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By Peter J. Nash

August 1, 2014

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The History Channel’s hit show Pawn Stars was the scene of one of the most embarrassing blunders in authentication history when PSA/DNA’s alleged expert, John Reznikoff, told millions of viewers that a Godfather movie script was signed by Al Pacino when it was actually signed by movie producer Al Ruddy. In another instance, pawn shop owner Rick Harrison said he lost 15-grand when he purchased a bogus book alleged to have been signed by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson that was authenticated by former PSA an current JSA authenticator Herman Darvick. But when Harrison sent the book to PSA/DNA, he got a letter back signed by the company’s senior authenticator, Steve Grad, stating that the Jackson autograph was not authentic. Safe to say, the show’s producers wanted to avoid any future embarrassments similar to the Reznikoff incident and other on-air authentication debacles orchestrated by former on-air expert Drew Max. Max billed himself as a forensic document examiner but he was notorious for authenticating signatures of players that had been placed on balls manufactured after they died as well as certifying as genuine mass produced facsimile signatures of historical figures like FDR.

As a result of these embarrassing episodes, Pawn Stars apparently cut ties with Max after a few seasons and Reznikoff has not appeared on the show since the Pacino debacle. In response to the on-air flubs, the popular cable franchise forged a new relationship with PSA/DNA authenticator, Steve Grad, to become the new expert for autographed items that walk into the Las Vegas pawn shop. PSA President, Joe Orlando, announced the partnership between the reality show and the subsidiary of the public company Collectors Universe in a press release which stated, “One of the missions of Professional Sports Authenticator and PSA/DNA Authentication Services is education. Steve Grad serves not only as an authentication expert, but also a great ambassador for the hobby of collecting.”  But according to a 2011 deposition Grad gave for to a lawsuit filed against PSA and Collectors Universe, it is Grad’s own education and the fabrication of his own professional history that are now calling into question his own credibility and the authenticity of millions of dollars worth of items that he has certified as genuine.

In one of Grad’s early appearances on Pawn Stars in June of 2013, a customer walked into the shop with a Babe Ruth signed bank check that was already accompanied by a PSA/DNA letter of authenticity signed by Grad.  Rick Harrison looked at the letter and told his customer, “It’s signed by Steve, he’s a friend of mine.”  Harrison added, “I know its legit because my buddy Steve authenticated it.”  Harrison views Grad as a credible expert in the field and the top representative of the authentication giant PSA which company President Joe Orlando described in his Pawn Stars press release as having “examined and certified over 20 million different sports, entertainment and historical collectibles with a combined total value of over $1 billion.”

Steve Grad's online bios published by MastroNet and PSA mention his holding a "BA in Broadcast Journalism" and state that his major at Columbia College led to a career as a broadcaster.

When it comes to autograph authentication, Steve Grad is PSA’s principal authenticator and he has the final say whether collectors’ items will become trash or treasure after PSA/DNA issues its LOA bearing his facsimile signature.  Grad’s bio on the PSA website has included references to his educational background which the company says led to his early career in radio including a stint on Sporting News Radio and a role as “Psycho Steve” on the Mancow Show.  The current bio states that Grad’s  ”major in Broadcast Journalism at Columbia College launched him into the radio world for seven years.”  In addition, the bio included a link to another PSA-authored article which describes Grad’s authentication training as having been acquired while he was working for Bill Mastro at MastroNet Inc. between 1999 and 2002.  In that 2006 article, Grad calls his time working for Mastro as “life changing” and added that he was a “quick learner” who after a short period of time was “authenticating autographs and assisting in the authentication and acquisition of memorabilia for MastroNet’s sports and non-sports auctions.”  PSA, however, has edited out all references to Grad’s past history with Mastro Auctions since his mentor, Bill Mastro was indicted on auction fraud charges in 2012.   When Grad was working at MastroNet he was featured on the company website as an “Autograph Authenticator” who had been “involved in the autograph industry for more than 20 years” and that he had “obtained more than 100,000 signatures of sports stars, celebrities, musicians and politicians–all in person.”  In addition to being an “autograph chaser” Mastro also specifically noted in the bio that Grad held a “BA in Broadcast Journalism.”

