can and fell asleep.”

Messages between Michaela and Josh where he asks her to come home with him.

With the depths of her mind muddled by intoxication, Michaela desperately tried to piece together what happened before she passed out.

“The next morning, I texted Josh asking if he was okay because I could tell he was upset that I didn’t want to have sex with him at all,” she began. “He asked me why I didn’t come to his house last night, to which I told him that I was so ‘gone’ that I couldn’t even walk.”

Then, Josh sent a text that made Michaela question reality.

“Josh texted me asking if I remembered him bending me over and I said no, that I thought I dreamt it,” Michaela said. “I couldn’t remember if we had sex, there were a lot of gaps missing in my brain from that night. It made me question everything that happened and I asked all my friends how I was acting that night.”

Texts between Michaela and Josh on October 7, 2018.

“I asked him what happened last night and he said that we all smoked,” the senior continued. “I told him that I knew that but asked if anything else happened. He just said that our friend went home and everyone else left. He didn’t mention sex happening at all.”

After failing to recollect her memories of their time together from Josh, Michaela turned to the only person present at the scene.

“The same day, Mia called me and told me my pants were down and that Josh was pulling his pants back up as he was leaving,” Michaela said.  “I started freaking out but I was too afraid to ask him. I knew he was capable of doing something like that because he would have sex with me while I was asleep.”

Mia Ricks is a former Pace student. Even though she transferred, she and Michaela remained close, having been friends for nearly three years. Ricks recalled being the only person sober the night of the incident and remembered Michaela and Josh texting the entire night. However, according to Ricks, Michaela was not the only girl Josh was communicating with.

“[Michaela] had been texting Josh throughout the night and he had been coming and going—literally disappearing to go hook up with a freshman we were with who was also very drunk—and then they both met up with us when we were already heading back to the dorms,” Ricks said.

Ricks went on to explain that the freshman Josh was with was so drunk, she decided to walk her back to her room. However, the girl’s incapacity prompted Ricks to run back to Michaela’s room to check on her.

“It kind of set off some red flags in my head,” Ricks explained. “Michaela’s alcohol tolerance has always been very low. She gets drunk very easily. The reason we were coming home from the party is that she had passed the threshold of somewhat drunk to completely trashed.”

By the time Ricks reached Michaela’s room and saw that the door was locked, she knew she was too late. She banged profusely on the door until she was greeted by an indecent Josh.

“He opened the door and his pants were undone,” Ricks said. “He tucked himself back into his pants and just walked past me without saying a word.”

What Ricks saw next was not a pretty sight.

“I got into the room and Michaela was bent over her bed just laying there with her shorts around her ankles,” the junior said. “She was basically incoherent.”

“I walked over to her, called her name, and could barely get a response,” Ricks continued. “I started pulling her shorts back up and turned her on her side so I can look her in her face, and she somewhat focused her eyes, looked at me and goes, “Mia, when did you get here?” Then she kind of tilted her head down and asked, ‘”Why are my shorts off?” I asked her what happened when I left her with Josh, and she couldn’t remember him getting there or leaving. She asked me where he was and then picked up her phone to text him, I think, but then she said she didn’t feel well so I helped her into the bathroom where she threw up, then I put her in bed.”

Ricks said that she messaged Michaela the next day about the night before and tried to jog her memory, but to no avail.

“She was that [expletive] out of it,” Ricks said.

When it became apparent that Michaela had no idea what had happened that night, Ricks hesitantly told her. Although she was never friends with Josh, Ricks was not surprised at how things turned out.

“I’ve always thought Josh was somewhat of a creep,” Ricks revealed. “He has always given me bad vibes, and I’m friends with an ex [girlfriend] of his whom he completely emotionally destroyed. He propositioned me at my place of work in front of many coworkers and customers and just made me so viscerally uncomfortable that my male coworkers made me promise not to go anywhere alone with him because ‘as a man, they can tell,’ and they could tell he wasn’t up to any good.”

Since the incident, Ricks said Michaela went from social and friendly to completely isolated to the point where Ricks would not hear from her for weeks. Ricks went on to say that Michaela’s isolation stemmed from the way her friends, who were also Josh’s, began to treat her.

