Jack Montesanto: How The System Enabled A Violent Cop And Failed The People Of Geneva

In the Spring of 2017, the Geneva Police Department responded to a 911 caller who reported that GPD Sergeant Jack Montesanto had thrown his girlfriend to the floor, pinned her down and prevented her from leaving his residence. Two children, both aged 8, were in a bedroom and heard the incident taking place. The victim’s injuries were photographed, and she told the responding officer that Montesanto had “beaten her at least 10 times during their relationship.”

Montesanto was on paid leave at the time of the incident, having been suspended for a violent confrontation with Police Chief Jeff Trickler a few months prior.

Geneva Police Officer Jack Montesanto

In the Summer of 2018, Montesanto was back in uniform and on the streets of Geneva after being demoted from Sergeant to Patrol Officer.

By the Summer of 2019,  Patrol Officer Jack Montesanto was arrested and accused of choking a woman in the booking area of the Public Safety Building. Montesanto brazenly strangled the victim in full view of multiple video cameras, showing no concern about being held accountable or facing any consequences for the attack. His trial is expected to begin in the Fall of 2021.

Now, previously unpublished details about Montesanto’s domestic violence incident, his paid suspension for fighting with the chief, and the subsequent investigations into both those incidents have become available through a Freedom of Information Law request by Geneva Believer.

How was Jack Montesanto’s increasingly violent behavior allowed to continue for years, culminating in his arrest for brutally attacking a woman in his custody?

*Warning: This article includes graphic language and descriptions related to domestic violence.*

July 2004 – Montesanto Begins Law Enforcement Career

According to Montesanto’s LinkedIn page, he began his law enforcement career as a police officer with the Prince William County Police Department in Woodbridge, Virginia from July 2004 through June 2006.

Jack Montesanto, circa 2005

In August 2007, Montesanto was hired as a Deputy with the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department, headquartered in Ithaca, New York. He left the department in July 2009.

August 2009 – Montesanto Joins GPD

In August 2009, Montesanto was hired by Geneva Police Chief Frank Pane.

Former Geneva Police Chief Frank Pane

June 2015 – Montesanto Hailed As “Next Generation Leader”

In June 2015, the Finger Lakes Times reported that former City Manager Matt Horn unveiled a new program designed “provide select employees with the skills necessary to develop as managers in city government and beyond.”

Twenty city employees applied, but only seven were chosen to participate in the professional development program, including Jack Montesanto.

According to the article:

Montesanto has more than a decade of security and law enforcement expertise in the public and private sectors, including the last six years as a member of the Geneva Police Department. He is currently an investigator with the department’s drug enforcement unit. He is accredited as a police officer in Virginia and New York.

Horn also stated that current city employees would be mentoring all of the “Next Generation Leader” candidates over the course of the 6 month program, from June to December 2015. The mentoring relationships were set up so that candidates were not necessarily mentored by someone from their department.

Sage Gerling, City Manager and mentor of Jack Montesanto

Jack Montesanto was mentored by Director of Neighborhood Initiatives Sage Gerling, who became Geneva’s City Manager in 2018.

August 2015 – Montesanto Promoted

On August 7, 2015, Jack Montesanto was promoted to Sergeant.

Image from GPD 2015 Annual Report

April 2016 – Citizen Complaint Against Montesanto

On April 18, 2016, a citizen lodged a formal complaint against Montesanto and two other Geneva Police officers.

The complainant stated that while being processed at the Public Safety Building, Montesanto called him a “scumbag,” said that the complainant “never worked a day in (his) life,” and accused the complainant of stealing bail money from his father after a prior arrest.

In September, the three complaints were sustained after an internal investigation conducted by Lt. Eric Heieck.

GPD Officer Jack Montesanto

In an October meeting to discuss the sustained complaints, Heieck reminded Montesanto that officers “shall control their tempers and exercise the utmost patience and discretion.” Heick continued, “Sergeant Montesanto apologized and stated that actions like this would not happen again.”

No disciplinary action was taken against Montesanto for the three complaints.

February 2017 – Montesanto’s Violent Confrontation With Chief

On February 2, 2017, Montesanto got into an angry, violent confrontation with Chief Jeff Trickler during a command staff meeting, resulting in his immediate suspension with pay.

