King of Diamonds: How America's Favorite Black Strip Club Won Its Crown
A prodigious bare ass gyrates hypnotically in the face of San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, whose huge body is sprawled across a red-velvet and gold-painted chaise. A buddy enthusiastically slaps dollar bill after dollar bill onto the glistening butt of Blac Chyna, a stripper whose light-brown skin contrasts with snow-white hair and Betty Boop eyelashes. At a nearby table, NFL rookie of the year Cam Newton and his posse dump their own mountain of green stacks onto a gaggle of nude dancers.
Rick Ross's "Stay Schemin'" booms through the wide expanse of King of Diamonds, a massive strip club bordering I-95 near Miami Gardens. The acrid aroma of California medical-grade chronic mixes with the sweet scent of designer perfume, while a boisterous crowd of a thousand watches two burly African-American women pummel each other in a boxing ring. Dollars flutter to the ground everywhere, accumulating like puddles in a rainstorm. There are so many loose bills that floor hosts — nattily dressed in black slacks, white dress shirts, and bow ties — sweep up cash with push brooms. Even the ring is littered with dollars, which the winner of the amateur boxing bout gets to keep.
Behind a velvet rope in the VIP area, Disco Rick carefully watches the action. Once a hit-making Miami booty bass pioneer, the pudgy 47-year-old in gray jeans and a leather jacket stamped with KOD's crest now makes his living corralling exotic dancers.
"This club is just one giant vending machine," Disco Rick says, grinning. "Everything in here is about money. It's more than just a strip club. It's the Super Walmart of entertainment complexes."
This indoor Colosseum of naked pleasures is frequented every week by a who's who of African-American pro athletes and rappers, from Drake to Lil Wayne to Miami's own Rick Ross and from boxer Floyd Mayweather to Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee to Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. In turn, the celebs draw throngs of real and wannabe hustlers to a place that's by all estimates the largest black strip club in America, where more than 200 dancers, bartenders, and staffers ply their trades in a 50,000-square-foot warehouse of decadence.
"It's not your typical strip club," says Lee "Q" O'Denat, founder of WorldStarHipHop.com. "It's like going to a party at LIV [at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach resort], but only bigger and with a lot of beautiful naked girls."
Behind the velvet curtains, KOD's rise to becoming a hip-hop and pro sports cultural icon is the tale of an octogenarian nightclub impresario's latest success after a career marred by accusations of mob ties, political corruption, and prostitution. It's also the story of a phoenix-like rebirth for Disco Rick, whose music career died before he found an even more profitable line of work.
But even as KOD's national fame peaks — thanks to a star turn by its most famous stripper on a cable television news program — cracks are forming in the kingdom. That stripper, an athletic marvel named Tip Drill, whose acrobatic routine inspired gasps, has quit and is threatening a lawsuit after smashing her face on the floor during a dance gone awry. Rival strip clubs, meanwhile, are cloning KOD's formula and trying to steal its hip-hop glory. And the health of its infamous owner is quickly deteriorating as he weathers numerous legal fights.
As Disco Rick watches the packed house throwing fistfuls of cash into the smoky air, though, he doesn't seem particularly worried.
"There is no recession when you're looking at naked women," he crows in a deep baritone voice. "Tonight you might see at least a couple hundred thousand dollars hit the floor."
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Disco Rick reclines on one of the black leather VIP sofas on the first floor of King of Diamonds. Seven days a week he's at the club, and between managing the strippers and shepherding the rappers and quarterbacks, he gets three hours of sleep many nights.
"If I sleep, then a bitch might get away with some money," he says.
Rick scrolls through text messages as he tries to answer a simple question: How did KOD get this big, this fast? There's one real answer, Rick explains knowingly: Jack Galardi.
"I wish I could spend some time traveling with him or hanging out with him at his ranch because I would learn a lot," he says reverentially. "My boss man has the blueprint for building successful clubs."
Galardi isn't well known in Miami, but he should be. In Las Vegas, he's been dubbed by local writers a "low-budget Hugh Hefner" and "the Buddha of the strip club industry." Galardi owns more than two dozen cabarets around the country, including Pink Pony South, Crazy Horse Saloon, and Jaguar. In Dade he owns KOD and the Pink Pony in Doral, and he's fighting the City of Marathon to expand to the Keys.
