Cade Cothren

So much for 6 months: Judge reschedules Phoenix Solutions trial for October 2023

Then-House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) presides over a floor session in Nashville on April 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

As part of his request for delaying his trial on public corruption charges, former House Speaker Glen Casada’s attorney asked for putting off proceedings by 180 days, or six months. U.S. District Judge Eli Richardson nearly doubled that time in scheduling the trial to begin on Oct. 3, 2023.

Here’s the order:

Defendant Casada’s Unopposed Motion to Continue Trial Date and Corresponding Deadlines (Doc. No. 24) and Defendant Cothren’s Motion to Continue Trial and to Extend Pretrial Deadlines (Doc. No. 25) are GRANTED. The trial in this case is rescheduled to October 3, 2023 beginning at 9:00 a.m. The pretrial conference is rescheduled to September 22, 2023 at 9:00 a.m. All lawyers who will try the case shall attend the pretrial conference; as indicated below, the time slot for the pretrial conference alternatively may (upon advance notice to the Court) be used as a change-of-plea hearing, but it is not intended to be a status conference and so counsel should plan and prepare accordingly.

All pretrial motions shall be filed no later than six weeks prior to trial. If a party does not meet this deadline, or any later deadline obtained via a timely motion to extend the deadline, it may be deemed to have waived any right to file pretrial motions. A response to a motion shall be filed within fourteen days after the filing of the motion. A reply in support of a motion, should the movant choose to submit one, shall be filed within seven days after the filing of the response.

Speedy Trial Act

The Defendants have filed waivers of speedy trial (Doc. Nos. 24-1 and 25-1, respectively). The Court concludes that the period of delay is reasonable and is excludable under the Speedy Trial Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3161, et seq. The Court specifically finds that the interests of justice served by granting the continuance outweigh the interests of the public and a Defendant in a speedy trial on the date previously scheduled. 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(A), (B). The diminished weight of a Defendant’s interest in a speedy trial is reflected by his choice to submit a speedy trial waiver. Moreover, a Defendant is likely to be prejudiced if he is not adequately prepared for trial despite due diligence, and the public interest will not be served if such prejudice ultimately requires this case to be retried.

Change of Plea

Any plea agreement shall be consummated no later than two weeks before the above-stated trial date, and the Courtroom Deputy so notified. Likewise, if a Defendant opts to plead guilty without a plea agreement, the Courtroom Deputy shall be so notified no later than two weeks before the above-stated trial date. If a plea agreement is submitted or if a Defendant opts to plead guilty without a plea agreement, the hearing to take the plea will take place on September 22, 2023 at 9:00 a.m., or at such earlier time as the Court may schedule upon request of the parties.

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Cothren also wants to punt federal trial date

Former legislative staffer Cade Cothren is following the lead of his onetime boss Glen Casada in seeking a delay in their trial on federal bribery and kickback charges.

Casada requested a delay of up to six months last week, noting prosecutors were not opposed to the motion. Cothren’s lawyer, who recently got the judge to approve pushing back the deadline for a motion by just one week, on Monday filed a similar request to put off the trial originally scheduled for Oct. 25.

Attorneys for both men say they plan to “vigorously defend” against the allegations made in the indictment.

Casada seeks up to 6-month delay for public corruption trial

Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) appears before the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance on March 3, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Former state House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) is seeking a postponement of up to six months for his federal trial on public corruption charges. Proceedings had originally be scheduled to get underway.

According to his waiver of his right to a speedy trial, Casada wants the trial moved up to 180 days. If the postponement were anchored to his original Oct. 25 date, the trial would be rescheduled for no later than April 23 next year.

Casada’s attorneys write in the motion Friday that the delay is not opposed by federal prosecutors. The document makes no mention of codefendant Cade Cothren.

Here’s is the filing:

The defendant Glen Casada, through counsel, requests that this Court continue the trial of this matter, presently set for October 25, 2022, and all pretrial filing deadlines. In support, the defendant would show as follows:

1. On August 22, 2022, the Grand Jury for the Middle District of Tennessee returned the above referenced Indictment. (Dkt. 3).

2. The following day, Mr. Casada appeared with counsel and entered a Not Guilty plea. (Dkt. 10).

3. By Order entered August 24, 2022, this Honorable Court scheduled the trial of this matter to begin on October 25, 2022. (Dkt. 17).

4. After the parties agreement to the Government’s proposed protective order (see Dkt. 20), the Government produced pretrial disclosures to the defense on September 7, 2022. These materials included documents consisting of thousands of pages, multiple recordings, and contents of various devices seized and searched by law enforcement. Specifically, the production includes 805 files and 151 folders totaling 296 GB. The government’s cover letter accompanying the above referenced information also indicates that additional tranches of evidence will be produced in a later production.