Trickler was leading a command staff meeting in the Public Safety Building courtroom. In attendance were Lieutenants Eric Heieck and Matt Valenti, along with Sergeants David Felice, Tyler Turner, Chris Keear, Jeff Keyser and Jack Montesanto.

According to Trickler, he began discussing staffing levels and “why individuals were still placed in certain positions,” at which point Montesanto sat back in his chair, smirked and “made a laughing noise.”

Former GPD Chief Jeff Trickler

When Trickler asked Montesanto if he had anything to say, Montesanto replied that “nothing (I) would say would be constructive.” Trickler and Lt. Valenti encouraged Montesanto to “say what he wanted to say,” and Montesanto expressed his “his displeasure with the staffing of the narcotics unit.”

When Lt. Heieck offered an explanation for Montesanto’s complaint, Montesanto disagreed with the explanation and “continued to be agitated.”

Trickler attempted to offer an explanation, but was interrupted twice by Montesanto. When Trickler told Montesanto a second time not to interrupt him, Montesanto told the chief to “calm down.”

Trickler then ordered Montesanto to leave the meeting, to which Montesanto replied “Gladly,” then grabbed his belongings and stood up to leave. Trickler told Montesanto “I’ll see you in my office in the morning,” and Montesanto replied “No, you won’t.” Trickler responded “Yes, I will” and Montesanto again replied “No, you won’t.”

As Montesanto was walking out, Trickler began to stand up and Montesanto told him, twice, to “sit down.”

When Trickler, along with Lieutenants Heieck and Valenti,  followed Montesanto out of the court room, Montesanto violently threw open the court room door, slamming it into the wall.

When Trickler then ordered Montesanto to immediately report to the chief’s office, Montesanto yelled, “You don’t know who you are fucking talking to.”

Trickler then told Montesanto that he was being insubordinate, and Montesanto replied, “I don’t care, write me up.” Montesanto then threw open the front door to the Public Safety Building and yelled down the hallway to the chief, “You are ruining this department” in a tone that was “loud, aggressive and disrespectful,” and then left.

Trickler, Heieck and Valenti  went to Trickler’s office and contacted the City’s Human Resources department to request administrative leave paper work for Montesanto.

GPD Lt. Matt Valenti

According to Lt. Matt Valenti:

“Approximately 30 minutes later the Chief contacted Sgt. Montesanto via phone and instructed Sgt. Montesanto to return and see the Chief.

 

Sgt. Montesanto returned and started to walk into Chiefs office. The Chief instructed Sgt. Montesanto to wait in the Sgt.’s Office for a few minutes, Sgt. Montesanto stated “I’ll just wait in the hallway how about that”.

Valenti described what happened after Montesanto entered the chief’s office:

“The Chief advised Sgt. Montesanto that he was being placed on Administrative Leave while an investigation into the incident was being done. Sgt. Montesanto was upset and stated that it was “Horseshit” and the only reason he was being put on Administration Leave is because the Chief was angry due to Sgt. Montesanto saying something that the Chief disagrees with.

 

Sgt. Montesanto signed the Leave letter and kinda threw it back at the Chief. Sgt. Montesanto also threw the pen onto the Chiefs desk which caused the pen to travel across the desk where the Chief caught it.

 

Montesanto’s signature on the Administrative Leave letter after his incident with the chief

The Chief then instructed Sgt. Montesanto to turn in his badge, gun, ID card and access card. Sgt. Montesanto stated “My gun and badge are in my locker you can get them yourself.” Sgt. Montesanto gave the Chief his access card but not his ID. Chief then asked again for the ID and Sgt. Montesanto said “No, Why?” The Chief instructed him that it was City property. Sgt. Montesanto did then give the ID to the Chief.”

Chief Trickler then delegated Sergeant (and future Chief) Mike Passalacqua to conduct an internal investigation into the Montesanto incident.

(L-R) Chief Mike Passalacqua, former Chief Jeff Trickler
Internal Investigation Completed

Passalacqua’s internal investigation concluded on February 14, just twelve days after the incident.

