Author Archives: pgcpsmess

Montgomery official pleads guilty to charges related to embezzlement from county – What about in Prince George’s?

bs-md-montgomery-county-embezzlement-1117.jpgMany folks in Prince George’s County (Maryland) know that we are constantly asking to see the financials, the books, the independent audits. We have also been advocating for an independent Inspector General (IG). Due to the community support for transparency and accountability through this blog, most people in this progressive County fight these requests (“Everything is fine, no one is stealing. The books are private. Move along buddy, nothing to see.”)

For many of us, the independent auditing thing is a serious piece of the public/government transparency issue. We certainly cannot say we are for transparency and then turn around and say, “Just trust us.” By nature, many of us  want to trust, but then on the other hand, good government really is fundamentally all about total transparency. Will it absolutely stop people for stealing? No. But we  think knowing that someone is regular watching causes folks to behave differently. And it might stop a serious embezzlement scheme such as the one discovered during the waning days of Dr. Kevin Maxwell when he engaged in serious issues of dishing out thousands of cash without any oversight. From the very beginning we knew something was amiss. 

The same goes for the current administration of Monica Goldson in Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) engaged in violating rights and covering up misconduct on several levels including censoring the press to hide our demand for transparency and accountability.

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Former Montgomery County official Byung Il Bang leaves federal court in Greenbelt, Md., on Friday after pleading guilty in an embezzlement scheme. (Lynh Bui/TWP)

By Jennifer Barrios, Dan Morse and Lynh Bui 

To those he worked with, Byung Il “Peter” Bang exuded an aura of calm competence — speaking deliberately, explaining deals patiently. The ­second-in-command at Montgomery County’s economic development department was in charge of spurring new businesses and breathing life into old ones in the Maryland county of 1 million people just outside Washington, D.C.

But the meticulously groomed, 20-year employee had another side — one that led him to embezzle $6.7 million in county money to feed his gambling addiction.

He spent six years diverting economic development funds to a sham company, getting caught only after federal tax authorities began investigating the massive cashier’s checks he brought to casinos.

In separate federal and state court appearances Friday, Bang, 58, the former chief operating officer at the county’s now-defunct Department of Economic Development, pleaded guilty to federal charges of wire fraud and making false statements on a tax return, and to state charges of a theft scheme and misconduct in office.

In U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., on Friday morning, Bang, dressed in a dark suit, responded to questions from U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis with short yes-and-no answers.

When Xinis asked whether anyone was forcing him to accept the plea agreement, Bang responded, “Other than my conscience, no.”

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Byung Il Bang, also known as Peter Bang, is shown testifying before the Montgomery County Council in this 2015 video still. (N/A/Video Still)

He faces federal sentencing in February, followed by sentencing in state court in Montgomery. Bang was given supervised release pending sentencing, and he must also alert his new employer, a cleaning service, of his conviction.

As part of Bang’s guilty plea in Montgomery County, he also is obligated to repay the county more than $6.7 million.

The scheme rocked government officials in Montgomery, a suburb that prides itself on a reputation for good governance.

“I’m absolutely shocked and appalled,” County Council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) said.

He said that Bang had a reputation as a stickler for detail who would reject proposals from businesses if he didn’t feel they were robust enough.

“He was always impeccably dressed. And he spoke with great precision. He projected an image that was very careful and credible,” Leventhal said. “Oh my God, it’s a Hollywood movie — it’s incredible. It’s impossible to believe. We’re all reeling.”

Yet the county’s economic development system also had been without tight transparency and rules that allowed Bang, who lived in Germantown, freedom from scrutiny.

“There should have been clearly more oversight, a combination of it, that’s clear,” County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who took office in 2006, said Friday.

The controls have since been enhanced, with new procedures for reviewing agreements that are exempt from usual procurement rules and the creation of a compliance unit at the Finance Department.

Leggett said the fraud was limited to Bang. “This is not some ongoing corruption from an entire agency or department,” he said. “This is an act of one person.”