5. Mr. Casada intends to vigorously defend against the allegations in the indictment. In order to effectively do so, both he and his counsel require sufficient time to evaluate and analyze all of the Government’s disclosures (both already made and to be made in the future), conduct his own investigation into the Government’s disclosures, and conduct his own independent investigation.

6. In light of the above, Mr. Casada submits that it is in the interest of justice to continue the trial of this matter so that he can adequately prepare. This request is grounded in Mr. Casada’s constitutional rights to due process, a fair trial, and effective assistance of counsel.

7. A speedy trial waiver is attached to this Motion.

8. Undersigned counsel has consulted with the U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding the requested relief. The Government does not oppose the Motion.

Cue the delay game? Cothren attorney seeks extension on motion

Cade Cothren, speaking on phone, attends a meeting with lawmakers and fellow staffers on the balcony outside the House chamber on April 29, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Under federal laws guaranteeing criminal defendants a trial within 70 days of entering a plea, U.S. District Judge Eli Richardson scheduled former state House Speaker Glen Casada and his onetime chief of staff Cade Cothren to start mounting their defense before a jury on Oct. 25.

Richardson ordered prosecutors and defense attorneys to make all pre-trial motions no later than six weeks before the scheduled start of the trial, or by Sept. 13. Cothren’s attorney Cynthia Sherwood on Tuesday asked the judge for a weeklong extension to decide whether she would make a motion for a bill of particulars, or a more detailed accounting by prosecutors about the allegations raised in the indictment.

Cothren and Casada technically have until Oct. 11 to decide whether they will waive their right to a speedy trial. But more motions to extend deadlines on interim filings might lead a decision to be made sooner.

UPDATE: Richardson approved the motion on Wednesday.

New TNJ edition alert: The end or the beginning on FBI probe?

Then-House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin), right, meets with colleagues on the Senate floor on May 1, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Are indictments the conclusion of FBI probe or opening gambit?

— Casada poised to lose legislative pension if he strikes plea deal.

— From the campaign trail: FEC flags filings for errors – but nothing yet on Andy Ogles, a temporary replacement for Mike Bell, and a soft landing for Amy Weirich.

— Obituary: Former longtime state research chief dies at 89.

Also: Bartlett puts ordinance seeking to limit campaign signs on hold, Shelby County clerk takes issue with being called AWOL for Jamaica trip, Asian-American groups oppose Biden’s nominee for federal prosecutor in the Eastern District, and Susan Lynn is sorry about all those things she said about Mae Beavers.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Achy breaky vendor? Informants say Smith called purported operative ‘Matthew Cyrus’

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) speaks to Republican colleagues in Nashville on April 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Three confidential informants within the Cordell Hull Building assisted federal investigators in a probe into the activities of former House Speaker Glen Casada, then-Rep. Robin Smith, and ex-legislative staffer Cade Cothren, according to court documents obtained The Tennessean’s Adam Friedman, Melissa Brown, and Mariah Timms.

An affidavit filed in support of the search of the FBI’s search of Smith’s home and electronic devices in January 2021 was apparently inadvertently left open for public perusal in East Tennessee federal court. The document has since been sealed, but not before the Tennessean reporters got their hands on it.

The affidavit recounts how the confidential informants began relaying details to investigators in May 2020, specifically about how Smith promoted a vendor called Phoenix Solutions to colleagues. According to Smith’s guilty plea earlier this year and last week’s indictments of Casada and Cothren, the outfit was run by Cothren and the two lawmakers allegedly received kickbacks for directing business to it.

The informants told the FBI there had been several gaps in the efforts by Smith and Casada to hid Cothren’s participation. They included his endorsement of checks meant for Phoenix Solutions and having money direct deposited into a Davidson County bank even though the company was ostensibly based in New Mexico.

Smith told caucus members Phoenix Solutions was run by a man named Matthew Phoenix who had previously worked for Jamestown Associates, a real political consulting company based in Washington. But investigators established nobody by that name had worked for Jamestown. After the meeting, Smith appeared to slip up while speaking to a confidential informant, calling the operative “Matthew Cyrus.” She later tried to correct herself by saying Cyrus was Phoenix’s middle name, the warrant said.

A third informant recorded a call in which Smith said she sometimes got confused because the consultant went by both Matthew Phoenix and Matthew Cyrus.

Meanwhile, Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports Smith has asked for her sentencing to be delayed from its original date of Oct. 17 to at least the end of January 2023.