Three violations of the GPD’s General Orders were sustained:

  • Violation of G.O. 305 Section III A(2)a of the General Orders of the Geneva Police Department which states: Unbecoming Conduct “officers shall conduct themselves at all times, both on and off duty, in such a manner as to reflect most favorably on the department. Conduct unbecoming an officer shall include that which brings the department into disrepute or reflects discredit upon the officer as a member of the department, or that which impairs the operation or efficiency of the department or officer. “
  • Violation of G.O. 305 Section III A(18)a of the General Orders of the Geneva Police Department which states: Insubordination “A. Officers shall promptly obey any lawful orders of a superior officer. This will include any lawful order of a superior, including any order replayed from a superior by a duly authorized agent of that supervisor. “
  • Violation of G.O. 305 Section III A(18)b of the General Orders of the Geneva Police Department which states: Insubordination “B. Officers and employees are prohibited from engaging in any disrespectful, mutinous, insolent or abusive language or action toward a superior officer or other competent authority, or ridiculing a superior officer, whether in or out of his/her presence.”

Chief Trickler sent a letter on April 7, 2017 notifying Montesanto that he was facing four separate “charges of misconduct and/or incompetence…pursuant to Section 75 of the New York State Civil Service Law” related to the February 2 incident.

The four charges were “Conduct Unbecoming An Officer,” “Insubordination Towards A Superior Officer,” “Failure To Act With Courtesy,” and “Violation of Rules.”

The letter also warned Montesanto:

“If you are found guilty of any of the above charges, the penalty or punishment imposed on you may consist of demotion in grade and title, suspension without pay, a fine to the maximum extent permitted by Section 75 of the Civil Service Law, or a reprimand. The maximum penalty sought by the City is demotion in grade and title.”

The letter further stated that Montesanto had ten days to respond to the charges in writing, and that he was entitled to a hearing on those charges.

GPD Officer Jack Montesanto

Five days later, on April 12, 2017, Montesanto responded to Trickler via a letter in which he does not ask for a hearing and instead requests a “dialogue” with the Chief to find a “compromise.”

“We are both professionals who deeply care about the City of Geneva and the Geneva Police Department and I believe that we can still come to a resolution without the use of a hearing officer or any hearing at all. Please let me know if you’re open to a dialogue between the two of us so that we may reach a compromise in regard to discipline.”

There is no other documentation from the FOIL request related to any disciplinary measures taken against Montesanto, or his eventual reinstatement, related to the February 2017 incident with the chief.

Montesanto would remain on paid administrative leave, receiving an estimated $128,000 total salary, for approximately 16 months.

May 2017 – Montesanto’s Domestic Violence Incident

At approximately 9:30pm on May 17 2017, Geneva Patrol Officer Michael Tapscott responded to a 911 call placed by a friend (“Mary”) of the  victim (“Jen”). Mary had placed the 911 call against Jen’s wishes.

GPD Officer Michael Tapscott

Jen had just fled, with her child and Mary’s child (both 8 years old), from the residence of her boyfriend Jack Montesanto after being physically attacked by the officer, who was on paid administrative leave from the police department.

When questioned, Jen gave the following account to Officer Tapscott:

Jen said that she and Montesanto had been “arguing all week regarding different topics,” and this incident “became physical.”  Jen said “Montesanto became angry and was yelling at her,” and that she “becomes scared when Montesanto loses his temper.”

When Jen told Montesanto that she was going to leave, she said that Montesanto “grab(bed) her by the arm and threw her to the ground. Once on the ground, Montesanto got on top of (her) and held her down refusing to let her get up and leave.”

Jen “was yelling for Montesanto to get off of her and then started yelling for her child (“Jamie”) who was in the bedroom.” Eventually, Montesanto “did get off of (Jen),” who took the children and went to Mary’s home.

Jen stated that Montesanto had “beaten her approximately ten times during their relationship.”

Lieutenant Matt Valenti soon arrived to question the victim and witnesses.

Jen “was reluctant to speak (to Valenti) stating she has already told the story enough.”  Jen also “refused any paperwork regarding this incident stating she didn’t want to “muddy” Montesanto’s reputation or career.””

Valenti then spoke to Jen’s friend Mary, who told Valenti that Jen was her “close friend,” and that she (Mary) called 911 because her child was present when the incident took place.

GPD Lieutenant Matt Valenti

Mary told Valenti that it wasn’t the first time Montesanto had been physical with Jen, and that it wasn’t “the 20th or 25th time.” Mary stated that Montesanto’s physical abuse of Jen “occurs constantly,” but that Jen wouldn’t report the violence because “she loves Montesanto and likes the security of being in love.”