Grad has been portrayed as a college-graduate and a professionally trained expert in his field and guys like Rick Harrison and thousands of other PSA customers look to his opinion as the deciding factor as to whether they will pay big money for an item offered for sale.  But as Hauls of Shame has illustrated in our “Worst 100 Authentications” and several other investigative reports, Grad has certified scores of forgeries as authentic and has cost collectors hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses due to his authentication malpractice.  Now, Hauls of Shame has learned that not only has Grad authenticated fakes for years, but he also faked his own personal biography to portray himself in a better light.  As it turns out, Grad never graduated from Columbia College and never earned a degree in Broadcast Journalism.  In addition, Grad committed perjury and lied about receiving a degree from Columbia College when he was deposed in a 2011 lawsuit filed against his company for authenticating a signature of aviator Charles Lindbergh that Lindbergh’s daughter and her expert claimed was not genuine.  The autograph was included in an Upper Deck relic card along with an alleged strand of Lindbergh’s hair that was provided by PSA’s John Reznikoff.  A collector named Steven Sterpka acquired the card and later filed a lawsuit alleging that Grad and PSA/DNA had rejected the Lindbergh autograph when he later submitted it to RR Auctions, after PSA/DNA had already authenticated it.  Court documents show that PSA ultimately retracted that reversal of its original opinion.  When asked about that reversal in his deposition, all Grad would say is that, “A mistake was made.”

Grad said he was a college graduate and committed perjury in a court-ordered 2011 deposition for a lawsuit against his employer, Collectors Universe, that involved his authentication of a Charles Lindbergh autograph.

In the court ordered deposition taken by attorney Douglas Jaffe, Grad claimed to have received a degree in “Broadcast Journalism” and when asked if he had “received any formal education after (he) obtained (his) degree from Columbia College,” Grad replied, “No.”  Grad also could not remember when he graduated from Columbia College and when pressed for an exact year he answered, “Mid-90s.”  Some people reading Grad’s bios published by PSA and MastroNet may have assumed that Grad attended Columbia College in New York City and that his “Broadcast journalism” degree was affiliated with the world-famous Columbia School of Journalism, but the school’s Registrar, Marvin Cohen, confirmed for Hauls of Shame that Grad only “attended Columbia College Chicago from the Spring 1993 to the end of the Fall 1994 semester” and that he “did not graduate from the college.”  In addition,  Allison Sullivan of the Registrar’s Office at Chicago’s Roosevelt University confirmed that Grad “was enrolled at Roosevelt University from Spring 1990 to Fall 1992, but did not receive a degree.  His major at the time of enrollment was Speech Broadcasting.”

Also revealed in his testimony under oath, Grad stated that he had no formal training as an authenticator and that his primary training and education was provided by Bill Mastro and his auction house between 1999 and 2002.  Grad said, “(Mastro) exposed me to everything they see, what to look out for, different consignments that came in.  It was very educational.”  When asked what Mastro educated him to look out for when authenticating items Grad answered, “Forgeries to look out for, telltale signs.”   When asked what those tell-tale signs were Grad replied, “Fountain pens, ballpoint pens, different inks that forgers use to make things look old.”

Dan Knoll (left) was another hobby mentor to Steve Grad who is pictured with (l to r) Mastro and PSA authenticators John Reznikoff; Roger Epperson and Zach Rullo.

As revealed in our last “Operation Bambino” report, Grad may also have learned how to pass off forgeries as genuine items in Mastro sales.  As illustrated in our report, Grad and his former colleague, Jimmy Spence, have been authenticating forged Babe Ruth signatures dating back to the time when they were working as authenticators for Mastro, who recently plead guilty to fraud he committed while operating Mastro Auctions up until 2007.  Grad’s habitual authentication of forgeries, however, extends to the present day as evidenced by a baseball he authenticated that was removed from a sale conducted by Grey Flannel Auctions earlier this summer.  Grad authenticated that ball as the genuine article signed by Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in 1928, but the ball itself was a modern day reproduction doctored up to look vintage and the signatures were facsimiles of forgeries that may have been placed on the ball by a stamp or a machine.  Sources indicate that Grey Flannel and its principal, Richard Russek, are also targets of the FBIs on-going Mastro investigation.

Grad has also attributed his success in the hobby to his affiliation with another Mastro associate, Dan Knoll, who lived across the street from Grad in suburban Chicago in the 1990s.   Knoll was a well known hobby veteran who operated as both a dealer and authenticator for the past several decades and Grad told PSAs Sports Market Report, “He (Dan Knoll) taught me about autographs, how to collect them, store them, and about values and authenticity.”  Knoll has been a business partner and close confidant of Mastro for the past several decades but sources indicate that it was Knoll who wore a wire for the government and helped obtain audio of Mastro admitting he had trimmed the now infamous PSA-8 T206 Honus Wagner card.