“She [became] very withdrawn and now gives surface level happiness instead of the true happiness I knew her to be capable of exhibiting,” Ricks said.

After the event, Michaela slowly stopped talking to Josh. However, buried feelings arose when she saw him at a Willcox Hall party a few weeks later.

Still reeling from the incident, seeing Josh in the flesh did nothing for Michaela’s psyche, especially when she witnessed him apparently flirting with another girl.

I was told he was holding hands with a freshman on the way to the party,” Michaela explained. “I was hurt and upset and I tried walking around to distract myself until I saw him whispering in some girl’s ear and rubbing her arm. I ran to the bathroom and started crying.”

Feeling “drunk and suicidal,” Michaela confided in her friends the series of unfortunate events surrounding Josh. After a heated argument in which Josh allegedly told Michaela to “go kill yourself,” Michaela decided that drastic times called for drastic measures. Although hesitant at first, Michaela reported Josh to her RD and then eventually took her case to Title IX.

According to Title IX Coordinator and Affirmative Action Officer for Pace, Lisa Miles, Title IX “has oversight for prevention, compliance, investigation, and adjudication of sexual assault.”

Although Michaela did not report the first few incidents that occurred between her and Josh, Miles explained that there is no specific time limit for a person to report an attack or assault. However, Miles said, relevant witnesses and evidence may be scarce the longer a victim takes to speak out.

“There is no statute of limitations with respect to alleged violations of this Policy,” Miles said. “However, Complainants or persons with knowledge of a violation are urged to report the alleged violation as soon as possible in order to permit the best possible investigation to be conducted. The availability and memory of witnesses and the availability of documentary evidence, particularly electronic evidence, may be diminished by the passage of time.”

However, Michaela believes her evidence was not taken seriously enough.

I had so much evidence that showed he admitted to hitting me,” Michaela retorted, “all of the documents of him violating the [No Contact Order], a witness to the first sexual assault, the text messages that said, ‘do you remember me being me you over?’ and his ex testifying on behalf of their relationship.” 

The No Contact Order (NCO) was issued to Josh at the beginning of the case by then-Dean for Students Lisa Bardill Moscaritolo. Under the issuing of the Order, Josh was temporarily suspended from campus until further notice. Other rules and procedures from the NCO are as followed:

  • Direct verbal communication (e.g. telephone or in person)
  • Indirect verbal communication (e.g. voicemail messages)
  • Proxy communication (e.g. messages sent via friends or other intermediaries)
  • Written communication to or ABOUT these individuals (e.g. email, texting, IM, Twitter, Facebook chat, etc.)
  • Being in the same room
  • The actions of your guests (whether Pace students or non-Pace students) that may be construed as
    threatening, harassing or disruptive

Despite being issued the NCO, however, Josh was still present on campus. According to Michaela and supporting documents from the case, Josh was issued the Order on October 30, 2018. The document stated that Josh first violated the Order on November 20 by appearing at the Students of Carribean Awareness (SOCA) Thanksgiving event. The document also stated that he continued to come back to campus on various occasions afterward, such as on January 27 when his car was spotted outside of the Goldstein Fitness Center, and other occasions where he was escorted off the premises after being caught in other students’ rooms. Michaela said that Dean Bardill Moscaritolo did nothing more than simply have Josh escorted off campus each time.

The more Josh continued to violate the Order, the more anxious Michaela became.

I was scared,” Michaela confessed. “I was afraid to leave my room and I missed two weeks worth of classes. I was angry that [Pace] wasn’t taking it seriously. It took him to violate the NCO three times for them to finally ban him off campus. He was banned for three months but was still coming on campus during that time.”

As the case continued, Michaela found herself spiraling downward into a deep depression.

I feel like starting the case only made me look bad because I lost so many friends,” Michaela said. ” [Josh] was telling everyone that I was a liar, sent my documents out to [a fraternity], and he made the story into how he wanted it to be.”

Feeling withdrawn and alienated by her peers, Michaela slowly alienated herself from the outside world. Traumatized by the lucid memories of Josh and the alleged incident, Michaela moved out of her room and began staying with her platonic ex-boyfriend, who chose to use the pseudonym “Dallas” for this article.