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said the thievery was driven by Bang’s gambling addiction, which “served as motive for his crimes.” Bang visited casinos in Las Vegas, Delaware and West Virginia between 2010 and 2016, the years the scheme was in place, officials said.

As his office’s chief operating officer, Bang, who started working for the county in 1997, could request disbursements of county money to various incubators, designed to support small companies that would then grow and bring jobs and tax revenue to the county.

The siphoning of funds began, according to federal authorities, after Chungcheong­buk province in South Korea entered into an agreement with the Montgomery County government to set up an incubator fund to help grow South Korean businesses in the county.

Bang created a sham company with a highly similar name, Chung­buk Incubator Fund LLC, and opened four Chungbuk bank accounts using his home address, according to federal court records.

Using fraudulent invoices that he was in position to approve for payment, Bang routed county funds — via checks and direct deposits — to the bank accounts he controlled, federal authorities say. Between 2010 and 2016, Bang had the county Finance Department send $5.4 million to the Chungbuk bank accounts, according to Bang’s plea agreement.

Bang also used phony paperwork to get around procurement freezes the county put in place during budget constraints, the state’s attorney’s office said Friday.

He also got the Maryland Economic Development Corp. to send $1.2 million and diverted more than $43,000 in rent payments from the Conference and Visitors Bureau of Montgomery County — which shared office space with Bang’s department — to his shell company.

Bob Brennan, executive director of the Maryland Economic Development Corp., said the organization routinely received requests from the county through Bang to relinquish funds to support various development initiatives. None of the requests raised red flags.

“There’s nothing that would have triggered or caused us to be suspicious,” Brennan said, adding that Bang’s requests were backed up by his department.

The fraud was discovered after the Internal Revenue Service reviewed reports of suspicious activity made by several casinos. Bang, who had filed for bankruptcy in 2007, brought cashier’s checks to the gambling sites that ranged in size from $35,000 to $200,000, officials said, but declined to tell the casinos the source of the funds. Investigators obtained copies of the checks and traced the money to fraudulent bank accounts Bang had created, and then to Montgomery County.

His plea to making false statements on his tax return stems from his failure to claim the money he was embezzling as income.

“The IRS brought the case to our office and really drove this investigation,” said Jon Lenzner, the first assistant U.S. attorney for Maryland. “Mr. Bang was entrusted with the important mission of bringing economic development and jobs to Montgomery County, and he violated that trust by embezzling nearly $7 million.”

Bang’s department was disbanded and privatized in 2016, a change that Leggett at the time said would foster private-sector involvement in efforts to grow the county’s economy.

Bang was transferred to the county’s Finance Department that year and was paid an annual salary of $175,127. He was terminated by the county in June 2017.

The money Bang stole appears to be gone, McCarthy said.

Via Washington Post 

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Outrage after Interim CEO covers up for an Employee involved in a misconduct says the system can’t fire employee in racial slur video

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Interin CEO Monica Goldson

In a major fiasco in the county never seen before, Interim CEO Monica Goldson say the system can’t fire an employee caught on video admitting she used a racial slur because the woman is a union employee.

Monica Goldson, interim school CEO, said in a statement released Friday that she is “disappointed and deeply disturbed” by the employee’s behavior.

“While there have been calls for me to take disciplinary action, current negotiated agreements with our the union representing this employee limit my ability to address this situation directly,” Goldson said in the statement. “Additionally, there are other legal considerations. This employee, like all of us, is entitled to due process.”

Goldson said the employee, who has not been identified, has been reassigned.

A viral video posted on Facebook Nov. 12 by a Maryland woman named Dawn Tolson-Hightower showed part of an encounter in a La Plata Walmart parking lot that began after she said the woman didn’t like the way her husband pulled out of a parking space.

“Did you just call my husband the N-word,” Tolson-Hightower asks the woman in the video.

“Yeah, I did,” the woman says.