Galardi — who is notoriously media-shy and declined multiple New Times interview requests — has been dogged by controversy throughout his 50-plus years in adult entertainment. He has fought allegations of being tied to the mob, paying off politicians in Nevada, and condoning prostitution in his clubs in Tampa. But through it all, he's built an empire of strippers.
"He has a knack for knowing where the money is," says Annabelle Stanford, a friend and former Republican Party events chairwoman in Las Vegas, where Galardi started his T&A enterprise. "He's very savvy."
A native of Trinidad, Colorado, who served in the Korean War as a Navy submariner, Galardi had his first brush with the law in 1971, when he was convicted in California of stealing bank money orders from two post offices. He and a friend had cooked up a scheme to send money orders to Vietnam, where they would command a high price on the black market, according to a 2004 Las Vegas Sun story.
After earning an early release six months into a five-year prison term, Galardi settled with his new wife and stepson Michael in Las Vegas, where he opened his first club in the mid-'70s. In 1981, Galardi took out a $50,000 loan to buy the topless bar the Crazy Horse Saloon. The purchase came shortly after police searching the desert found the severed head of Tony Albanese, a former Galardi business associate whom Las Vegas police suspected had mob ties. Cops concluded the murder wasn't connected to the Crazy Horse, and Galardi told the Sun that the mob left him alone.
The Crazy Horse thrived on the revitalized Las Vegas Strip, but Galardi kept an unusually low profile for a club kingpin. Stanford, who owned an embroidery business, first met him when he came in to get his bar's logo on T-shirts. She never suspected he was a strip club magnate.
"I didn't pay much attention to what he was doing until I asked him one day about what he did for a living," she says.
By the late '80s and early '90s, Galardi expanded into Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas. He also became a major donor to Nevada's Republican Party. Stanford could always count on him to provide kegs of beer and hard liquor for her fundraisers. Once, she was Galardi's date to a lunch featuring Senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Dole.
Yet Galardi's public successes were matched by seedy accusations.
In 1997, he was a judge for the Miss Nude World International pageant at his Atlanta club. One contestant, Vanessa Steele Inman, later alleged in a lawsuit that Galardi rigged the event so she'd lose, in retaliation for refusing to be auctioned off to a group of drunken golfers. She also balked at allowing him to lick whipped cream off her naked body.
She sued Galardi in Fulton County, and in 2000 a jury awarded her a $2.4 million judgment. On appeal, the award was later lowered to $3,500 — Steele's attorney fees. (Galardi's attorney in Atlanta, Aubrey Villines, and his lawyer in Miami, Howard Brodsky, declined to speak to New Times.)
Then, in 2003, Galardi's stepson and business partner Michael pleaded guilty in a federal public corruption probe. Michael was busted for bribing local cops and politicians to warn him of raids and to change local laws that prohibited physical contact between customers and dancers. Galardi vehemently denied any involvement in his stepson's crimes.
"I couldn't understand it because it was totally unnecessary what he did," Galardi told the Las Vegas Sun in 2004. His friend Stanford supports that claim. "Jack only gave to the party," she says. "He never gave money to individual politicians."
A year later, Galardi went further: He sued Michael, alleging his stepson embezzled $530,000 from their club Cheetah's. Galardi also had to pay a $1.1 million fine to the city for his stepson's criminal misdeeds. While Galardi fought to save his Vegas outpost, things weren't going smoothly in Florida either.
In Tampa, police raided and shut down his four strip clubs. The cops claimed his managers had repeatedly ignored warnings about prostitution in the champagne rooms. According to a search warrant, strippers offered undercover police officers sex for up to $200. Managers would also tell the DJ to use the code phrase "Will Smith is in the house" to let the dancers know when the vice cops were coming.
Galardi told the Sun he had no knowledge of what his stepson and managers in Tampa were up to. He explained he was not a hands-on businessman, preferring to let others deal with the day-to-day management: "I wasn't paying attention."
Despite the turmoil in Vegas and Tampa, Galardi survived and expanded. He'd been operating in Dade since 1992, when he opened Doral's Pink Pony. In 2002, he paid $3 million for a nearly five-acre site near Miami Gardens; five years later, he opened the cavernous Crazy Horse Saloon, named for his very first strip club.