PSA's advertisements have featured fakes and frauds including the now infamous trimmed Mastro-T206 Wagner and a Steve Grad authenticated Babe Ruth forgery (left). As Bill Mastro is currently vilified on ESPN by Keith Olbermann (top right), Steve Grad appears on news telecasts geared towards consumer protection (bottom right).

On the current PSA website Grad says he owes a tremendous debt of gratitude” to both Mastro and Knoll and adds, “If it hadn’t been for them, I may never (have) had the chance to do what I’m doing today.”  Without the help from Mastro and Knoll, Grad says his ascent to principal authenticator at PSA “would have been a tremendous uphill battle for me.”  Considering the key role Mastro played in establishing the autograph authentication service at PSA; Grad’s close relationship with both Mastro and Knoll; and Grad’s authentication of forgeries distributed through Mastro auctions, sources indicate that Grad could be a target in the Mastro investigation as his old mentor cooperates with the Feds pursuant to his plea agreement.  Earlier this summer Mastro’s sentencing was postponed again until October 15, 2014, and sources indicate the postponement is a sign that prosecutors are gathering more information from Mastro in their prosecution of his co-defendants and other hobby associates like Grad.  The fact that Grad committed perjury under oath and has authenticated scores of forgeries in recent auctions suggests that investigators could take a closer look at Grad and the public company Collectors Universe (CLCT).

Steve Grad (left) finished filming episodes for "Pawn Stars" earlier this summer with Rick Harrison (right).

Despite all of the controversy swirling around PSA in relation to the FBIs Mastro investigation, Rick Harrison of Pawn Stars still holds the company and Grad in high regard.  In a 2012 interview in the Topeka Capital-Journal Harrison talked about PSA and Grad saying, “There is so much fake stuff out there. Anyone with a decent computer and printer can make a COA (Certificate of Authenticity). I have a friend who makes his living verifying signatures and I use that guy all of the time. PSA is really the only group I trust. I will hold off if they don’t have a PSA with them, unless they sign it right there in front of you.”

Harrison’s endorsement of PSA suggests that he and the producers of his TV show haven’t conducted sufficient due diligence to examine  Grad’s expensive authentication blunders on Ed Delahanty, Albert Spalding, Mickey Welch, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Candy Cummings, Jimmy Collins, Rocky Marciano and other recklessly authenticated signatures on items manufactured after the alleged signers died including a letter dated ten years after WWII Admiral Nimitz passed away.

Hauls of Shame attempted to contact Harrison this week to ask him about his relationship with Grad and about the authenticator’s fabricated biography but his Las Vegas-based spokesperson, Laura Herlovich, said Harrison was unavailable for comment and on vacation until Labor Day.

The problems for PSA and Grad are said to extend far beyond just the perjury, fabrications of biographies and the authentications of forgeries that the company and its supporters call “honest mistakes.”  Additional allegations have been made identifying Grad and fellow PSA authenticator John Reznikoff as manufacturers of bogus materials.  Reznikoff was also caught fabricating his own educational history after exaggerating his attendance records from Fordham University.  Like Grad, Reznikoff is not a college graduate and falsely stated in his online biographies that he attended Fordham for four years.  Reznikoff also has a history selling forgeries as noted in a 1999 The New York Times report that illustrates how Reznikoff authenticated and sold millions in forged documents attributed to JFK and Marilyn Monroe.  Reznikoff’s business partner, Lawrence X. Cusack III, claimed to have discovered the trove of JFK documents that Reznikoff authenticated but ABC News hired forensic specialists who determined they were all fakes.

Reznikoff was recently implicated in a 2012 Hauls of Shame report identifying the travels of a fraudulent baseball alleged to have been signed by a US President that had its “provenance” attributed to the PSA authenticator.  The Harry Truman single-signed baseball appeared for sale at Mastro Auctions in May of 2001 and at RR Auctions in November of 2004, and originally came with a MastroNet LOA from Mike Gutierrez who was employed by Bill Mastro at the time.  Mastro described the Truman signature as a “2″ on a scale of “10″ and RR identified the presidential scrawl as “light” with the date “a bit harder to see” and accompanied by COA’s from RR and “John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA.”  But when the same ball sold three years later at EAC Galleries it had transformed into a much darker signature and was described as the “Finest Example Extant” with its provenance attributed to John Reznikoff. The transformed Truman signature was first exposed in Stephen Koschal’s 2012 book, Collecting Signatures of The Presidents, and since that time it has been alleged that the Truman ball was transformed while it was in Reznikoff’s possession.

PSA/DNA has examined and authenticated items that have been fraudulently transformed from barely visible signatures to dark gem mint examples executed on paper items and baseballs. Examples include a Honus Wagner signature on a 1939 HOF first day cover (top) and a Harry Truman signed baseball linked to PSA's John Reznikoff.