In a message to the school community, Goldson said: “Any employee who does not recognize, value and celebrate the value of our diversity has no place in our community of schools. Students of color comprise the overwhelming majority of our enrollment. We educate more students of color, send more students of color to college and employ more people of color than any other school system in Maryland. Diversity is the strength of Prince George’s County Public Schools”.

Goldson said she hoped the “unfortunate situation” could be used to “engage in meaningful dialogue to enhance our civility, respect and empathy.”

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Prince George’s Schools CEO Apologizes for Keeping Schools Open During Thursday’s Winter Storm

dca4769ad49e4dffad8f90e4f7ddaacb1.jpgThe chief of Prince George’s County Public Schools apologized to parents and families in a letter Thursday night, after the school district faced criticism for not closing amid icy and snowy weather.

Responding to safety concerns from PGCPS parents, Monica Goldson, the interim CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools, said the decision to keep schools open came after staff surveyed roads, sidewalks and school parking lots and consulted with the county government.

“The weather forecast mainly predicted only rain for our region. With the information I had at that time, I made the decision to remain open. Our first buses hit the roads at 6 a.m. and the only precipitation reported was rain,” Golson wrote in the letter.

Thursday featured a wintry mix of snow, sleet and ice rain across the D.C. metro area, with some areas north of Washington receiving anywhere from two to 8 inches of snow. Prince George’s County experienced 2 inches or less of snow, and freezing rain, Storm Team4 Meteorologist Amelia Draper said.

Golson said she miscalculated the risk after the forecast changed and snowflakes started to collect. She confirmed that no bus accidents were reported, but her staff received multiple complaints from parents and other staff members.

PGCPS later canceled all afterschool and evening activities due to inclement weather.

“Weather decisions are never easy. However, I will commit to erring on the side of caution for weather decisions moving forward,” Golson said.

Social media lit up on Thursday after the PGCPS Twitter account announced at 6 a.m. that schools would be open normally.

Fairfax and Montgomery school districts both closed because of the weather, while D.C. Public Schools stayed open.

Via NBC4

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Monica Goldson is the Interim CEO

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KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: When Public Officials Censor You on SOCIAL MEDIA

kyr-social_media_blockingAs social media continues to grow as a form of communication, know your First Amendment rights in advocating for your children!! “Blocking users, deleting comments or forcing users to delete critical posts because they express critical opinions offends the Constitution and principles of transparency.”

As social media sites have increasingly become go-to platforms for personal and political engagement, our political leaders, system administrators are turning to Facebook, instagram and Twitter to communicate with their constituents or followers.

The PGCPS press is keeping a close eye on the implications for Marylands’ free speech after Governor Hogan was censored last year. This year, the interim CEO for Prince Georges County Public Schools (PGCPS) Monica Goldson recently forced a board member this year to pull down a Facebook post because she feared exposure. We have also received other reports in which citizens have been asked to remove messages from social media. In particular, when public officials use social media as government actors, the First Amendment prohibits them from censoring differing viewpoints. (See attached complaint below)

Blocking users or deleting comments because they express critical opinions offends the Constitution and principles of transparency.

So, what if public officials block you, delete your comments, or otherwise censor you on social media?

You have free speech rights when you use social media, and this webpage aims to help you understand them. However, this general guide should not be interpreted as an offer of legal advice for your circumstances.

What are your free speech rights when you use social media?

Both the U.S., Maryland and other states Constitutions guarantee your right to free speech. That right doesn’t go away when you go online.

The government cannot unjustifiably interfere with your freedom of speech when you use social media to share your thoughts or to engage in discourse with public officials.

What are public officials’ obligations to you when they use social media?

The answer depends on whether they’re speaking as private individuals or as government actors.

Private individuals can censor you, but government actors cannot generally censor you based on your viewpoint. However, the boundaries are not always cut-and-dry.

People who hold public office still have their own First Amendment rights. When they’re speaking as private individuals, they can express their views like anyone else, including on social media. The First Amendment protects their right to limit their audience or curate the messages on their personal social media accounts, just like it protects any other member of the public.