The Crazy Horse was supposed to compete head-to-head with the then-brand-new Tootsie's Cabaret, another massive club near Miami Gardens Drive. Owned by the publicly traded Rick's Cabaret, Tootsie's boasts more than 75,000 square feet. The Crazy Horse couldn't compete. Less than 12 months later, Galardi scrapped it and reopened as Club 112, a regular nightclub catering to a hip-hop crowd.
That venue failed in mid-2008, but it sparked one of Galardi's best innovations yet: He decided to combine his strip club know-how with Miami's booming hip-hop culture.
At the time, the 305 was poised for a rap renaissance thanks to the rise of Rick Ross and the relocation of Cash Money and Young Money records from New Orleans. Galardi renovated his Miami Gardens space to include a tattoo parlor, a barbershop, a sex toy store, and a basketball half-court. He smartly hired Terry Elliott Sr. and Charles "Pop" Young — rapper Trick Daddy's father. Elliott and Young had been managing Diamonds, a hole-in-the-wall strip club in North Miami, where Disco Rick sometimes threw parties hosted by local NFL stars such as former Miami Hurricanes standout Willis McGahee.
Elliott and Young persuaded Galardi to name the new venue King of Diamonds. On Thanksgiving night 2008, the club opened its doors. But both men realized something was still missing: To really become the 305's hip-hop strip central, they needed the right face.
Three months later, Galardi hired Disco Rick. "I was the missing piece of the puzzle," Rick says.
A sheet of paper is taped to the white door of the DJ booth on the second floor of KOD, near the private VIP skyboxes overlooking the gargantuan lap-dance den. It reads, "To all dancers: This is not a hang-out." Dressed in a matching olive-green Adidas tracksuit, T-shirt, and sneakers, Disco Rick opens the door and walks up three short steps.
He finds a pretty brunet dancer clad in a pink satin G-string and high-heeled pumps puffing on a blunt. Cold air perks up the brown nipples on her droopy breasts. "What the fuck are you doing in here?" Disco Rick bellows. "Get your ass on the floor right now!"
She exhales a cloud of smoke and runs out. "Oh, her ass is fired," he fumes.
Behind the shout-outs in rap songs and the viral videos of dancers grinding on Lil Wayne, KOD runs on the shoulders of three managers: Elliott the GM, assistant Liz Cedano, and Disco Rick. Spending a night with the ex-rapper is like having a VIP view into America's most depraved celebrity bachelor party. He has seen rappers dole out more money in an hour than an average ATM dispenses in a week, prodded female patrons to get buck naked, and watched Rick Ross swoop in by helicopter.
The Liberty City native, whose real name is Ricky Taylor, began his music career spinning records at a now-defunct roller rink at NW 79th Street and Second Avenue. In 1986, he and two friends formed the rap group Gucci Crew II. Early pioneers of Miami's booty bass scene, the crew had hits with "The Cabbage Patch" and "Sally (That Girl)." In 1990 and 1991, Disco Rick sold thousands of records with two solo LPs featuring classics such as "Crack Rock" and "Nasty Dance."
By 1993, though, his performing career had fizzled out. He worked as a producer — engineering records for rappers Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Lil Jon — but soon realized his days as a musician were behind him. He began concentrating on promoting parties and recruiting dancers at local strip clubs such as Club Lexx, Take One Lounge, and Diamonds. He took the job at King of Diamonds because he saw the space had potential for hosting major concerts and large blowout parties.
"I'm trying hard to stay away from the record business even though my people want me to work with them," Disco Rick says. "I'm in the pussy business now."
The night that KOD exploded onto the hip-hop scene's radar, Rick says, was most likely January 30, 2009. It was the weekend of Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, and with Disco Rick's contacts in pro sports and the hip-hop world, he knew he could organize one hell of a party.
"A lot of these dudes grew up on my music, so it wasn't hard to get them to do a party for me when I needed them to," he says. The event was hosted by McGahee and attended by several of his former Hurricanes teammates, as well as his then-fellow players from the Baltimore Ravens.
Before long, sites such as WorldStarHipHop.com began writing about the insane bacchanals and publishing photos of rappers and NFLers partying there. In the street-cred-obsessed world of rap, it was the best advertising possible.
