September 25, 2020

Media Decoder Blog: M.L.B. Turns to Young Stars to Reach New Fans

Andrew McCutchenMajor League Baseball Andrew McCutchen

Trout, Harper, Posey, McCutchen and Price. Sounds like an advertising agency, or a law firm. Actually, the names are those of several of the young stars who will be the face of the effort from Major League Baseball to promote Opening Day 2013.

A commercial that is to begin running on Friday features players who include Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, age 21; Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals, 20; Buster Posey, 25, of the San Francisco Giants; Andrew McCutchen, 26, of the Pittsburgh Pirates and David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays, who is 27.

The players in the commercial who are the oldest – a relative term – are each 30: Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees, Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers and David Wright of the New York Mets.

The commercial presents each player declaring what he will play for when the 2013 season gets under way. For instance, Mr. Harper says, “I play for nine guys playing as one.” Mr. Trout says, “For the history to be written.”

Mr. Posey says, “For three rings in four years,” referring to the two World Series championships won by his team in the last three years.

The commercial ends with Mr. Verlander asserting, “I play for October” – that is, to make the playoffs and, eventually, the World Series.

Viewers of the commercial will notice that the spot takes a serious, earnest tone rather than the lighthearted tack that Major League Baseball sometimes uses in its promotional efforts. It seems as if the young players are readying themselves to compete in “The Hunger Games” rather than in the American and National leagues.

Major League Baseball executives “challenged us to give the work a different feel and a different energy,” said Karen Kaplan, president at Hill Holliday in Boston, the agency owned by the Interpublic Group of Companies that is creating the campaign.

The goal was “to demonstrate the passion” the players have, she added, in a way that would seem as if it was “getting inside the players’ heads and giving people a glimpse of what’s going on.”

There will also be subsequent commercials that are focused on the young stars one at a time, including Mr. Harper and Mr. McCutchen. There will also be spots in Spanish with Spanish-speaking players like Mr. Cano.

The follow-up commercials also use the “I play for” template, with Mr. Harper making statements like “I play for the ‘W’ on my hat. And 95 more in the ‘win’ column” and for “the Nationals red pumping through my veins.”

In his spot, Mr. McCutchen says, “I play for the Steel City,” meaning Pittsburgh, and “for those who wore the ‘P’ before me.”

For years, Major League Baseball has sought ways to appeal to younger Americans, concerned that the aging of the fan base for baseball will in the long run have ominous consequences.

Now, M.L.B. has “a maybe once-in-a-decade opportunity” to reach those younger potential fans, said Tim Brosnan, executive vice president for business at the league, through “these blooming assets” – in other words, “this incredible crop of young stars ready for prime time.”

“Younger fans identify with superstars,” Mr. Brosnan said, and also with players “who are more like them.”

This season, it seems those two categories could be one and the same, in that “as a group, you could argue, they are the brightest, largest crop of superstars we’ve had in a long time,” he added.

Asked about the inclusion of 30-year-old players in the commercial, Mr. Brosnan joked that Mr. Wright had “the face of an 18-year-old, a baby face.”

The serious tone of the commercials, Ms. Kaplan said, reflects how the young players share a “commitment to getting to the postseason.”

The message is that “for the players, there is a lot at stake,” she added, “and for the fans, there’s something to watch in every game, in every play, and you don’t want to miss anything.”

The “I play for” theme will be extended into social media, Ms. Kaplan and Mr. Brosnan said. Fans will be asked why they watch or play baseball and why they root for their favorite players and teams. Their answers will be solicited in the form of brief video clips on the new Vine video-sharing feature offered by Twitter.

The commercials will appear on channels and networks that present Major League Baseball games, including ESPN, Fox, MLB Network and TBS. They will also run online and have a landing page on a fan-focused Web site operated by M.L.B.,

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DealBook: Insider Inquiry Sends a Recluse Into the Public Eye

Steven A. Cohen, the founder and chairman of SAC Capital Advisors, a $14 billion hedge fund.Steve Marcus/ReutersSteven A. Cohen, the founder and chairman of SAC Capital Advisors, a $14 billion hedge fund.