But when officials act on behalf of the government, they are subject to the limits that the First Amendment imposes on them as government actors. If a public official invites comments on a social media page concerning public matters or otherwise intentionally designates it as a space for public discussion, the social media page may become a “limited” or “designated” public forum. Where public forums are involved, public officials cannot exclude people from accessing the page just because the official disagrees with them.

Here are a few ways to identify whether an account is operating as a government actor:

Although it depends on the facts, there are three basic types of social media usage to watch out for:

If a social media account is clearly maintained as an official page by a government actor, such as using an official title or the name of an agency, it’s generally considered the official account. Example: @GovLarryHogan

In other cases, a page can shift from a personal account to an official one when an officeholder and other government actors treat it as an official government account. Example: @LarryHogan

Finally, accounts may appear to be personal in name and recognition, but a public official uses it as though it were an official government account. This can occur in at least three different ways:

  1. Officials opening up their social media for public discussion.
  2. Officials allowing individuals to ask for government services through their social media accounts.
  3. Officials using their accounts to publicly announce government information or policy – not just retweeting or sharing other government information, but making an announcement themselves.

When public officials are engaging as government actors, they are not allowed to censor you based on your viewpoint.

If a public official uses social media as a government actor in the above ways, the official cannot exclude people for having differing viewpoints. This means they can’t block users, delete specific comments, or restrict access in other ways on the basis of the viewpoints expressed.

A few principles guide what officials can and can’t do when they use social media as a government actor:

  • They cannot stop people from joining a public conversation on the social media account because of the views they express on the topics at hand.
  • They cannot block critical voices from asking for government services through the social media account because of those critical viewpoints.
  • They cannot prevent people from being able to see social media posts that publicly announce government information or policy because of their viewpoints.

A government actor can’t restrict speech based on viewpoint, but can they limit comments on social media using other criteria?

An official speaking as a government actor cannot limit interactions based on viewpoint, but they can limit other kinds of interactions. Depending on the circumstances, a person can be blocked for posting personal threats or profane language, including in accordance with the social media platform’s terms of service. An official can also preclude all comments or in certain circumstances limit discussions to certain subjects – in other words, government officials may have no obligation to open the social media account up for public comment, but if they do, they cannot discriminate as to which views get to be expressed in those comments.

What can I do if I’m censored by a public official on social media?

If you believe you have been wrongfully censored by a public official, you can contact the official or their office directly, as well the ACLU-MD.

Contact the public official to seek corrective action and more information:

Ask for your access to be restored!

Call or email the office of the public official or government organization and request your access be fully restored. You can refer to this document and other materials from the ACLU, other ACLU entities, NAACP and others linked below.

When contacting the public official or government organization, request a copy of the social media policy or guidelines for the page that blocked you. (You are entitled to the policies, and maybe more, through the state’s Open Public Records Act.) If policies are not available, urge the office to create guidelines and issue them publicly.

Contact the PGCPS Press so we can keep records:

Please share your story!

If you have been censored by a public official on social media, please submit a complaint form infor@pgparents.org. Include as much of the following information as you can:

  • A description of the problem, including if you believe you were censored because of your viewpoint.
  • A screenshot or photograph documenting that you were blocked or otherwise censored, or an explanation of how you know you were censored.
  • The name and or URL of the social media page.
  • Information about any attempts you’ve made to contact the public official directly, as well as any response you have received.
  • Although we may not be able to help, please also let us know if you would like additional corrective action.

We collect information about censorship so we can understand the scope of the problem, but we aren’t able to help everyone who contacts us. Please note that the PGCPS press will not pursue legal action or other advocacy on behalf of most people who contact us, and nothing in this resource should give you the impression that we can take your case.

What are other resources or examples I can point to?