"It's an adult playground for them and their fans," says O'Denat, AKA Q. "You have to remember that the dancers are a big part of hip-hop culture."
Adds rapper Brisco, an early adopter of the KOD scene: "There are a lot of spots to chill out in there. And the women are just beautiful. I know that's my main attraction."
Soon, Disco Rick found his star performer: an elfin West Palm Beach girl named Kenisha, who went by the stage name Tip Drill. According to Rick, she began dancing when she was 18. He spotted her at Diamonds. "She wasn't doing tricks when she started," he says. "But she learned from the others. And she has swagger about her. Tip Drill knows how to draw people's attention."
She would develop a routine unmatched in Dade: With a figure-skater's muscular legs, Tip Drill would climb the pole, slide upside down, and flip acrobatically while stripping. The eye-popping routine helped KOD's reputation skyrocket. "Before she does her first trick, money is already flying," Disco Rick boasts. "Nobody can beat her."
When Miami hosted Super Bowl XLIV in early February 2010, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs took over. The club was packed all weekend with rappers, athletes, and their posses dropping $1,000 to $2,000 for VIP tables.
Nine months later, the club hosted Lil Wayne's homecoming after his release from Rikers Island following a one-year term for carrying a concealed firearm. A YouTube video showed rappers pulling up in Maybachs, Mercedes-Benzes, Bentleys, and a $2.4 million Bugatti Veyron. Birdman, Wale, Brisco, Drake, Waka Flocka Flame, and DJ Khaled all sipped Cristal Rosé straight from the bottle. Cash rained down in biblical proportions.
Since then, Lil Wayne has been a regular patron. During last year's Memorial Day weekend party in South Beach, he and pal Drake hosted WorldStarHipHop's sixth anniversary. "They made it rain $250,000 that night," Disco Rick boasts. The first Monday of 2012, Lil Wayne had a ringside seat at the main stage. He spent $29,000 on strippers and gave one a $1,000 tip.
No one has done it bigger at KOD than Rick Ross, though. For his birthday in 2010, the Boss arrived by helicopter, which touched down right in the parking lot. A year later, on January 31, P. Diddy hosted Ross's next birthday bash, where a crew of rappers allegedly dropped $1 million. By 3 in the morning, Disco Rick says, Elliott had to call in a Brinks truck to deliver more cash.
"Everybody did their thing that night," Brisco says. "Everybody showed out."
KOD's fame grew as the rappers name-dropped the club in their songs. On his track "Miss Me," Drake spits, "Call the King of Diamonds and tell [Blac] Chyna it'd be worth the flight/I'll be at my table stackin' dollars to the perfect height." Lil Wayne lets the world know his party schedule includes "LIV on Sundays and King of Diamonds Mondays" in a guest verse on the remix of "Hustle Hard" by Miami rapper Ace Hood.
Rick Ross took it a step further, releasing a hit song where he gives himself a new nickname: The King of Diamonds.
For all its hip-hop fame, how much money actually comes through KOD? It's not an easy question to answer. The company isn't publicly traded, and Disco Rick declines to talk about exact profit margins. Considering hip-hop cred largely balances on boasts of huge fortunes, cutting through the hype isn't easy.
Still, there are hints about the amount of cash that flows through. Consider the scene on the night of March 5, when Vernon Davis, Cam Newton, and thousands of others packed in to watch women fight amid the stages of twirling dancers. Around 2:45 a.m., a line of tricked-out cars stretched from the parking lot to Miami Gardens Drive. KOD was charging $100 per parking space and a $60 cover charge; some patrons ponied up $150 to skip the lines. That was before they bought their first drink or lap dance.
The club makes enough money nightly to employ a large stable of workers: 18 bartenders, more than 24 waitresses, and 25 security guards on the payroll. More than 200 exotic dancers work as independent contractors.
Every stripper is charged a tip-out fee to dance. On a typical Monday, the club charges them $60 for the first half-hour. That rate increases $10 every half-hour until midnight. After that, it's $20 every half-hour until closing time. So if 60 dancers started their shift at 10 p.m. and ended it at 6 a.m., KOD would collect $19,800 in tip-out fees alone.