9:26 p.m. | Updated

In recent years, Steven A. Cohen, the once-reclusive money manager, has carved out a public profile straddling a number of fields: a prodigious art collector, an investor in the New York Mets, a supporter of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Now he has been thrust into an unwanted role: defending SAC Capital Advisors, his $14 billion hedge fund, against an intensifying government investigation into insider trading.

At 8 a.m. on Wednesday, an hour when Mr. Cohen is normally at the center of SAC’s cavernous trading floor in Stamford, Conn., he sat in his office to hold a hastily arranged conference call with his clients.

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Wealthy investors dialing in from as far away as Europe and Asia listened to soothing classical music before the call started. Then they received some grim news: Federal securities regulators were preparing to file a civil fraud lawsuit against the fund.

The move, which stems from a criminal insider trading prosecution brought last week against a former SAC employee, is the most significant action yet by the government in a long-running investigation of Mr. Cohen, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, and his firm.

Having for the first time been tied to the questionable trades at the center of the criminal case, Mr. Cohen, 56, began Wednesday’s call with a one-minute defense of his conduct.

Mathew Martoma as he left court on Monday. A former SAC portfolio manager, Mr. Martoma is accused of insider trading.Brendan McDermid/ReutersMathew Martoma as he left court on Monday. A former SAC portfolio manager, Mr. Martoma is accused of insider trading.

“We take these matters very seriously, and I am confident that I acted appropriately,” he said, adding that he was grateful for the support of his investors, who were not allowed to ask questions.

Shoring up investor support is something that Mr. Cohen has rarely had to do over a career that has reached mythic status on Wall Street. Over the last 20 years, Mr. Cohen has amassed a multibillion-dollar fortune by posting returns averaging 30 percent a year. SAC has grown into a firm with about 1,000 employees around the world.

Yet the criminal case against the former employee and the news of a possible civil case against the firm may have unnerved investors, coming as it has after years of headlines about current and former SAC employees and whispers about the hedge fund’s trading practices.

Criminal prosecutors have already linked six former employees to insider trading while at SAC, securing three convictions.

In the latest case, Mathew Martoma, a former SAC portfolio manager, stands accused of corrupting a doctor who had provided him with confidential data on a drug trial. The secret information, authorities say, allowed SAC to earn profits and avoid losses totaling $276 million, which prosecutors call the most lucrative insider trading ever uncovered.

And for the first time in the government’s years of investigating SAC over improper trading, charges connect Mr. Cohen to questionable trades, without saying that he knew the information behind them was confidential.

Charles A. Stillman, a lawyer for Mr. Martoma, has said he expects his client to be “fully exonerated.”

The notice of a possible enforcement action by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which SAC received on Nov. 20 (the day that Mr. Martoma was arrested), involves civil charges and does not imply that the Justice Department is preparing to indict. Such a notification, known as a Wells notice, gives a defendant an opportunity to persuade the S.E.C. not to bring a case.

But the S.E.C.’s warning is the boldest regulatory shot yet across SAC’s bow. The commission filed a parallel civil suit last week alongside the Justice Department’s criminal charges that named Mr. Martoma and CR Intrinsic, the SAC unit that employed Mr. Martoma, as defendants.

A person briefed on the investigation said that an additional action against SAC, or even Mr. Cohen, could involve accusations of fraud based on the so-called control-person liability theory, meaning that it was in “control” of Mr. Martoma when he engaged in insider trading.

If the S.E.C. files a lawsuit against SAC, the hedge fund could defend itself or strike a settlement that could involve substantial financial penalties, including the disgorgement of supposed illegal trading profits. While the fund could survive such a punishment, the blow to its reputation could cause some investors to flee and prompt some banks to avoid doing business with it.

SAC has been under a cloud since a former employee, Richard Choo-Beng Lee, pleaded guilty to insider trading in 2009 and began cooperating with the government. Mr. Lee’s crimes were committed after leaving SAC, but he worked for Mr. Cohen for about five years and shared his insights with investigators.