Mary also told Valenti that in the summer of 2016, Montesanto “slammed (Jen)’s head off a bathtub.”

Mary also reiterated that Montesanto “repeatedly beats and throws (Jen) around.,” and earlier that evening, Jen came to Mary’s house “crying” with a “ripped shirt” and a “significant hand print on her arm from where Montesanto grabbed her.”

Valenti reported that the victim’s injuries were photographed.

Jen’s child, “Jamie,” and Mary’s child, “Morgan,” were interviewed by Valenti.

Morgan said the two children were in Jamie’s bedroom and could hear Montesanto and Jen’s “loud” arguing, then heard a “loud noise as if something fell on the ground.” Morgan said they then heard Jen loudly yell “Get off me” several times, at which point the children were convinced that the noise they heard was Jen being slammed to the floor.

Jamie heard Jen calling Jamie’s name, but the two children were “too scared to leave the bedroom.”

Valenti, accompanied by Sergeant Tyler Turner, then went to Montesanto’s residence to question the officer.

Montesanto stated that he and Jen had an argument,  when Montesanto “told (Jen) to leave, which she did.” Montesanto stated that he didn’t know where Jen had gone.

Montesanto stated that “neither he nor (Jen) touched each other and that the argument was only verbal.” When asked about Jen ‘s injury to her arm and torn shirt, Montesanto stated “I don’t know how that happened, I never touched her.”

The next day, May 18, 2017, a report on the domestic incident was sent to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, and Chief Trickler contacted Christopher Baldwin, Senior Investigator with New York State Police Troop E, to request that the state police investigate the domestic incident.

Why wasn’t Jack Montesanto arrested?

New York State has “Mandatory Arrest” laws regarding domestic violence. The law states that police are required to make an arrest “when they have reasonable cause to believe that a person has committed specific crimes against members of their family or household,” including “current or former intimate partners.” Under New York State law relating to domestic incidents, an action can be considered a crime when an officer has reasonable cause to believe it was committed, even if the officer doesn’t witness it. Additionally, in most mandatory arrest cases, police must make an arrest even if the victim asks them not to do so.

In this case, the victim told Officer Tapscott that she had been thrown down, pinned to the floor, and prevented from leaving by Montesanto, and that Montesanto had beaten her “ten times” in the past. In addition, two witnesses in the house gave statements to Lieutenant Valenti corroborating the victim’s statement, the victim was injured and her clothing torn, and photographs were taken of the victim’s injuries.

It would appear that the Geneva Police had reasonable cause, under New York State Law, to believe a crime was committed, and Montesanto likely should have been arrested, regardless of whether the victim signed a statement.

If Montesanto had been arrested and charged with (at minimum) second degree unlawful imprisonment, and then convicted of that misdemeanor, he would have been prohibited from owning or using a firearm under the 1996 Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, which would have effectively ended his career as an armed law enforcement officer.

Jack Montesanto, May 27, 2017, ten days after his domestic violence incident
NYS Police Investigation Of Montesanto’s Domestic Incident

On May 26 2017, New York State Police Senior Investigator Christopher Baldwin received documentation on the Montesanto domestic violence incident from Chief Trickler.

On June 6, Baldwin contacted Ontario County District Attorney R. Michael Tantillo, per Tantillo’s request, and reviewed the allegations.

Between June 30 and July 22, Baldwin attempted to contact and interview the following individuals as part of the investigation:

  • Jack Montesanto
  • Montesanto’s victim, “Jen”
  • Jen’s friend “Mary”
New York State Police Senior Investigator Christopher Baldwin, circa 2017

On July 15, Baldwin went to a reported residence of Jen, where he met Jen’s father, a well-known Geneva political figure, who told the investigator that Jen was residing with Montesanto at a different address.

When Baldwin asked Jen’s father if he had “any concern about the well-being of his daughter,” Jen’s father responded that Montesanto “was an upstanding Sergeant with the police department.”

On July 19, Baldwin contacted the Ontario County Child Protective Services office for an update on their investigation.

Caseworker Rhonda Peterson advised Baldwin that Caseworker Beth Thomas “had closed their investigation as unfounded. The children had no firsthand knowledge of the alleged domestic incident. The children were in another room and did not see the event.”