Dallas first met Josh at a Willcox party in spring 2017. As Josh continued to come around Dallas and his friends, the two became fast friends, eventually forming a tight bond.

Dallas described Josh as “very outgoing and social,” with his main focus at school being his involvement with clubs and social status. With his evident popularity, Josh had no issues finding new female companions.

“Girls loved him,” Dallas said, “and he would definitely let you know if he wanted someone. Once he saw his prey he would be adamant about it.”

“There were many times where he asked for help when he was caught cheating on his ex-girlfriend,” Dallas continued. “He admitted that he cheated multiple times but he would always try to justify or make excuses for it. He would say that’s not how it happened.”

Dallas went on to say that while Michaela was more open about Josh and their apparent relationship, Josh preferred to keep it low key.

“He didn’t seem like the settle down type,” Dallas said, “and if he was, he wasn’t for long.”

On the night of the incident, Dallas received a surprising phone call from Michaela. Though they were not speaking much at the time, her phone call made him sense that something was wrong.

“…[The call] came to me at three in the morning,” Dallas began. “This was at a time where I was really to myself, so I hadn’t seen Michaela in a while. But the fact that she called me at 3 a.m., the fact that other people told me her mood had changed… I could tell this wasn’t an act.”

“I’d never seen this type of pain and sincerity from her,” the junior sighed. “It was pain and fear and sadness. I could tell that something was mentally bothering her. I knew she wasn’t willing to just let anyone in. The way she described the events was robotic. Like she didn’t know what to feel. It gave me goosebumps, and I could tell from her voice that something bad had just happened.”

From that day on, Dallas himself began to notice a change in Michaela’s behavior, describing her unusual nature as “true terror.” Eventually, she moved in with him.

She was emotionally distraught,” Dallas explained. “She didn’t go to class because she was always in fear of being on her own campus because she was afraid of seeing him at any time. It was just pure fear. It wasn’t even just avoiding him, it was true terror.”

After hearing Michaela’s accounts of what happened and witnessing her new mental state, Dallas went to confront Josh, but did not expect an honest response.

“He just would shut down my questions,” Dallas said, “and his demeanor was calm. Each time I would ask him if everything was okay between [him and Michaela] he would say ‘yes, everything’s fine.’ Then he kind of would be stand-offish and beat around the bush.”

“Josh has a history of lying to my face,” he continued, “even when I knew he was lying. If you have a friend who’s been lying to you all this time and then to find out the truth from someone else, it just makes you question how trustworthy they are.  And since he hasn’t been willing to tell his side of the story, it makes him look scared to tell the truth.”

However, a rather willing Josh has decided to break his silence.

Josh is a student at Pace. He and Michaela were friends since he began college and even worked with her at Target at one point. Although they portrayed the image of being best friends, behind closed doors was a different tale.

According to Josh, although he was attracted to Michaela, he did not like her any more than just a friend. He said that her constant desire to be in a relationship with him ultimately led to the demise of their friendship.

We were friends with benefits,” Josh explained. ” We both agreed that we would just be friends with benefits. The reason why I stopped hanging out with her as much as she wanted to was that she [kept] telling me that she wanted a relationship, and I was telling her upfront that right now, I’m in the space that I can’t give that to her.”

I don’t want to be an evil person and play [games],” Josh continued. “She would text me to come to her room and I’d purposely not go. I’d make up an excuse because I live off campus and I’d say I’m at home or I’m studying. And then she would see me on other people’s [Snapchat stories] and she would comment and say, “Oh, this is why you don’t wanna hang out with me because you’re with all these other people, you’re with all these other girls.'”

“I’m like, ‘that shouldn’t really matter to you because I don’t owe you an explanation. You’re not my girlfriend, we’re not a couple, so whoever I’m hanging with shouldn’t be a problem to you. And that was one of the problems…”

Josh believed that because he had constantly rejected Michaela’s advances, she decided to accuse him of sexually assaulting her, a claim that Josh vehemently denied.

Even before we had the sexual relationship we were very close friends,” he said. “I just kept thinking wow, this is my close friend and just because I was honest with her, she accuses me of this.”

On the night of the incident, Josh admitted that both he and Michaela were under the influence, stating that on a scale from one to 10, with 10 being significantly intoxicated, he was “about a five” while Michaela was a seven.