A similar miraculous transformation of a Honus Wagner signature occurred with another Mastro auction lot that was examined by Grad in 2001 as Mastro’s lead “autograph expert.” The Wagner signature was described in a 1999 Mastro auction as “somewhat faded” and barely visible on a rare 1939 Hall of Fame First Day Cover signed by Wagner and every other HOF inductee.  But when it sold again in a 2001 MastroNet/Robert Edward Auctions sale, it appeared fraudulently enhanced as a dark “10/10″ Wagner signature.  The signature was examined and certified genuine by Grad and Mike Gutierrez for MastroNet and by Jimmy Spence for PSA/DNA.  Sources allege that Mastro and his associates may have been involved in the “restoration” of the Wagner signature from a faded to mint example.  In the course of the FBI’s Mastro investigation several allegations had been leveled against Mastro claiming that the auctioneer had restored other memorabilia items and baseball cards without disclosing the work done to customers.

Steve Grad has also been linked to the sale and alleged creation of other forgeries dating back to his career as a dealer in the 1990s.  Sources say he was removed from the floor of the 1998 National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago after he was accused of attempting to sell forgeries and, according to one eyewitness account, was escorted from the Rosemont Exhibition Center by convention security.  When asked about the incident in another court ordered deposition related to a 2006 lawsuit filed against Mastro Auctions, Grad stated he did not recall being ejected from the show, but did not deny the incident happened.

More recently, the identification of various Babe Ruth forgeries in our “Operation Bambino” investigation has led to further speculation and allegations by high-placed hobby sources who say that Grad has ties to many other forgeries that were distributed through Bill Mastro’s auction house.  After he started working at the Chicago based company he told fellow collectors in May of 2000 in a Google Group, “I was made a good offer and I wasn’t in a position to turn it down, so I took Mastro Fine Sports up on their offer and they purchased my entire inventory and now I work for them.”  Grad subsequently authenticated his own material for later Mastro sales and sources indicate that Grad was also beholden to Mastro operating under a quid pro quo to authenticate premier items placed in Mastro sales.  Supporting those allegations, Mastro told this writer on several occasions about having to “twist the arms” of Grad and Jimmy Spence to authenticate items slated for his sales.  This was after Mastro had expressed his opinion of the “so-called autograph experts” in the hobby in a 1994 letter where he wrote that they, “Don’t know shit.”  Mastro was influential in the formation of the PSA/DNA autograph authentication division of PSA and had considerable influence over his former employee who he elevated to expert status under his watchful eye.

Steve Grad will be signing autographs at the National on Saturday as the "Pawn Stars Expert" (left). Babe Ruth is apparently still signing autographs based upon all of the Grad and PSA/DNA authenticated Ruth forgeries on the market (right).

Additional evidence suggests that Grad has also knowingly authenticated Babe Ruth forgeries for the past fifteen years in order to protect personal friends, associates and auction house clients who would have to reimburse consumers if PSA/DNA opinions were rightfully reversed.  Sources indicate that as a result of our recent reports Grad’s authentications are under fire and customers who have been defrauded are demanding reimbursements from PSA and in the process of reporting their situations to the FBI and the Judge presiding over the Mastro case.  Sources indicate that PSA/DNA has recently rejected several Babe Ruth autographs submitted to auctions with previously issued PSA/DNA LOAs from Grad and Spence.

Keith Attlesey, an attorney representing both Grad and PSA, did not respond to our request for comment and did not confirm whether he was aware that Grad had perjured himself at the time of the 2011 deposition.  The current PSA website does not identify Grad as a college graduate like the MastroNet site had previously, thus suggesting that PSA officials may have been aware of Grad’s misrepresentations and his perjury under oath.

Grad and PSA/DNA currently serve as the authenticators of choice for major auction houses including Lelands, SCP, Heritage, Goldin and Huggins & Scott, all of which currently advertise on the PSA/Collectors Universe website.  We asked some of the auctioneers for their reaction to Grad’s perjury and their opinion of his authentication skills considering his admission that he received his training and education from Bill Mastro.  Josh Evans, Chairman of Lelands, responded but declined comment and Ken Goldin, President of Goldin Auctions, did not reply to our inquiry.  Lelands has always relied on its in-house authentication services and only recently has the auction house advertised with or utilized PSA/DNA experts like Grad.  Goldin, who has privately been critical of the experts he has dealt with at PSA/DNA offered several questionable items authenticated by PSA/DNA in his most recent Babe Ruth Anniversary auction.