But it was last week’s charges against Mr. Martoma that significantly ratcheted up the pressure on Mr. Cohen because they connect him to the trades that the government contends were illegal.

Mr. Martoma obtained secret data from a doctor about clinical trials for an Alzheimer’s drug being developed by the companies Elan and Wyeth, the government said. Just before SAC executed the trades in question, Mr. Martoma e-mailed Mr. Cohen and said he needed to discuss something important, and the two then had a 20-minute phone conversation.

The doctor, Sidney Gilman, who was a professor of neurology at University of Michigan Medical School, has struck a nonprosecution agreement with the Justice Department, meaning it will not bring criminal charges against him. He has also agreed to testify against Mr. Martoma, said a person briefed on the case. Dr. Gilman retired from the university as of Tuesday, his lawyer, Marc L. Mukasey, said.

On Wednesday’s 20-minute call with investors, Thomas Conheeney, the president of SAC, said that the fund’s rapid-fire buying and selling in Elan and Wyeth was consistent with Mr. Cohen’s aggressive trading style, said a person who listened in. Mr. Conheeney also said that Mr. Cohen, who trades stocks across multiple industries, was not a specialist in drug companies, so it was perfectly normal for him to rely upon one of his underlings for guidance.

SAC told investors on Wednesday that it would bear any costs involved with defending itself in the case. The fund has continued to strengthen its compliance procedures, Mr. Conheeney said, including routine examinations of employees’ e-mails and the monitoring of communications with experts like Dr. Gilman who might possess confidential information.

The fund is less reliant on money from outside investors than its competitors. Only about 40 percent of SAC’s $14 billion is from outside clients; the rest belongs to Mr. Cohen and his colleagues. Investors, which include wealthy families and large institutions like the Blackstone Group, also have limits on how much money they can withdraw from the fund.

The harsh spotlight Mr. Cohen now finds himself under comes at a moment when he has grown more comfortable with his public persona. Having amassed an eclectic, world-class art collection that includes van Gogh paintings and Jeff Koons sculptures, Mr. Cohen regularly attends auctions and events like last summer’s Art Basel in Switzerland.

After shunning Wall Street conferences for years, he now appears to discuss his views on the market and financial regulation. Earlier this year, he purchased a minority stake in the Mets and lost a bid to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has also stepped up his philanthropy; a children’s hospital on Long Island, near Mr. Cohen’s childhood home in Great Neck, N.Y., bears his name.

Mr. Cohen, who now lives in a 35,000-square foot mansion in Greenwich, Conn., emerged this year as a financial supporter of Mitt Romney — and a vocal opponent of President Obama — during the presidential race.

On election night, Mr. Cohen and other hedge fund billionaires were in Boston at Mr. Romney’s campaign headquarters in anticipation of a victory celebration.

Carol Vogel contributed reporting.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 29, 2012

An earlier version of this article misstated the size of Steven A. Cohen’s mansion in Greenwich, Conn. It is 35,000 square feet, not 14,000.

A version of this article appeared in print on 11/29/2012, on page A1 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Insider Inquiry Pushes Recluse Into Public Eye.

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DealBook: Madoff Victims Set to Get First Payments

Jin Lee/Bloomberg NewsBernard L. Madoff leaving court in 2009.

8:23 p.m. | Updated

The first batch of checks for eligible victims of Bernard L. Madoff’s epic Ponzi scheme will go into the mail starting Wednesday, according to the trustee liquidating the Madoff estate in federal bankruptcy court.

The payment — totaling $312 million — “is the first return of stolen funds to Madoff’s defrauded customers,” the trustee, Irving H. Picard, said on Tuesday. “The need among many Madoff customers is urgent, and we are working to expedite these distributions.”

The payments would have been made last week, but were delayed for a few days to allow Mr. Picard’s lawyers to analyze the effects of a significant ruling on Sept. 27 by Judge Jed S. Rakoff of United States District Court in Manhattan in a case involving the owners of the New York Mets. In that ruling, Judge Rakoff allowed the trustee to seek only the return of fictional profits the Mets owners withdrew in the last two years of the fraud, which lasted more than a decade.