When I got up to the townhouses I got more intoxicated,” the junior said, “then [Michaela and I] separated for a while so I don’t know what happened in between. But then she texted me during that time asking if we had sex that night and if she could shower. And I was like, ‘okay.'”

Both Michaela and Josh admitted that she was intoxicated during the conversation.

As the night progressed, Josh said that he and Michaela went to her room while their other friends took off. After indulging in a brief conversation, the two proceeded to have sex.

After we smoked we got back to the room. So three of my friends took our freshman friend to her room and I came with Michaela to her room,” Josh recounted. “We talked for a good five minutes. You know when someone’s intoxicated and they’re talking like they’re drunk? I noticed it. We were having deep conversations. We started making out and then she said she was going to use the bathroom. She came back, took off her clothes, and then we had sex. Then one of her friends came knocking on the door so she put on her clothes and opened the door.”

Although Josh noticed that Michaela was intoxicated, he explained that the two often had sex both under and over the influence, which is why her text to him the next day about her state of mind baffled him.

…When she said she couldn’t walk, I’m [thinking], ‘how did you open the door if you couldn’t walk?'” Josh said. “To me, that text was odd. I didn’t know how to respond to that. Before this, we had been having sex for four months. Sometimes we were intoxicated, sometimes not. I never put myself in that [kind of] situation.”

Josh admitted, however, that while it was not the best idea to engage in sexual activity while under the influence, he affirmed that he would never take advantage of anyone who is.

It’s kind of bad on my part that I was allowing [sex] to happen while we were both intoxicated,” the junior said, “but I have morals. For me, I’m just confident in myself that if I wanna have sex, I don’t have to rape someone to do so. Like I don’t have to go to extremes, I’m not a fiend for it.”

After that night, Michaela slowly stopped talking to Josh, though he was not sure why. However, a few days later, Josh received his own alarming phone call.

“[Director of Residential Housing] Alerie [Tirsch] called me and asked if I can come to the [Residential] Office at 4:45 p.m. When I did, she told me I was charged with sexual assault and domestic violence,” Josh explained. “When she told me it was Michaela, I literally screamed in the office. I read the papers with all the different charges and I literally couldn’t speak. I asked Alerie if I could speak to Dean [Bardill Moscaritolo] because I went into shock. I couldn’t believe that even after I was honest with this girl that because she didn’t like my answer, she would file all these things saying that I raped and physically abused her.”

According to Josh, Michaela did not just report the allegations to Title IX, but to a fraternity he was trying to join as well. As Josh began to reel in the effects of Michaela’s accusations, he began to crumble.

She didn’t only report it to Title IX. There was a frat I was interested in joining and she got the number for the person in charge of it from an ex-boyfriend who also has an interest in the frat, and he told her that if she tells them that I raped and physically abused her, then I would never get into the fraternity,” Josh said. “So she didn’t just stop at Title IX, she went an extra mile to make sure that my life crashes. So I got hit with these two things in the span of 30 minutes. I didn’t even know what to do. I just sat in Dean [Bardill Moscaritolo’s] office, looked at her, and cried.” 

Aside from the fraternity, Josh’s real worries concerned his family back home. Being an international student, Josh felt stuck between a rock and a hard place amid the allegations.

“What was I supposed to do?” the junior said. “How was I supposed to call my parents and tell them I’m coming home because I just got kicked out of school? If I get kicked out, it’s not like I can go to community college because my Visa is terminated. So If I stay in America, I’d be an illegal immigrant, so of course, I’d have to go home.”

“I don’t know what went through [Michaela’s] head,” he continued. “If I was found guilty, I would get kicked out of school and then where else would I go?”

Josh went on to say that Michaela began telling everyone about the case, including his coworkers at the Kessel Student Center. The case also prohibited him from applying to Pace FIRE, which ironically stands for Fighting Ignorance and Rape with Education, due to his status with Pace.

With Josh’s life spiraling out of control, he turned to drug usage to get through his depression.

I felt depressed during those six months because I didn’t know what to do,” Josh confided. “I started self-medicating very heavy on marijuana. I got to a very low point in my life. I wasn’t allowed to be on campus at all, my classes were all online. It really messed with me. I didn’t tell my parents about [the case] until my 21st birthday. It wasn’t even that I was scared, I was ashamed.”

