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Newest Revelations about Multi-Level Marketing /August/2014
« on: September 07, 2014, 03:44:28 AM »

This Update is Available as a Webpage for LinkingWebpage Version of this Update

International Association to Expose, Study and Prevent Pyramid Schemes
Pyramid Scheme Alert
Pyramid Scheme Alert is a non-partisan, non-profit, all-volunteer consumer education group.
Contact Robert L. FitzPatrick, Pres. at
Website Update - August 2014 Update
Newest Revelations about Multi-Level Marketing

Dear Pyramid Scheme Alert Supporters and Colleagues,

Many courageous individuals - facing lawsuits, personal attacks, and working mostly without funding - have researched and exposed the realities of what is called "multi-level marketing" (MLM). This August2014 Update highlights a breakthrough report that significantly adds to the facts.

There was one significant aspect of MLM in the news that few people knew about or understood. This was the so-called "nutrition clubs" run by Herbalife. These "clubs" affect hundreds of thousands of families, mostly in Latino communities, as well as millions of people in other countries. There are more than 4,000 Herbalife nutrition clubs in the USA alone and far more worldwide.

The facts that have now been revealed about these "clubs" are shocking, and especially harmful for the Latin American community. It turns out that they are not "clubs" and are not about nutrition. As some already knew instinctively or had determined from their overall knowledge of Herbalife, the clubs turn out to be  fronts for a predatory recruitment scheme orchestrated by top-level  distributors of Herbalife and aimed directly at lower income people.

MLM's Newest Recruiting Scheme - Nutrition Clubs

The known facts about the Nutrition Clubs have been greatly expanded by the investigative work of former Bloomberg journalist and respected author, Christine Richard, who was commissioned by Pershing Capital to investigate the clubs. Pershing is a New York-based hedge fund that has publicly accused the MLM, Herbalife, of pyramid scheme fraud. Pershing has reportedly taken a billion-dollar "short" position on Herbalife stock on the expectation that, as the truth is revealed about the company, the  value of Herbalife's stock will fall dramatically, yielding huge profits to Pershing.

Ms. Richard led a team of investigators, funded by Pershing, to examine the "Nutrition Clubs", revealing them to be one of MLM's newest and most dangerous forms of pyramid recruiting.

Herbalife had already been exposed by others for causing 99+% losses among the consumers it recruits into its "business opportunity". Some people reported losses of $10,000 to $50,000 when they were ensnared by another Herbalife recruiting scam, called "lead generating systems." Today, most USA recruits, it has now been discovered, are lower income Latinos. Herbalife had already been successfully sued in class action cases for running an "endless chain" and a "money transfer" scheme, with the majority of all rewards going to the top 1%, among other forms of deception. In 2013, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced it was formally investigating Herbalife. The world is awaiting the results of that investigation.


Herbalife's defenses have been the the usual claims made by all other MLMs, about being a "direct selling" company, the contract salespeople only wanting discounts, not income, and all sales counting as "retail", etc. But, Herbalife did have one other defense that no other MLM has ever put forth and it was by far its strongest. This is the existence in the USA alone of 4,000  "nutrition clubs" where hundreds of thousansd of consumers appeared to be consuming Herbalife shakes. Herbalife said the clubs were proof that its business is "product-based", not  recruitment-driven.  Herbalife said the Nutrition Clubs are:
Retail-based, with people coming to the clubs to "consume."
Community-based, run by local people, frequented by local people, proof of market attraction.
Health-oriented, attended by people trying to improve their health.
Brand-oriented, attended by people who "love" Herbalife products.
Profitable for the club operators, a viable business opportunity.
Herbalife's key to growth in the USA and a model for other countries, unique to Herbalife, a new form of retail marketing

Troubling Questions Raised


Even before Ms. Richard's team studied the clubs in depth, various news journalists had already looked into them. They were mystified by the clubs that seemed to to make no business or marketing sense to them. The reporters raised troubling questions, which Herbalife did not respond to, such as:
How is it possible for club owners to be profitable, given high operating costs, few customers, intense time and labor requirements?
Are there records of profits or sales volumes or turnover?
Why are the clubs primarily - only - in Latino communities, if Latinos are not  "targeted"?
Why are there so many "clubs" in concentrated areas? Aren't they in competition with each other?
How do people find out about the clubs since signage and advertising are not allowed, food cannot be prepared, curtains must be closed and actual products cannot be sold on the premises?
How could ordinary protein powder drinks be viewed as a significant "health" measure?
Are the clubs franchises?
Terrible Realities Uncovered