ACLU-NJ Letter to Chatham Township Mayor:
https://www.aclu-nj.org/download_file/2464

National ACLU blog post Can a Government Official Block You on Twitter?: https://www.aclu.org/blog/free-speech/internet-speech/can-government-official-block-you-twitter

ACLU of Virginia federal friend-of-the-court brief:
https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/aclu-amicus-brief-davison-v-randall

ACLU of Maine lawsuit against governor:
https://www.aclumaine.org/en/press-releases/aclu-maine-sues-lepage-over-facebook-censorship

ACLU of Kentucky lawsuit against governor:
https://www.aclu.org/news/aclu-ky-lawsuit-challenges-governor-bevins-social-media-censorship

ACLU of Maryland lawsuit against governor:
http://www.aclu-md.org/press_room/318

Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University lawsuit against President Trump:
https://knightcolumbia.org/content/knight-institute-v-trump-lawsuit-challenging-president-trumps-blocking-critics-twitter

Freedom of Religion

The right of each and every American to practice his or her own religion, or no religion at all, is among the most fundamental of the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The Constitution’s framers understood very well that religious liberty can flourish only if the government leaves religion alone.

The free exercise clause of the First Amendment guarantees the right to practice one’s religion free of government interference. That includes government both using its power to advance particular religious beliefs or practices, as well as using its power to put unconstitutional limitations on the free exercise of religion.

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech, the press, association, assembly, and petition: This set of guarantees, protected by the First Amendment, comprises what we refer to as freedom of expression. It is the foundation of a vibrant democracy, and without it, other fundamental rights, like the right to vote, would wither away.

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Darlene Sale: PGCPS Systems Employee Accused of Using N-Word in Viral Video

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Auntie Darlene Sale was busted on camera using the N-word in a video which has gone viral on social media.

Tuesday November 13, 2018:  One of the media Specialist and a librarian at Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) based in Potomac Landing elementary school in Maryland is accused of using the n-word during an altercation in a Walmart parking lot in La Plata, Maryland. In a viral video posted on Facebook seen by PGCPS press, the woman has been identified as Darlene Sale, a 70-year-old employee of the Prince George’s County Public Schools district.

Auntie Sale has worked as a teacher, media specialist and librarian in Prince George’s and Charles counties for several decades. Sale’s status with the school district was not immediately known.  Sale could not be reached for comment by PGCPS press by the time of going to print.

After she was identified by members of the community as being the woman in the video, the school district issued a statement on social media saying, “PGCPS is aware of a video on social media involving an employee. We are working to address parent and community concerns. Diversity and tolerance are our core values. We expect all members of the PGCPS community — administrators, faculty, staff and students — to behave in a respectful manner.”

The video was posted to Facebook on Monday by Dawn Nichelle Lennon. “So while leaving the Walmart parking lot my husband was called The N Word, because he didn’t move out the parking spot the way she wanted him to. So you know me I chased her down and confronted her,” she said in the Facebook post.

You can watch the video below:

Lennon said on Facebook, “How dare she talk to my husband that way and in front of me and my children. The thing I thought was so profound is that she was proud of it and didn’t try to deny it. My house was burned down in 2004 by racist and now this!!! I’m so ashamed to live in a country that supports this type of hatred and bigotry.”

Lennon and her husband, Micah Lennon, could not be reached for comment by PGCPS press. She said on Facebook the incident happened at the Walmart in La Plata, Maryland.

According to the Prince George County Public Schools website, Darlene Sale is a media specialist at Potomac Landing Elementary School in Fort Washington, Maryland. She has worked as a teacher and librarian in the school district for several years. Court documents from a lawsuit filed regarding a labor issue show that Sale previously was a teacher and librarian in Charles County, dating back to the 1970s.

Sale is married with grown children and lives in Newburg, Maryland, according to her Facebook page. She is originally from Orlando, Florida, and graduated from Bangor Area Senior High School in Pennsylvania in 1966. She then graduated from Shippensburg University in 1970.

Lennon, 45, who also uses the name Dawn Tolson-Hightower, is a victim witness services coordinator at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington D.C., according to her Linkedin profile. She has also worked as a management and program analyst with the Department of Homeland Security with the refugee affairs and international operations divisions.