Despite the fees, strippers know they can make a haul on a good night. Sunni, an Atlanta stripper who began dancing at KOD four months ago, says working at the club has been an "awesome experience."
"The most I made in one night was $6,000," Sunni says.
KOD also earns money by renting out the club to outside promoters who organize parties featuring rappers. "You have to book a party with the artists to keep the buzz going," Disco Rick says. "It's like booking porn stars at a regular strip club."
Promoters usually get the cover charges and parking fees, while KOD keeps the booze profits. Take WorldStarHipHop's party last Memorial Day weekend. The fete was organized by TIG Entertainment, an Atlanta-based promotions company, and MVD Inc., a public relations and events firm from New York City. The promoters charged $50 a head for general admission and $100 for VIP access. The bottles and naked women were extra.
Massah David, a partner in MVD, declined to discuss the details of the revenue-sharing deal. "But it was definitely worth it," she says. "It was a good, substantial amount [of money]."
A lithe exotic dancer with long blond hair and light-brown skin sashays over to a VIP table, peels off her black latex minidress, and flashes a wide smile. As dollar bills flutter around her, a floor manager with a dust broom sweeps up the pile of cash.
The stripper's name is Skrawberry. "I really can't dance or do tricks," she confides. "I rely on my great personality and a lot of sex appeal."
Skrawberry's national fame peaked January 30 when, along with Tip Drill, she snuck onto a national cable broadcast during the heated Republican primary, earning headlines across the web and a viral video. The pair's success represents everything the hundreds of girls twirling at KOD hope to achieve: six-figure incomes and hip-hop fame. Skrawberry and Tip Drill have a combined 52,354 followers on Twitter, where they wax poetic on their daily lives, from the celebrities they want to sleep with to when they have to go to the bathroom. (And Skrawberry now writes a weekly advice column for New Times' culture blog, Cultist.)
"Pussy is power," Disco Rick says. "I tell the girls not to act like groupies because they are the stars here."
Skrawberry has been dancing on and off at King of Diamonds for the past two years. She left her job as a sales clerk at Macy's in 2007 for a career in getting naked. "I went from selling clothes to selling ass," she says. "I was wild. I'd go to the strip clubs after a night of partying at the regular clubs. I'd be tipsy, and before you know it, I was onstage with my clothes off."
She has bounced around several black strip clubs in Miami but regularly works Monday nights and big events at KOD. "Dancing is a gamble," Skrawberry says. "One Monday I may make more than $3,000 but the next Monday don't make any money. But the dry spells are very rare."
Although she declined to disclose her annual income, Skrawberry says she makes enough to rent a condo in midtown Miami, buy designer clothes, and get her hair and nails done weekly. If she pulls in $3,000 a week for 52 weeks, her annual income is easily $156,000. "I'm on cruise control right now," she says.
In a recent interview on Star Power Radio, an Internet station based in Atlanta, Tip Drill boasted that stripping one to two nights a week can bring her $8,000. "On my birthday, I made close to $12,000," she tells the hosts. That means she could make $416,000 a year.
Tip Drill is a bona fide hip-hop celebrity. Her routine has been featured on sites such as WorldStarHipHop.com, and she has been name-dropped on Twitter by Drake and other A-list rappers. She appeared next to Nicki Minaj in the video for "Beez in the Trap."
On January 30, Skrawberry and Tip Drill went mainstream. After a night of partying at LIV, they stopped by Jerry's Famous Deli on Collins Avenue for breakfast. The hosts of MSNBC's Morning Joe — former U.S. Congressman Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist — were taping a segment before the GOP primary when Skrawberry yelled, "Who is Newt Gingrich?" She and Tip Drill were still drinking from a $450 bottle of Moët pink champagne left over from their soiree.
The pair enjoyed weeks of viral Internet fame. Then, for Tip Drill, it all went wrong.
On February 19, while doing her routine in front of hundreds of fans at KOD, her legs slipped and she fell face-first from the ceiling onto the stage.
"At first I thought she was gone, but then when I got closer, I heard her moaning," Skrawberry recalls. "That's when I felt her bones all fractured. It felt like glass."