“The plea agreement . . .  contemplates the defendant will cooperate with the government in this and related cases,” the motion said. “It is anticipated the defendant will testify in United States v. Casada.”

The judge in the Casada and Cothren case has scheduled the trial to begin Oct. 25, though it’s likely proceedings will be delayed if the defendants waive their right to a speedy trial.

UPDATE: Smith’s sentencing has been rescheduled for Jan. 30.

Casada indictment drops on 3rd anniversary of successor Sexton’s election as House speaker

Rep. Cameron Sexton presides over his first session as House speaker on Aug. 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Three years to the day that Rep. Cameron Sexton took over as speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, federal prosecutors indicted his predecessor, Glen Casada, on bribery and kickback charges.

Here’s what Sexton had to say about Tuesday’s charges against Casada and his onetime chief of staff, Cade Cothren:

In Tennessee, we will not tolerate public corruption, defrauding our state, or bribery at any level. I commend the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its hard work, diligence, and dedication that resulted in this morning’s arrests.

As I have previously stated on several occasions, shortly after becoming speaker in 2019, I began assisting the federal authorities during and throughout their investigation — including leading up to today’s indictments, and I will continue to do so if a trial is needed.

Together, our legislative body has stood strong over the past two years to take significant actions during this investigation by passing laws to strengthen campaign finance regulations and new ethics laws for elected officials and staff.

Today is a good day for Tennesseans because we did not turn a blind eye on these criminal activities.

And here is House Democratic leader Karen Camper’s reaction:

When something like this happens, it reflects poorly on the entire Legislature. We are elected to serve the public and when that trust is broken, it’s very disheartening and erodes the confidence that our constituents have in government. This does however, highlight how badly campaign finance reform continues to be needed and that bi-partisan legislation already passed needs to go much farther.

This from House Republican leader William Lamberth and House Republican Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison:

The illegal behavior outlined in today’s indictments is extremely serious, and disappointing to our entire caucus. We appreciate Speaker Sexton’s leadership on this situation, as well as the efforts of our House leadership team in bringing these crimes to light. We also stand with federal law enforcement and are grateful for their efforts to hold those responsible for these crimes accountable. Now, we can all move forward and continue focusing on meeting the needs of citizens across Tennessee.

And here is Gov. Bill Lee’s spokeswoman Casey Sellers:

We trust the legal process and continue to hold Tennessee’s public servants to high standards of accountability. The Governor commends Speaker Sexton for running the House with integrity and setting the expectation that elected leaders must serve Tennesseans in good faith.

‘Make sure no one knows it’s me:’ Read the 20-count indictment of former speaker, top aide

Cade Cothren, speaking on phone, attends a meeting with lawmakers and fellow staffers on the balcony outside the House chamber on April 29, 2019. At right is then-Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin). (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here is the the 20-count federal indictment of former state House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) and his onetime chief of staff, Cade Cothren:

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. [1] GLEN CASADA, [2] CADE COTHREN. No. 3:22-00282

INDICTMENT

THE GRAN JURY CHARGES:

BACKGROUND ALLEGATIONS

At all times material to this Indictment unless otherwise indicated:

1. The Constitution of the State of Tennessee (“the State”) established that the legislative authority of the State shall be vested in a General Assembly, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

2. The Tennessee House of Representatives (“Tennessee House”) consisted of approximately ninety-nine members appointed among counties and electoral districts. Representatives served two-year terms. The Speaker of the House was the presiding officer of the Tennessee House.

3. GLEN CASADA was a member of the Tennessee House, representing District 63, which included part of Williamson County, Tennessee. CASADA was first elected to the Tennessee House in or around 2003 and was reelected to serve as a Representative in each subsequent General Assembly. CASADA served as Speaker of the Tennessee House from in or around January 2019 until in or around August 2019. In or around August 2019, CASADA resigned as Speaker after allegations became public regarding his then Chief of Staff, CADE COTHREN, but CASADA remained as a member of the Tennessee House.

4. Individual 4 was a member of the Tennessee House, representing District 26, which included part of Hamilton County, Tennessee. Individual 4 was first elected to the Tennessee House in or around November 2018 and was reelected in or around November 2020.

5. Individual 4 owned and operated a political consulting company called Company 1. Company 1 provided political consulting, mail, and project management services. Company 1 held Bank Account x0738 at Financial Institution 2.

6. CASADA owned and operated a political consulting company called Company 2. CASADA started Company 2 in or around October 2019. Company 2 held Bank Account x4447 at Financial Institution 2.