The trustee, citing New York State law, had sought to recover fictional profits paid in the six years before the scheme collapsed in December 2008. The judge also rejected the trustee’s bid to recover preference claims, the cash paid to team owners in the last 90 days of the fraud.

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If applied to the hundreds of lawsuits Mr. Picard is pursuing against other Madoff investors who withdrew more than their original cash principal, the ruling would reduce Mr. Picard’s potential recoveries by $6.2 billion.

The trustee delayed the payments last week until he could determine if the ruling would affect the proposed distribution. Those potential issues “have since been resolved,” Mr. Picard said Tuesday in a statement.

The $312 million is being distributed to the holders of 1,230 Madoff accounts and represents a recovery of roughly 4.6 cents on the dollar. The customers eligible for payouts are those who had not withdrawn all the cash they had invested. Some may have already received cash advances of as much as $500,000 from the Securities Investors Protection Corporation, an industry-financed fund that handles brokerage firm liquidations. Under a federal appeals court ruling in August, investors who recovered all their initial cash outlay before the fraud collapsed are not eligible for the current distribution.

Through out-of-court settlements by the trustee and civil forfeiture agreements with the Justice Department, $10.7 billion has been collected to cover what the trustee estimates to be about $18 billion in out-of-pocket cash losses by eligible victims — a sum that ultimately could allow those victims to recover more than half the cash they lost in the Madoff fraud, far more than is typical in Ponzi schemes.

According to the trustee, that cash — including $7.2 billion from the estate of Jeffry Picower, a longtime Madoff investor who died in 2009 — cannot be distributed until the resolution of appeals challenging the terms of those settlements and the formula Mr. Picard used to calculate eligible claims in the complex and controversial liquidation.

“While we cannot predict the timing of rulings on these appeals, we maintain that the appeals of the Picower and other settlements are frivolous and will be dismissed,” said David J. Sheehan, a lawyer for the trustee and a partner at Baker Hostetler. If the trustee prevails in those court battles, he would “distribute those funds as quickly as possible,” Mr. Sheehan said.

Mr. Picard has sued for nearly $100 billion in fictional profits and damages from giant global banks, hedge funds and investment managers who dealt with Mr. Madoff during his scheme. If the trustee recovers more than the $18 billion, the money could be used to cover general fraud claims by all Madoff investors.

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DealBook: The Roller Coaster Ride Continues for Madoff Investors

Brad Barr for The New York TimesFred Wilpon, front, and Saul Katz at the New York Mets training camp in February.

Investors in the Ponzi scheme perpetrated by Bernard L. Madoff have endured more twists and turns than the Cyclone on Coney Island. Judge Jed S. Rakoff of Federal District Court in Manhattan delivered an abrupt change in course when he limited the claims that Irving S. Picard, the trustee appointed to oversee the investor claims, could pursue against Saul Katz and Fred Wilpon, the owners of the New York Mets, from their accounts with Mr. Madoff’s firm.

Judge Rakoff ruled that Mr. Picard could only seek to reclaim profits withdrawn for the two years before Mr. Madoff’s firm was forced into bankruptcy rather than the full six years otherwise provided by federal bankruptcy law. In addition, he concluded that the usual rule for voiding payments made within 90 days of a bankruptcy filing, called “preferences,” also cannot be applied, further lowering the amount Mr. Picard can recover.

The opinion deals a significant blow to the trustee’s efforts to recover money from investors who took out more than they invested in Mr. Madoff’s investment advisory firm, reducing the estimated potential recovery by a total of $6.2 billion for fictitious profits and preferences. For Mr. Katz and Mr. Wilpon, the decision means the total claims against them would be reduced to $386 million, from $1 billion, with the stronger claim to recover transfers over the two years before the scheme’s collapse limited to about $86 million rather than the $300 million that Mr. Picard initially sought.

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The claims against investors like Mr. Katz and Mr. Wilpon for profits from their Madoff accounts are based on federal bankruptcy law, which allows the recovery of payments to creditors made up to two years before a bankruptcy filing. That law also allows a trustee use a longer period under fraudulent conveyance law if the state in which the company operated permits it. Because Mr. Madoff operated in New York, it permits a trustee to reach back six years to recover payments.