Visiting and examining hundreds of the clubs in several countries, here is what Ms. Richard's investigators found:
Herbalife Nutrition Clubs are not market-based or community based. They are organized, directed and managed by Herbalife and its top recruiters.
Internal documents indicate that Latinos were specifically targeted, as higher income sectors of the population were already saturated for further recruiting.
The clubs were based on getting small amounts of money from large numbers of recruits, which, over time, added up to a lot of money per person, similar to a form of high interest financing.
Analysis shows large-scale losses of operators of the clubs.
Clubs' mission is not consumption but recruitment.
Customers are frequently consumers seeking "points" for moving up Herbalife recruiting ladder.
Visiting/purchasing/consumption of drinks are motivated by income aspirations and requirements to follow a carefully constructed plan and script, designed and operated by Herbalife recruiters.
Health claims are routinely fabricated or grossly exaggerated
Clubs are concentrated because they do not compete as much as they are inter-connected through an elaborate system of "conscripted consumption" driven by "point" system, based on purchases, with consumers being directed to go from one club to others where they are told to "consume" and gain "training"
Clubs are not market-based and not community-based. They are unprofitable and they exist only as commercial enterprises, designed and controlled by Herbalife and its top level distributors for recruiting purposes at the cost of the operators.
Consumption in the "clubs" is not retail. No one actually purchases the product. Participants pay to belong to the club and then consume goods provided by the operator.
Clubs might be defined as franchises, since Herbalife controls appearance, determines operating procedures, is the sole supplier, controls the pricing of goods provided and sets quotas of purchasing, effectively gaining "royalty" payments from the clubs.
Clubs are a recruiting program that characterizes and promotes the purchasing, training and recruiting as a form of formal education, referring to itself as a "university" and implying the program is a form of economic education, similar to a college education.
The Cruelest Deception

It is the last aspect of the clubs - being presented to people as "education"  - that is the most dangerous and cruel. Low income and struggling people, many of whom do not speak English or might not even be documented citizens, are being lured to invest in the Clubs as a form of self-improvement, rather than getting real education from real schools, or to learn a real trade, profession or business. The
"Students" at "graduation" from Herbalife's "University," alias pyramid recruiting program
true harm
done to the people could affect their entire lives and their families. Herbalife promoters are telling people they are attending a "university." The scheme disguises a bogus business opportunity with a bogus educational program.

The goal of the Nutrition Club "education" and "system" is for people to gradually invest their money and follow the program, step-by-step, leading to, some day, becoming "Supervisors" and then reaching the highest ranks of Herbalife where the great wealth is promised.

Besides being misled about the true nature of the clubs, few who fall into this trap realize that virtually all the Herbalife "Supervisors" never gain a profit and half do not even last one year before quitting.
See the analysis of incomes among  Herbalife's upper level of "Supervisor/Leaders."
A Growing Menace

It is well known that the longer a pyramid scheme is allowed to operate the greater damage is causes due to much larger numbers of victims. But, it also true that the longer pyramids operate the more predatory, deceptive and aggressive they become, that is, the greater harm they cause to civil society. Some pyramids have caused governments to topple. They corrupt and damage whatever they touch.

The Nutrition Clubs, their operation and, most important, their disguised and deceptive role in MLM recruiting represent an advanced stage of multi-level marketing - making more outrageous claims, destructively probing deeper into family and community life, and targeting ever more vulnerable groups such as students and immigrants.Other MLMs will undoubtedly mimic Herbalife's devious new invention. 
The Nutrition Clubs, aimed at lower income Latinos, are analogous to the banking industry's disastrous Ponzi scheme of sub-prime mortgages also aimed at lower income people. Needing ever greater volume of "assets" to sell into the securities market, they changed the nature of home ownership and home mortgages by developing "sub-prime" mortgages which soon devolved into "no-doc" or "liar loans." These bogus loans corrupted housing appraisals, inflated home prices, and led to "explodig" loans being given to unqualified and in some case unemployed people, putting the housing market and values into self-destructive spiral.