Tip Drill suffered facial fractures including a broken jaw that had to be wired shut for six weeks. News of her nasty spill quickly spread through the hip-hop universe, with Drake tweeting, "Praying for my homegirl Tip Drill one time." Miami rapper Plies hosted a fundraiser to help pay for her medical bills. Disco Rick made T-shirts that read, "We love Tip Drill."
His best dancer, though, would never return to KOD.
Tip Drill and Skrawberry stand on a sofa, hands in the air, inside South Beach nightclub Dream. It's April 4 — six-and-half weeks after her gruesome injury — and the stripper is out of the hospital, grinning, shaking her ass, and showing no signs of disfigurement. Every VIP table is packed. The DJ is playing an old-school set: Uncle Luke's "Scarred" follows Disco Rick's "Wiggle Wiggle." Patrons sip pink champagne, cognac, and tequila, and weed smoke hangs in the air. It's Tip Drill's welcome-back party.
She is fully clothed in an all-black hipster ensemble featuring tights ripped at the sides, a graphic T-shirt, and a black baseball cap. At a nearby table, a group of dudes throws dollar bills in her general direction for the hell of it. Dream's bar backs furiously pick up the bills. Tip Drill tells New Times that she doesn't plan on dancing anymore. She declines to talk about KOD because she claims she's intent on suing Galardi and his enterprise. "I'm not gonna say it's the greatest club in the world," she says dismissively.
Can KOD remain on top of the hip-hop world without her? Her lawsuit would be just the latest legal headache for Galardi. He's suing the City of Forest Park in Georgia because its elected officials passed a law banning liquor sales at strip clubs. Galardi also has an ongoing defamation countersuit against Larry James White, his former lawyer and landlord in Atlanta, who in 2007 filed a suit accusing Galardi of being a racketeer, a purveyor of prostitution, and a briber of public officials. White did not return two phone calls to his Atlanta office seeking comment.
The strip club tycoon is in poor health, according to Stanford, his friend in Vegas. In 2008, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He lost 70 pounds from radiation treatments, Stanford relays. "He's also got this horrible double vision that is limiting his ability to read, watch television, or drive," she says. "He's pretty much retired, spending most of his time at his ranch, which he calls Circle G."
KOD doesn't have the Miami hip-hop scene to itself anymore, either. Last summer, a new club called G5 opened in the old Diamonds space and began hosting its own rap-fueled parties, trying to take KOD's crown. Rick Ross hosted a bash there in March, and a fully clothed Tip Drill MCed a party alongside VH1 reality star Evelyn Lozada on April 9. Pop, KOD's ex-manager, has also taken over Rachel's Steakhouse & Cabaret on Miami Beach just in time for Memorial Day weekend, when the city gets packed with African-American visitors.
For now, though, the carnival still rages on at KOD.
On March 10, Disco Rick celebrated his birthday in grand fashion. With eight strippers behind him, he invited all the female customers also partying for their birthdays to join him onstage. "We're gonna find out what y'all got," he said.
A half-dozen ladies, including a heavyset girl in a tight zebra-print minidress, hopped onstage. Disco Rick looked at her and said, "You're gonna take that animal suit off and show us you the baddest bitch in here." He opened a backpack and pulled out a thousand one-dollar bills wrapped in cellophane. "The first one who shows us her pussy gets this stack."
The large woman obliged, lifting her skirt to reveal a round bottom. She jackhammered her ass while holding onto the pole. "That's right, big girl, show 'em what you got," he shouted. "Show these skinny bitches you run this motherfucker!"
Once the commotion died down, Disco Rick announced his search for a new talent to take Tip Drill's place as KOD's main attraction.
And on April 12, he tweeted to his 2,276 followers: "I'm starting a new set of dancers with me and I'm looking for the best girls from city to country!"
The top candidate is probably Blac Chyna, whose star has taken off since Drake name-dropped her in "Miss Me." Hip-hop magazine XXL recently published a photo spread of her.
"She's been featured at other clubs under the KOD name," Disco Rick says. "That girl is doing great."
In two weeks, when Memorial Day weekend brings one of the largest black parties in the nation to South Beach, KOD expects to make a mint. Lawsuits, changing fads, disgruntled strippers — none of it matters much to Disco Rick.
"We are known across the world," he says. "Everybody wants to come party here, and every stripper wants to work here because they want to make money."
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