On July 21, Baldwin finally met with Jen for an interview. Jen provided Baldwin with the following account, which dramatically differed from the account she gave GPD Officer Tapscott the night of the attack:

“(Jen) disclosed that on (the night of the incident), she and Montesanto has a brief ‘stupid’ argument at the residence. During this brief argument, she stated that she was going to leave and she was persistent with leaving. Montesanto tried to hold her at the door in an effort to talk with her. He held her on her arm, so she would not leave, which caused a small bruise. As he was holding her arm, she pulled away and she fell to the floor.

 

She reported that she was not injured as a result of the fall and he did not throw her to the floor. She wanted no criminal action filed against Montesanto regarding this incident and she had no other domestic issues with him. She reported that she and her (child) felt safe at the home.”

On the same day, July 21, Baldwin met with Montesanto for an interview, and in direct conflict with Jen’s statements to Baldwin, Montesanto flatly denied that any physical contact had occurred.

“(Montesanto) disclosed that he and his girlfriend, had an argument at his residence. The augment was loud and occurred in the living room. (The children) were in a rear bedroom and did not observe the event. He believed that the (children) heard the loud yelling. He denied that the incident was physical at all. He reported that he and his girlfriend, were getting their issues worked out.”

At this point, Baldwin had been unable to successfully schedule and conduct an interview with Jen’s friend Mary.

However, on the next day, July 22, Baldwin met with Ontario County DA Tantillo to discuss the investigation. Baldwin stated that “based on the result of my interviews, (Tantillo) declined to file any criminal charges.”

Former Ontario County District Attorney R. Michael Tantillo

Baldwin never interviewed Officer Tapscott, Jen’s friend Mary, or the two children who were present during the attack.

On July 28, Baldwin officially closed the case, stating that “the interviews conducted failed to substantiate criminal charges against the suspect, Jack J. Montesanto, Jr.”

July 2018 – Montesanto Reinstated And Demoted

Montesanto, on paid leave since February 2017, was still listed as a Sergeant with the GPD on the City of Geneva’s website on May 18, 2018.

On July 27, Mike Passalacqua was appointed as the new Chief of the Geneva Police Department.

On August 2, Montesanto was listed on the City’s website as a Patrol Officer.

Montesanto is the last name on the list of patrol officers, which is shown in order of seniority, meaning Montesanto had not only been demoted, but had also lost nine years of service towards his retirement.

In addition, Montesanto’s name is listed after Patrol Officer Trevor Wagner, who was hired on June 18, 2018, indicating that Montesanto was reinstated some time after June 18.

As previously reported by Geneva Believer, “(sources say) shortly before he retired in July 2018, (Chief)Trickler (along with the City and the police union) reportedly worked out a last-minute deal to reinstate Montesanto. Sources reported that in order to avoid arbitration that likely would have ended his career, Montesanto agreed to a deal that allowed him to be demoted but keep his job. The deal was reportedly timed so that Trickler could retire, and could avoid working with with Montesanto.

July 2019 – Montesanto Arrested

On July 31 2019, the Geneva Police Department announced the arrest of Patrol Officer Jack Montesanto, who was accused of choking a woman in the booking area of the Public Safety Building. The incident was caught on body camera video.

Mugshot – GPD Officer Jack Montesanto, arrested 7/31/19

The woman, who had been arrested for disorderly conduct and a noise ordinance violation in the early morning hours of July 23 2019, told News10NBC that Montesanto slammed her head against a mailbox and that “her dress fell open and she was not given an opportunity to fix it” before she was arrested and later strangled by the officer.

Montesanto was charged with criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation, a class A misdemeanor, and released from custody early the same evening.

It was later revealed that Montesanto’s victim lost consciousness when he strangled her, and he should have been charged with a felony, not a misdemeanor.

At the time of Montesanto’s arrest, the Finger Lakes Times reported that Geneva Police Chief Mike Passalacqua said there had been no complaints against Montesanto since he joined the department in 2009.

Geneva Police Chief Mike Passalacqua
And a few days after the officer’s arrest, Passalacqua called his longtime friend Jack Montesanto a “good cop” even though he was fully aware of Montesanto’s history of violence.