As has been sadly documented, the "toxic" mortgage-backed assets were destined to cause massive foreclosures for new mortgage holders, wipe out home values of existing homeowners,  increase homelessness and unemployment and eventually wipe out  ordinary people's life savings in stocks.

Like the investment banks that created bogus mortgages as the raw material of "toxic assets" to sell to the securities market, Herbalife has hidden from its shareholders, the government and the public how it gains revenue generated in the "clubs." And, just as the sub-prime scheme was disguised as a way for more people to own homes, the clubs are disguised as a way for poor people to achieve the gain an "education" from a "universidad", complete with cap and gown ceremonies, after the recruits have invested required amounts of time, money, "consumption" and recruiting for Herbalife.

I urge interested citizens and all government regulators to read and study the report on the Nutrition Clubs, entitled:


Note: The research findings on the Nutrition Clubs begins at Slide #50 

Robert L. FitzPatrick, Pres.

The FTC can never say it didn't know...
"Bright Lines" of Illegality Sent to FTC
In the last Update it was noted that the FTC had shut down the popular and fast growing MLM, Fortune High Tech Marketing.The problem was that before FHTM was closed down, 350 thousand households had already lost money in FHTM, believing it to be legal for more than 10 years! Their belief was based on the absence of any FTC prosecution during that long time. Those losses and the hundreds of thousands of people affected are the clearest evidence that the FTC must now establish a consistent legal standard on MLM illegality. Currently, the public is left confused and vulnerable to MLM schemers who claim, as FHTM did, to be "perfectly legal." Many point to the absence of FTC action against them as prima facie evidence of their legality. Bernie Madoff used a similar defense for many years, noting no action against him by the SEC.

The time for FTC action may be at hand. The FTC is now formally investigating one
of the largest and oldest MLMs, Herbalife. But Herbalife can't be evaluated, separately from hundreds of other MLMs that operate just like it. To deal with Herbalife, the  FTC needs to establish "bright lines" that identify illegality for ANY MLM.

In a June 9 conference call with some FTC officials, Pyramid Scheme Alert leaders and advisors had a chance to offer their ideas on the need to regulate all MLMs. In that call, they were  asked by the FTC officials to offer the FTC specific recommendations on "bright lines" of MLM illegality. That invitation led to  two documents being sent, one based on clear signs of a fraudulent business model and the other on settled law that prohibits business frauds of the pyramid scheme type.

PSA President, Robert FitzPatrick sent an "open letter" to all five FTC Commissions outlining the characteristics of a pyramid fraud, noting that the signs of MLM illegality are in plain sight and do not require years of study. Like a legitimate business, pyramid schemes follow a model with operating policies. In the pyramid, value is not exchanged in transactions; virtually all who invest lose their money; and deception is main component of marketing. The pyramid model and policies always involve deception and always cause large-scale harm. These signs can be recognized by a study of the structure, pay plan, and policies without  by need for the FTC taking years of study. The FTC could publish the signs it views as "bright lines" and warn all MLMs that those displaying the signs are subject to prosecution. Reforms would surely follow.

Former Asst. Attorney General (Ret.) of Wisconsin, Bruce Craig, laid out the legal case for a set of guidelines that would prohibit the endless chain income proposition, citing existing court rulings. It shows that no new laws are needed, but rather enforcement of a series of consistent court rulings that ban endless chains and money transfer schemes.

For nearly 30 years, the FTC has allowed MLMs to multiply and expand without requirements for disclosure and without even a definition of the bounds of legality.  Now, that the day of reckoning has arrived, these two documents ensure that FTC Commissioners can never say they did not know about the problems inherent in MLM, the scale of harm being inflicted on the public, and they can never say they did not understand what to do to resolve the crisis. 
See: "Identifying Bright Lines for Determining Illegality of any Multi-Level Marketing Company, An Open Letter to the Members of the US Federal Trade Commission " by Robert L. FitzPatrick.
Read: "The FTC Should Take A Definitive Stance On Pyramid Type Offerings Rather Than A Case-By-Case Approach" by Bruce Craig. (Note: Requires a free registration with the forum, Seeking Alpha.