7. As Representatives, CASADA and Individual 4 each held an office of trust under the Constitution of the State of Tennessee and owed a fiduciary duty to provide honest services to the State and its citizens. As members of the State of Tennessee’s 111th General Assembly, on or about January 8, 2019, CASADA and Individual 4 each swore that they would “not propose or assent to any bill, vote or resolution, which shall appear to me injurious to the people, or consent to any act or thing, whatever, that shall have a tendency to lessen or abridge their rights and privileges.”

8. The Tennessee House adopted Permanent Rules of Order for the 111th General Assembly. The Rules included an Ethics Code, which stated that “Representatives should avoid conduct that even appears to violate the trust that the people have placed in them.” Conduct violating the Ethics Code included: “Actions that destroy a representative’s independence of judgment as a legislator”; “Actions that are an abuse of the representative’s official position, including, but not limited to, placing undue influence upon any state department, agency, court or governmental subdivision”; and “Actions that are a personal interest in conflict with the proper discharge of the representative’s duties.” The Tennessee House adopted the Rules of Order under CASADA’s name as Speaker, and, while he served in this role, CASADA was responsible for preserving them. As Speaker, CASADA was also responsible for appointing members of the House Ethics Committee.

9. COTHREN was a businessman and former Chief of Staff to CASADA when CASADA was Tennessee House Speaker. In 2019, multiple news forums published allegations that COTHREN had engaged in inappropriate conduct. On or about May 3, 2019, COTHREN resigned his position as Chief of Staff.

10. In or around November 2019, COTHREN established Phoenix Solutions, LLC, with CASADA and Individual 4’s knowledge and support. Phoenix Solutions provided constituent mail services to members of the Tennessee General Assembly and to political campaigns for State offices. Phoenix Solutions held Bank Account x3886 at Financial Institution 1 and Bank Account x9665 at Financial Institution 3.

11. The State allocated Tennessee Representatives $3,000 annually to fund postage and printing of items to be sent to the legislators’ constituents (the “Mailer Program”). According to Tennessee House guidelines, Representatives were permitted to use Mailer Program funds to design and mail legislative update mailers and legislative surveys to their constituents. Representatives were permitted to use campaign funds to offset additional expenses beyond the $3,000 allocated under the Mailer Program.

12. The Tennessee House Speaker’s Office had the authority to approve or deny a vendor to provide services or any mailing funded by the Mailer Program.

13. The Office of Legislative Administration (“OLA”) managed the operation of the Mailer Program in consultation with the Senate and House Speakers. OLA’s Director of Legislation, in consultation with the Senate and House Speakers and their Offices, was responsible for approving invoices related to the Mailer Program and managing disbursements of State funds to vendors.

14. In each of the calendar years 2019, 2020, and 2021, the State of Tennessee received more than $10,000 in federal benefits.

COUNT ONE

18 U.S.C. § 371

(Conspiracy)

15. Paragraphs 1 through 14 are incorporated and realleged as if fully set forth herein.

I. Objects of the Conspiracy

16. Beginning in or around October 2019 and continuing until in or around January 2021, in the Middle District of Tennessee and elsewhere, CASADA and COTHREN did knowingly conspire and agree with each other and with other individuals known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to commit the following offenses against the United States:

a. Theft Concerning Programs Receiving Federal Funds: that is, for CASADA and Individual 4, agents of Tennessee, a State which during each of calendar years 2019, 2020, and 2021 received federal benefits in excess of $10,000, and together with and aided and abetted by COTHREN, and others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to embezzle, steal, obtain by fraud, and otherwise without authority knowingly convert to the use of any person other than the rightful owner and intentionally misapply, property that is valued at $5,000 or more, and was owned by, and was under the care, custody, and control of the State of Tennessee, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 666(a)(l)(A) and 2;

b. Bribery and Kickbacks Concerning Programs Receiving Federal Funds: that is, for CASADA and Individual 4, agents of Tennessee, a State which during each of calendar years 2019, 2020, and 2021 received federal benefits in excess of $10,000, aided and abetted by others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to corruptly solicit, demand, accept, and agree to accept for their own benefit, things of value from COTHREN, intending to be influenced and rewarded in connection with a business, transaction, and series of transactions of the State of Tennessee valued at $5,000 or more, that is, payments of State funds to Phoenix Solutions, both directly and through Company 1 and Company 2, for mailer services, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 666(a)(l)(B) and 2;

c. Bribery and Kickbacks Concerning Programs Receiving Federal Funds: that is, for COTHREN, aided and abetted by others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to corruptly give, offer, and agree to give things of value to CASADA and Individual 4, agents of Tennessee, a State which during each of calendar years 2019, 2020, and 2021 received federal benefits in excess of $10,000, intending to influence and reward CASADA and Individual 4 in connection with a business, transaction, and series of transactions of the State of Tennessee valued at $5,000 or more, that is, payments of State funds to Phoenix Solutions, both directly and through Company 1 and Company 2, for mailer services in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 666(a)(2) and 2; and

d. Honest-Services Wire Fraud: that is, for CASADA, COTHREN, and Individual 4, and others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to devise and intend to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud and to deprive Tennessee and the citizens of Tennessee of their right to the honest services of a public official, namely, the honest services of CASADA and Individual 4, members of the Tennessee House of Representatives and elected state officials, through bribery and kickbacks, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1343 and 1346.