Judge Rakoff’s decision rejecting the six-year period involves a so-called “safe harbor” provision in federal bankruptcy law, 11 U.S.C. § 546(e), that limits fraudulent conveyance claims to just two years when it involves a “settlement payment” that is “made by or to (or for the benefit of) a … stockbroker, in connection with a securities contract.” The judge concluded that the plain language of the provision clearly precludes Mr. Picard’s from going back six years because Mr. Madoff’s firm was a registered stockbroker and payments to customers fell within the “extremely broad” definition of settlement payment.

The 18-page opinion provides only a terse — even cursory — analysis of the safe harbor provision. Judge Rakoff largely ignored other opinions interpreting it because “the language of the statute is plain and controlling on its face,” so there was no need for further discussion.

Judge Rakoff does reference a recent opinion of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Enron Creditors Recovery Corp. v. Alfa, SAB de CV, which found that the safe harbor for stock transactions was intended to prevent severe displacements in the securities markets if otherwise legitimate trades could be unwound years after settlement.

The Enron decision involved the company’s redemption in November 2001 of its commercial paper, which happened just weeks before it filed for bankruptcy. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the transaction involved a payment of money in exchange for securities and therefore constituted a “settlement payment” that came within the safe-harbor provision, preventing claims against the banks the received money from the company.

The transactions made by Mr. Madoff’s firm were different from commercial paper transactions at Enron because he did not actually purchase (or sell) any securities on behalf of customers. And the “profits” paid out to investors was money drawn from other customers and not the result of any legitimate securities transactions on their behalf. So it may be that the Second Circuit’s analysis of the safe harbor in Enron is not directly applicable.

In addition, treating the transactions involving Mr. Madoff’s firm as similar to those of a legitimate brokerage firm may conflict with the Second Circuit’s decision in August that upheld Mr. Picard’s determination of which investors could make a claim for recovery. The court found that it was permissible to allow only the “net losers” who invested more than they withdrew to pursue a claim for recovery, while the “net winners” who took out more than they invested did not have a similar claim.

The Second Circuit rejected the argument that the last statements sent out by Mr. Madoff should be the basis for calculating claims. The Second Circuit held that Mr. Picard “properly declined to calculate ‘net equity’ by reference to impossible transactions. Indeed, if the Trustee had done otherwise, the whim of the defrauder would have controlled the process that is supposed to unwind the fraud.” The absence of any legitimate transactions by Mr. Madoff could mean that the safe harbor is inapplicable to Ponzi schemes that use a brokerage firm as the vehicle for defrauding customers.

Judge Rakoff’s decision also conflicts with the interpretation of the safe harbor provision by bankruptcy judge Burton R. Lifland in Mr. Picard’s clawback suit against J. Erza Merkin, one of feeders for Mr. Madoff.

Judge Lifland found the protection afforded securities transactions inapplicable because insulating fraudulent payments would undermine investor confidence rather than protect it. So there are conflicting decisions in the same bankruptcy case, an unusual situation.

Although the safe-harbor protection may not be as clear as Judge Rakoff asserts, a key question is whether he will permit Mr. Picard to pursue an interlocutory appeal of the decision before a trial on the two remaining claims against Mr. Katz and Mr. Wilpon that he refused to dismiss. Those claims involve Mr. Picard’s assertion that they were willfully blind to Mr. Madoff’s fraud, and that transfers within the two years before the Ponzi scheme’s collapsed are subject to recovery as fraudulent conveyances.

A federal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), permits an appeal before a final decision in a civil case when the judge is “of the opinion that such order involves a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation.” Trial courts have been admonished to allow such appeals only in “rare cases” and to “exercise great care” in certifying a case for review, so it would not be a surprise if Judge Rakoff declined a request by Mr. Picard to allow an immediate appeal of the safe-harbor ruling.