Prosecutions, Arrests
MLM in the Courts... and in Jail
The last Update reported that the MLM, Vemma, another MLM with a "health product" and aggressively recruiting  students, has been declared a pyramid scheme - in Italy. In recent months, Vemma is getting increasing scrutiny for targeting
Amway CEO of India, William Pinckney, Arrested on Fraud Charges in India
 youth and for the involvement of some ex-Herbalife
"leads generation" operators running the same scam in Vemma recruiting.

Now there is news of Amway's CEO in India, William Scott Pinckney, being arrested in that country by officials in one state that is prosecuting Amway as a pyramid fraud.

This is the second time Pinckney has been arrested. State officials in India laid out a detailed case to the court that Amway is breaking India's anti-pyramid  law by running a  recruiting scheme promising "huge and fabulous easy money" based on the number of people recruited.  The police officials' description of Amway recruiting in India precisely mirrors that the description of Amway USA operations in a recent  class action lawsuit against Amway.

 Amway is now "lobbying" Indian officials to get the national law changed so its current operations could become "legal." Amway's CEO stayed in jail for almost two months before arranging bond and release.

Utah's Top Cops and MLM Defenders Arrested

Back in the USA, the MLM industry has touted as one of its great promoters the

Mark Shurtleff, Former Utah AG, and Prominent MLM Endorser, Arrested on Bribery Charges
former Attorney General of Utah, Mark Shurtleff. While still
serving as a public official, Shurtleff appeared to have publicly endorsed the MLM, Usana and he was instrumental in opening Utah up to more MLM pyramids.

Now it is reported that Shurtleff has been arrested in Utah on bribery charges, along with another former Attorney General of Utah, John Swallow, who was also a major MLM backer.

According to the  Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, the prosecution included the cooperation of the FBI. Gill announced  that Shurtleff and Swallow are accused of taking tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from businesspeople. The charges come with a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

Shurtleff served a dozen years in office as Utah's Attorney General until 2013, but allegations of corruption plagued him. Swallow  was his chief deputy from 2009 to early 2013. He served less than a year as the state AG and then resigned amid corruption charges.

Both Swallow and Shurtleff were nationally known as governmental defenders and promoters of MLM in Utah and nationally, the state with more MLM headquarters per capita than any other. According to a 2012 investigative article in Harpers Magazine by Jeff Ernsthausen, Shurtleff received campaign contributions totaling more than $475,000 from members of the Direct Selling Association (DSA) since 1999, accounting for 14 percent of his donations from sources other than the state Republican Party. The DSA writes the "code of ethics" that MLM member companies are supposed to follow. The Harper's article noted, after itemizing DSA member contributions to Shurtleff, noted that "unsurprisingly", Shurtleff was a major MLM backer.

Shurtleff famously appeared as the state's top law enforcement officer at DSA member and MLM, Usana's national meeting in 2004 to apparently endorse the company publicly. As reported in the Salt Lake Tribune in a 2011 piece on MLM influence in Utah by Steven Oberbeck, Shurtleff "walked onto the stage in Salt Lake City. 'Good morning, Usana,' he shouted. 'And I have some news for you. Last night I talked to Governor Huntsman, and he agreed with me that it is now time to change the name of our state. 'From now on we will be known as Utana.'"

Book "Sales" Help Investigations Go Away?

Another publicized connection between Shurtleff and MLM, was with the MLM scheme, Pre-Paid Legal, which also had been a DSA member. Pre-Paid Legal  was a publicly traded stock with the symbol, PPD. It was frequently sued for deception and pyramiding, and later was taken private with a leveraged buy-out, followed by the change of its name to LegalShield, a current DSA member. The Shurtleff/Pre-Paid Legal connection allegedly involved campaign money to Shurtleff from PPD, a lucrative book purchasing  deal by PPD to the profit of Shurtleff, and possible help from Shurtleff in squelching a federal investigation of PPD. According to an article in the Salt Lake City Weekly by Eric S. Peterson, the multi-level marketing scheme, Pre-Paid Legal Services had donated $130,000 in campaign funds to Shurtleff  between 2003 and 2008. Shurtleff also received $7,400 in donations to his 2009 Senate race from employees of Pre-Paid Legal, and Shurtleff's political action committee, the PAC for Utah's Future, received $15,000 in donations from the company in 2010.