July 2019 – Montesanto Accused Of Excessive Force

According to court documents and a Finger Lakes Times article from October 2019, Montesanto was accused of physically abusing a Geneva man while taking him into custody. The incident allegedly took place on July 23, the same date as the strangulation incident that led to Montesanto’s arrest.

Although Geneva Police reports claim that the man, Alexander Farnsworth, was running from the scene of an alleged domestic incident, Farnsworth states that he was walking to a gas station for cigarettes when Jack Montesanto arrived.

Farnsworth alleges that Montesanto used “unnecessary physical force” in throwing Farnsworth to the ground. Montesanto then allegedly placed handcuffs on Farnsworth so tightly that they “cut” and “caused injury to his wrists.” Farnsworth says that Montesanto proceeded to lift up on the cuffs “hard enough to take (Farnsworth) off his feet” and then “dragged” to the patrol car.

As of this writing, a lawsuit filed in November 2020 by Farnsworth against the City is still in progress.

December 2019 – Montesanto Appears In Court, Laughing With Tapscott

On December 2 2019, Jack Montesanto made his first court appearance since August, after being arrested and charged in July.

Montesanto was seen in the courtroom laughing and joking with two fellow Geneva Police officers before being offered a plea deal by the Ontario County First Assistant District Attorney Jason McBride.

Patrol Officer Michael Tapscott, who was the first officer on the scene at Montesanto’s domestic violence incident, showed up for Montesanto’s 1:30pm appearance, and along with Court Liaison Officer Brian Choffin, began laughing and joking with their disgraced colleague, according to multiple witnesses in the courtroom.

Geneva Patrol Officer Michael Tapscott

Choffin and Tapscott made jokes about Montesanto’s suit, and Tapscott was seen cheerfully patting Montesanto on the back in full view of the entire courtroom.

Montesanto did not accept the plea deal.

His trial is expected to begin in the Fall of 2021.

Montesanto’s Confidence Fueled By No Accountability

On July 29 2019, four days after the start of the internal investigation into the strangulation incident and two days before he was arrested and charged, Montesanto left the following post on the business and employment-related social media site LinkedIn:

LinkedIn post by Jack Montesanto on July 29 2019, two days before he was arrested and four days after the start of the internal investigation that led to his arrest.

Rather than being concerned about a potential career-ending arrest for violently strangling a female city resident, Montesanto was looking for his next job.

With an internal investigation underway, why was Montesanto so confident to assume that he would not be charged with a felony, and would simply move on to another law enforcement job?

Montesanto’s confidence likely stems from his history of avoiding any serious consequences for his actions.

In a Finger Lakes Times interview, Passalacqua may have offered at least one clue as to why Montesanto escaped accountability for so long during his time with the GPD:

“(Montesanto) isn’t someone who we took in as a lateral transfer, knew nothing about and had no ties to the area. I knew him going back to high school, about 20 to 25 years. Knowing a person that well makes it that much worse.”

As an internal affairs investigator (and later Chief), Passalacqua certainly knew about Montesanto’s domestic violence incident, and was the lead investigator into Montesanto’s violent confrontation with the previous police chief.

Passalacqua called his longtime friend Jack Montesanto a “good cop” shortly after Montesanto was arrested, even though the chief had full, detailed knowledge of Montesanto’s history of violence.

Sergeant (and future Patrol Officer) Jack Montesanto (left), Lieutenant (and future Police Chief) Mike Passalacqua (second from left) in a photo posted on Montesanto’s Twitter account in October 2016

The list of public officials who had full knowledge of, yet did little or nothing to address, Montesanto’s hair-trigger temper and his propensity for violence, is not a short one.

Geneva Police Department

Ontario County District Attorney’s Office

New York State Police

Ontario County Child Protective Services

Trickler. Passalacqua. Tapscott. Valenti. Tantillo.

 Sage Gerling.

The father of Montesanto’s victim.

They all knew.

And they all stayed silent, keeping Montesanto’s violence a secret, allowing Jack Montesanto stay on the streets and on the payroll.

If there’s any silver lining in the story of Jack Montesanto, it’s that he didn’t end up taking anyone’s life.

But Montesanto’s victims will always live with the trauma and the scars he inflicted on their bodies and their minds, while the people who were entrusted with protecting those victims will always be remembered for looking the other way.

 

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