In March, a decision was finally made, leaving one party to heave a breath of relief while the other felt betrayed by Pace.

When it comes to sexual-based crimes on campus, the decision is ultimately made by the Dean for Students on the non-involved campus. Since the incident and report was made on the Pleasantville campus, the verdict was issued by Dean Marijo Russell-O’Grady, Dean for Students on the New York City Campus. Upon reviewing the documents and evidence from both parties, Dean Russel-O’Grady found Josh not guilty for the multiple charges of sexual misconduct and dating violence. These are some of her reasons:

  • A review of the text message exchanges between Complainant [Michaela] and Respondent [Josh] indicates that the Complainant was able to carry on a coherent conversation and make decisions
  • Complainant alleges that sometime between October 6th and October 14th, she was in bed with Respondent. She woke up to find that her pants were pulled down and Respondent was inserting his fingers into her vagina. Respondent stated that he did not recall this incident. Regarding this allegation, there are contradictory accounts of what occurred. There also is a lack of evidence regarding the events/activities leading up to the complained of conduct. In the absence of further evidence or greater detail in recall, it is not possible to make a finding of Nonconsensual Sexual Contact.
  • The Respondent may have, as a witness suggests, made a statement about the Complainant killing herself. The investigation, however, showed that such a statement was made one time, and in reply to the Complainant’s own report that she was going to kill herself.  There is no indication that the Respondent ever suggested or initiated a conversation with Complainant suggesting that she commit suicide. Rather the record shows that the Respondent was responding to comments made by the Complainant.
  • It is alleged that on October 30th the Respondent was overheard stating he would teach the Complainant a lesson and that he stood in the doorway laughing and talking with others so that the Complainant could not exit without coming close to the Respondent. The Complainant reported that two of her friends heard the Respondent’s alleged comment, but neither friend was interviewed during the investigation. The Complainant was unable to provide further information regarding her allegation, preventing any meaningful investigation. As such, I was unable to make any determination regarding the allegation…

Despite finding Josh not guilty of Michaela’s allegations, Dean Russel-O’Grady upheld that the NCO between Michaela and Josh still be in effect until one or both parties graduate.

After hearing that he was found innocent, Josh cried tears of joy.

I felt like my prayers were answered,” the international student said. “Like God really pulled me out of this. I felt happy.” 

However, Michaela was devastated. Since the decision, Michaela felt deemed a liar by her peers, hence the Instagram message she received. Even though the NCO was still in order, she found out that Josh was gloating about his victory and telling her former friends that she had made the accusations up, even sending the documents from the case to his friends to display his innocence.

Screenshot of Josh attaching documents from the case into a group chat.

After the decision was made, Michaela felt her world turn upside down. Feeling shunned by her former friends and let down by Pace, Michaela sank down lower into a state of misery, making her question what the purpose was for reporting her experience.

Initially wanting to take the case to the police, Michaela said that Tirsch encouraged her not to due to the non-guilty verdict from Pace. Since the case has ended, Michaela expressed that she no longer trusts Tirsch, Dean Bardill Moscaritolo, or the Title IX Office.

My whole body shut down,” the senior said. “I went back in a mode where I did not want to go to classes. He was allowed back to school, back to senate meetings and [campus clubs]. And I had to see him. Every. Single. Day. He’s walking with all my former friends and people that I had to cut off because of this. They were all my friends first and then they all dropped me for him. I don’t even go to Kessel anymore.”

In terms of not taking her case further, Michaela believed that the school’s officials were “afraid of looking bad to the police.”

“…Alerie said that the way the school sees it, the police would see it the same way. That because I was “able to text” it was consensual and coherent,” Michaela explained. “However, there is such thing as drunk texting. My alcohol tolerance is not high and two puffs of weed and I’m gone. She basically asked if I would really want to end the semester with another case. It made me feel hopeless.”

Despite everything that has happened, Michaela saw a silver lining throughout it all.

This case has given me thicker skin. I was bullied in high school and I cried every day. But the real world is full of people who don’t want to see you succeed. This case has made me stronger and I feel like I’m ready for that real world,” she said.

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