Quoting from the article, "Author and Tea Party activist Candace Salima says that when then-Attorney General Mark Shurtleff approached her in spring 2009 about publishing his historical fiction novel with her Valor Publishing Group, he told her that he hadn't finished writing the book - but that he could guarantee a pre-sale order of 100,000 copies. Salima says that the company that Shurtleff told her was willing to buy 100,000 copies... which, Salima says, would result in over $100,000 in royalties being paid to Shurtleff - was Pre-Paid Legal Services.... At the time, the company was being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission for making misleading statements to its customers."

Making Pyramids "Legal" in Utah

Shurtleff's greatest contribution to MLM in Utah, with national ramifications, was his leadership role in changing the state's anti-pyramid scheme law to one that exempts MLM and also inhibits the ability of victims to sue an MLM in Utah. For a full review on the changed  law in Utah that now protects "product-based" pyramids see, 2006 special report, Utah Legislature Passes Pyramid Scheme Safe Harbor Amendments,by Robert FitzPatrick.

On Shurtleff's successor John Swallow's ties to MLM, the Harper's investigation reported that "Of the $680,000 he has raised for his election campaign to date (June 2012), $114,000 can be traced to Utah-based DSA member companies, their executives, or their spouses."

Utah is only one example of MLM influence-buying at the state level. North Carolina was also specifically cited in the Harper's investigation. Formerly a state that was noted for active prosecutions of MLM pyramids under its strict anti-pyramid scheme statute, North Carolina is now a recent headquarters to the MLM, ACN, famously touted by Donald Trump, and the site of a major new distribution center for Herbalife. Pyramid Scheme Alert asked Mr. Cooper to investigate Herbalife, based on consumer losses revealed in the income data as well as other other known facts about the company related to a pyramid scheme. He did not respond.

Executives from ACN, according to the Harper's investigation, have given $84,550 to North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper "since the run-up to the company's relocation there in 2008 - nearly 85 percent of their total campaign contributions during that period... Two ACN executives, Charles Barker and Robert Stevanovski, tied with a few others as the largest individual donors to Cooper's 2008 reelection campaign.This figure includes donations by executives' spouses and members of ACN's "Circle of Champions." Much of this money came from employees residing outside North Carolina."

MLM Now in Literature         
New "Whistle-Blower Novel" Describes the Culture of Deception in MLM 
After decades of silence and disguise, the realities of multi-level marketing have finally broken through into the field of literature. A new novel, entitled, Downline, by MLM veteran, E. Robert Smith. Downline is a dramatic story involving the lives of fictional characters caught up in the deceptions of MLM recruiting and becoming ensnared in a Congressional investigation, conjuring obvious references to what could transpire as an Herbalife scenario.

Smith describes the book, "The novel Downline is a character-driven work of  historical fiction written to be enjoyed by a general readership. However, it is also a whistle-blower novel in that part of the backdrop of the story involves the currently controversial industry of Multilevel Marketing (MLM). The story plays out before the Permanent Senate Subcommittee on Investigations where this subcommittee is looking into allegations that MLM, user current law, is an illegal pyramid scheme. During the proceedings many legal and ethical questions are raised that readers, especially those readers involved in the industry, will find interesting."

As part of the novel's advocacy role, Smith has promoted the book and its real-life context in the website,

With fiction often being best for telling the truth, it is hoped that among the first readers of this novel would be the members of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the staff of the FTC Consumer Protection Bureau.
Downline is Available on

Lawsuit as Industry Literature
Class Action Lawsuit Reveals MLM in Lurid Detail
The text of the complaint of a new class action lawsuit serves as a critical document for revealing the deception that pervades multi-level marketing, camouflaged with rhetoric about "direct selling." The text of the complaint paints a vivid picture of a major MLM, called Visalus, complete with video links and color photos. The suit was filed by the law firms, Sommers Schwartz in Southfield Michigan, Prebeg, Faucett & Abbott in Houston  and Wexler Wallace in Chicago, which are also suing the "engergy" MLM, Stream/Ignite.