The fallout from the decision is already being felt beyond the claims against Mr. Katz and Mr. Wilpon. Bloomberg News reported that defendants in clawback suits have filed motions to limit the trustee’s claims to only two years of withdrawals. Others who would appear to benefit from the two-year limitation on claims include David M. Becker, the former general counsel at the Securities and Exchange Commission, who was sued for an account held by his late mother that was closed in 2004, and members of Mr. Madoff’s family for any withdrawals prior to Dec. 11, 2006, two years before Mr. Madoff was arrested.

In addition, Mr. Picard postponed a distribution to investors with approved claims that had been scheduled to take place on Sept. 30 because of the uncertainty created by the decision. When he will be able to disburse funds to investors whose claims have been approved remains to be seen.

Judge Rakoff’s decision does not affect the amounts paid to the trustee to settle claims brought by the trustee. Mr. Picard has recovered more than $10 billion so far, and that money is safe because as a general rule parties to a settlement cannot undo the agreement because of later developments that call into question the validity or scope of a claim against them.

Investors in Mr. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme have been whipped back and forth as the courts try to apply the law to a case that is unprecedented in many ways. Judge Rakoff’s decision is unlikely to be the last word, but he has sent the case in a new, and rather unexpected, direction.

Peter J. Henning, who writes White Collar Watch for DealBook, is a professor at Wayne State University Law School.

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Madoff Trustee Says Mets Ruling Won’t Be as Bad as First Thought

The trustee for Bernard L. Madoff’s fraud victims said on Thursday that he had overestimated how much his recovery efforts would be affected by a court ruling this week in his case against the owners of the New York Mets.

The practical effect of the ruling, released on Tuesday by Judge Jed S. Rakoff of United States District Court in Manhattan, will be to reduce the amount of money the trustee, Irving H. Picard, can seek in court by $6.2 billion — not by $11 billion, as the trustee’s lawyers reported on Wednesday.

In his ruling in the Mets case, Judge Rakoff allowed the trustee to seek only the return of fictional profits paid out to the Mets owners, Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, during the two years before the Madoff fraud collapsed in December 2008.

The trustee had sought to recover fictional profits paid out in the six years before the collapse, citing provisions of New York State law that allow for a six-year recovery window. The judge also threw out the trustee’s bid to recover so-called preference claims, the cash paid out to the team’s owners in the final 90 days of the fraud.

By reducing the time window and eliminating preference claims — actions that lawyers said would most likely apply to all the lawsuits the trustee has pending in Federal Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan — the decision still “has significant potential ramifications that could affect recoveries as well as distributions” in the legal efforts to unwind Mr. Madoff’s epic Ponzi scheme, Mr. Picard said in a written statement released on Thursday.

If the ruling had come at the onset of the fraud case, the effect would have roughly matched the estimate given on Wednesday by Mr. Picard’s lawyer, David J. Sheehan. But some cases have already been settled out of court and most likely will not be affected by the ruling; once those were sifted out, the effect was reduced to $6.2 billion, made up of at least $2.7 billion in fictional profits and $3.5 billion in preference claims.

It says much about the scale of the case that an adverse effect of $6.2 billion, rather than $11 billion, can be viewed with relief among lawyers trying to recover cash to repay Mr. Madoff’s victims, who claimed paper losses of almost $65 billion and cash losses of about $18 billion.

Mr. Picard has filed lawsuits seeking a total of about $100 billion from a number of giant global banks and large investors. He has previously said that any money he recovers in excess of the $18 billion in cash principal lost by many Madoff investors could be used to cover general fraud claims that can be asserted by all investors bilked by Mr. Madoff, even if they recovered all their principal before the fraud collapsed.

The trustee has already collected $10.6 billion, largely through out-of-court settlements, and had been scheduled to make his first cash distribution to eligible investors on Friday. But “in an abundance of caution,” Mr. Sheehan said on Thursday, the trustee has decided to delay those payments until his staff can more fully examine the implications of Judge Rakoff’s ruling on the roster of eligible claims.

“We know how difficult this delay is for those who have waited so long to recover the money they lost to Madoff,” he said. “We are committed to completing this analysis quickly and moving forward with this important distribution as soon as we possibly can.”

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