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Casada, Cothren indicted on federal bribery, kickback charges

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) checks his phone as he awaits the joint convention to hear Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Former Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada and his onetime chief of staff, Cade Cothren, have been indicted on federal bribery and kickback charges. The FBI arrested both at their homes on Tuesday morning.

Casada is retiring from the House this year after stepping down from the speakership amid scandal in 2019. He was overwhelmingly defeated in his bid for Williamson County Clerk earlier this year.

The charges stem from the operation of Phoenix Solutions, a shadowy campaign mail vendor that also led to the guilty plea of former Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) earlier this year.

Casada and Cothren pleaded not guilty in a court appearance later on Tuesday morning.

Here’s Tuesday’s release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office:

NASHVILLE –Tennessee State Representative Glen Casada, 63, of Franklin, Tennessee, and his former Chief of Staff Cade Cothren, 35, of Nashville, were indicted by a federal grand jury yesterday and charged with conspiracy to commit the following offenses: theft from programs receiving federal funds; bribery and kickbacks concerning programs receiving federal funds; honest services wire fraud; and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Both were arrested at their homes this morning by FBI agents and will make initial appearances before a U.S. Magistrate Judge later today. 

The announcement was made by Mark H. Wildasin, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee and Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. 

The 20-count indictment, unsealed this morning, also charges Casada and Cothren with using a fictitious name to carry out a fraud; theft concerning programs receiving federal funds; eight counts of money laundering; six counts of honest services wire fraud; and two counts of bribery and kickbacks.

According to the indictment, beginning in and around October 2019, Casada, while representing Tennessee House District 63, Cothren, and another conspirator, also a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, engaged in a fraudulent scheme to enrich themselves by exploiting Casada and the other conspirator’s official positions as legislators to obtain State approval of Phoenix Solutions as a Mailer Program vendor to provide constituent mail services to members of the Tennessee General Assembly.  Casada, Cothren, and the other conspirator further sought to obtain State funds for Phoenix Solutions, Casada’s political consulting business, and a political consulting business owned by the other conspirator.   It was further part of the conspiracy for Casada and the other conspirator to enrich themselves by obtaining bribes and kickbacks from Cothren, in exchange for securing the approval of Phoenix Solutions as a mailer program vendor. 

The indictment alleges that Casada and the other conspirator told members of the Tennessee General Assembly that Phoenix Solutions was run by an individual named “Matthew Phoenix,” an experienced political consultant who had previously worked for a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm. In fact, Cothren operated Phoenix Solutions, and Casada, Cothren, and the other conspirator knew that “Matthew Phoenix” was a fictitious person and secretly profited from the fraudulent venture.  Casada, Cothren, and the other conspirator concealed their involvement in Phoenix Solutions by submitting sham invoices to the State of Tennessee in the names of political consulting companies owned by Casada and the other conspirator, for the purpose of secretly funneling money from the State to Phoenix Solutions through the bank accounts of these companies.  In 2020, these companies and Phoenix solutions received approximately $51,947 from the State in payments associated with the mailer program. 

The indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation  in which the United States seeks to recover all proceeds of the crimes, including a money judgement representing the value of the proceeds traceable to any offense of conviction.  

If convicted, Casada and Cothren each face up to 20 years in prison.  A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

This case was investigated by the FBI.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda J. Klopf and Trial attorney John P. Taddei of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section are prosecuting the case. 

An indictment is merely an accusation.  The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. 

New TNJ edition alert: Ask not for whom Mike Bell tolls…

Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) attends a redistricting hearing on Oct. 18, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out in the world. Here is what’s in it:

— Bell bypassing lame-duck status in effort to soothe TWRA turmoil.

— Campaign finance: New interim reports shed light on last-minute spending, Cothren fights subpoena.

— Restocking the Cabinet: Lee names Merrick legal counsel, Sellars communications director.

Also: Payday lending impresario loses Cleveland school board race to … a Democrat, the Highlander institute opposes a historical designation for its original Grundy County site, and Garth Brooks is footing the bill for a police station next to his new honky-tonk.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

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