The  text of the lawsuit declares "racketeering" to be the basis of the suit's claims against Visalus and its promoters:

"This Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations, 18 U.S.C. §§1961 - 1968, ("RICO") action arises out of a pyramid scheme perpetrated by modern, Internet-savvy company peddling powdered weight-loss shakes. Well over 100,000 innocent people paid the scheme up to $999 for the "business opportunity" to become distributors, or Independent Promoters ("IPs"), for a soy protein and sucralose concoction. The vast majority lost their money... All of the Defendants have acted as an "association-in-fact" for a common purpose...- - the unlawful pyramid scheme."
 Visalus Is Mainstream MLM

Visalus is a subsidiary of Blyth Inc., a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange whose other subsidiary, PartyLite, is a member of the Direct Selling Association. Robert Goergen Jr., the son of the CEO of Blyth and president of PartyLite, is on the Board of Directors of the Direct Selling Association (DSA). In January 2013 Visalus itself applied for membership in the DSA.

For a time, Visalus, was the fastest growing MLM in America and perhaps the world. In early 2012, the company reported that in 2011 it had achieved net sales of $231 million, seven times its 2010 volume of $34 million. Revenue in the first six months of 2012 continued to spike upward, 450 percent to $326 million. The skyrocketing volume boosted the Blyth stock to the high 20s at the start of 2012 to an astonishing high of $45 a share by August 2012. Apparently seizing the momentum, Blyth, the parent company sought a spin-off of Visalus with a $175 million initial public offering of stock (IPO).

While Visalus was climbing, it was all the rage in MLM world. Yet, according the class action lawsuit, Visalus' fast growth was itself a feat of deception. The suit offers evidence that the extraordinary rapid growth was achieved by pirating top recruiters from other MLMs who had existing and large "downlines" which they brought with them over to Visalus. Currently, Visalus announced it is focusing on the Latino community for recruits.

Another MLM for Wall Street

When Blyth attempted to spin off Visalus with its $175 million stock offering, during the time of spectacular growth figures and a ever-rising stock price, businesswriter and analyst, Herb Greenberg of CNBC was alone in sounding alarms of suspicious maneuverings and a house of cards, noting, "In its simplest form, ViSalus is in the business of selling product to distributors."

Then, at the end of September, 2012, Blyth abruptly and inexplicably withdrew the public stock offer. Blyth stock plunged 20% in one day. In the following quarters, reported sales, distributor recruiting  and revenue of Visalus declined dramatically, which they have been doing to the present.  The stock price has plummeted to below $6.

As the stock fiasco was unfolding, the company was also profiled in an extensive investigative report authored by journalist, Roddy Boyd of the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation, which detailed  stock maneuverings and the pyramid recruiting program.

As an example of deception claimed in the lawsuit, consider the section describing a classic MLM event, the "ritual of check waving." The lawsuit states:


It is well-established in the network marketing business that one hook to get new
"Check Waving Ritual" Depicted in Visalus Class Action Lawsuit

 recruits in the door is the check-waving ritual. The ritual is typically performed before a large crowd, videotaped and photographed, and images of the happy recipient shown to potential recruits in printed materials, on the Internet and wherever they can be spread. The defendants all participate in this show. 
While ViSalus has staged the check ritual countless times it adds a twist to the ritual: the checks are not actually paid. The company does not explain that the distributors waving the giant check were brought on board through special deals. Nor does it explain, except in very small print, that it will pay the check in 10 years and only if the recipient continues to be "active" with the company, and if, and only if, it chooses to do so.
View and Read the Visalus Lawsuit.

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Special Reports for Consumers...
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 What Is this Thing Called Multi-Level Marketing? (free) This new report (March, 2014) examines the income disclosures of Amway, Herbalife and Nu Skin, which together account for 10% of the entire MLM business in America. It is a "portrait" of MLM in America and provides the reader with a clear picture of what MLM is and is not. A must read for "due diligence" or those who want to understand what all the MLM recruiting is all about.

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Re: Newest Revelations about Multi-Level Marketing /August/2014
« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2016, 04:30:48 PM »

Find Trump!
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