Prince George’s County Public School system has been at the center of racist and discriminatory cases led by staff with outright racism and retaliation tendencies for many years now.  The latest episode comes after Deborah Hayes Toppins who engaged in a major conflict of interest involving the Principal Dwayne Jones at Laurel High School got promoted to security services as a supervisor to spy on employees after racist episodes at Laurel. Prince George’s County security services and PGCPS are being sued after major violation of rights involving employees due to these many illegal activities with ties to racism.

A new leader who is not bogged down with the local corrupt networks is required to help shape and salvage the sinking ship. Once identified, he or she will reunite the District in a fair way forward and help promote Family Unity of all races as we know it. 46147272_10212923970189346_6468478188115722240_n46195142_10212923969909339_4609042865488658432_ncharles.gif

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Nancy Carlsson-Paige: A Parent’s Guide For Young Children in the Digital Age (LINK ADDED)

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Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed.D., is Professor Emerita at Lesley College in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed.D., is Professor Emerita at Lesley College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she was a teacher educator in child development for more than 30 years. Nancy has written many books and articles on children, their social and emotional development, and the effects of media on young children. Her most recent book is called Taking Back Child.

She has written an informative guide for parents of young children about how to help them during the digital age.

Her guide was posted by DEY, Defending the Early Years, the premier organization supporting the healthy development of young children.

Increasingly, children are surrounded by screens. How much is too much? What should parents do to make sure that their children don’t become addicted to screens?

Count on Nancy Carlsson-Paige for sound advice.

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Maryland suspension Representation project set for November 14 at 6:30 pm

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In 2016-17, 48 percent of out-of-school suspensions in the Prince George’s County Public Schools were for disrespect and disruption. The same school year, 1 in 4 children suspended out-of-school were students with disabilities. Statewide, a quarter of elementary school children who were suspended in 2016-17 were from Prince George’s County.

What do these numbers mean for school climate for all children? What can we do to stop the pushout of young people who need the most support? Join advocates from the Maryland Suspension Representation Project on November 14 at 6:30 pm at G. James Gholson Middle School to learn more about your rights in the school discipline process and to share your experiences. Hosted by Delegate Erek Barron and co-sponsored by Carolyn Boston, Vice Chair PGCPS School Board.
For more information about MSRP, visit www.mdsuspensionrep.org.

https://www.facebook.com/…/gm.175430623…/10156102105817602/…

Quotes to consider

One parent Yolanda Rogers was quoted as saying, “I wish we would stop always blaming the parents. We don’t know what’s going on in anyone’s head or lives. They school system is too quick to punish so they “don’t have to deal” with the issue. Just last week I received a letter from my child’s school saying that if there are any fights they will be sent to the PGC dept of juvenile justice. How does that help?

Rick TylerRick was quoted as saying,  The lessons many of these children need will not be found in juvenile facilities where too many become scared for life, but it could be found within social or family services, health departments, more qualified counselors, psychologists or pupil personnel workers, etc., teaching more educators about restorative practices, cleaning up negative community and home environments, etc. After all, a child only learns what he has experienced and many and their families do not have positive ones at home, their communities or at school.”

Alisha Wrenn was quoted as saying,As the parent of a child who was suspended 12 times in one school year(5th grade), mostly for being an “environmental disruption” this really hits close to home. My son has home training and he is respectful, but because he learns differently he sometimes would act out when he did not understand something to the point that school didn’t want to deal with him so they suspended him back to back to back. Not every child learns the same. You have to meet children at their point of understanding. My son is now in the 11th and just recently removed his IEP and is doing better. I feel like these children are slipping through cracks and and are the main products for the pipeline to prison.”

Dr. Gail P. Bingham …. “But to deal with fighting you have to have the right people at schools to find the root of why fights occur…bullying? Self-esteem issues? Lack of unity and purpose amongst students? Inadequate, ineffective education? That’s why we need LESS high-salaried leadership outside of schools and more positive human resources i.e. GOOD counselors in schools to facilitate a positive school community…it’s not rocket science…when kids are not happy within, they take it out on others.”

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mike2mar

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