Several dealers blacklisted by PSA in response to criticism leveled against the authentication giant have alleged what they claim amounts to a form of hobby racketeering.  PSA, they claim, offers protection against returns of materials submitted by customers who purchase from dealers or auction houses who are big PSA clients and in good standing.  Hauls of Shame has confirmed that claims of racketeering have been presented to FBI agents by at least two individuals who believe they have been victimized and harassed by PSA officials.

Steve Grad’s own words on the PSA website are a prime example as to why third-party authentication companies need to be regulated.  Of his company, Grad says, “There is no dealer, auction house or collector in their right mind  that doesn’t use our services, and that is because we deliver. Whether it’s with sportscards or autographs, PSA and PSA/DNA give the item instant credibility.”

One major collector who owns several hundred thousand dollars worth of material accompanied by Grad’s letters of authenticity told us, “If this guy Grad is lying under oath about something like his schooling how can I really be confident these certifications of authenticity are worth the paper they are printed on?  Would he intentionally pass bad items, too?  And with his close ties to Mastro, how can he ever be considered credible as an expert?”

Another hobby heavyweight was more amused by Grad’s scheduled appearance to sign autographs today as a Pawn Stars expert for fans at the Leaf booth at the National.  He told us, “I sure hope he doesn’t slip up and sign someone else’s name.”

UPDATE (August 15th):  Mastro Guilty Pleas Could Be Bad News For Collectors Universe; Graders Slabbed Fraudulent T-206 Plank But Feds Say PSA Was Not Complicit In Scheme To Defraud Collectors; Source Says PSA/DNA Is Complicit In Autograph Fraud

Doug Allen's plea agreement details the re-backing of a T206 Plank sold at Mastro for $51,000 (left). Allen endorsed PSA/DNA's autograph division headed by Joe Orlando(right) and Steve Grad.

Mastro Auctions executive Doug Allen plead guilty to one count of mail fraud earlier this week in Federal Court in Chicago and, as reported in the Chicago Tribune, his plea agreement also detailed his obstruction of justice after agreeing to wear a wire for the government.  Adding to the intrigue, court papers filed in Chicago also revealed that Mastro employee William Boehm will be going to trial in September and that two of the government’s witnesses slated to testify against him will be card-trimming buddies Bill Mastro and Rob Lifson of REA.

But also revealed in the court papers filed by US Attorneys was new information confirming that Mastro executives restored and or replaced the back of a rare but damaged T-206 Eddie Plank baseball card.  Doug Allen’s plea agreement states that Allen restored the card and a Mastro employee submitted the card to PSA where it received a high grade of “Ex-Mt 6″ before selling for over $51,519 in a 2004 Mastro sale.  In the plea agreement, the government says, “Neither Allen or the employee ever disclosed to the grading company (PSA) that the T-206 Eddie Plank card had been altered.   Defendant Allen knew that, had he disclosed that the card was altered, the grading company would not have assigned the card a numerical grade of “6,” which had the effect of artificially increasing the value of the card.”

Contrary to the government’s claim, the 2004 Mastro auction listing for the Plank card sheds some light on PSA’s possible complicity in the crime.  The lot description stated:

Graded EX-MT 6 by PSA, with only three examples in the world graded higher. Of the 26 copies of this card encapsulated by PSA (a total that’s only a few more than the hobby’s premier service has holdered of the famed T206 Honus Wagner card), the offered specimen is head-and-shoulders above nearly all of them in terms of refinement and preservation. Forever compared to the Wagner in terms of rarity, it can be stated definitively that the white-bordered tobacco insert card of Eddie Plank is the second most valuable baseball card in our hobby.”

While Bill Mastro admitted in his own plea agreement to trimming the fraudulent T-206 Honus Wagner card which was graded an “8″ by PSA, the Mastro Plank description notes the competing rarity of the Plank card and states that at the time PSA had only graded 26 examples of the card.  The government apparently believes that PSA graders are so incompetent that they could be fooled by both the Mastro trim-job and the Allen re-backing of the Plank card with a better “ex-mt” 350 Sweet Caporal back.

Several sources have told Hauls of Shame that the likelier scenario is that Mastro and his executives never had to instruct PSA to do a thing and that Mastro’s company was automatically given high grades for scores of altered and doctored cards simply because they wanted the support and business of the largest auction entity of the business.  The trimmed T-206 cards from the dubious “Harris Collection” found in PSA holders with grades of “8″ and other graded T-206 cards from the set purchased byBruce McNall and Wayne Gretzky at Sotheby’s in 1991 stand as evidence of the alleged quid-pro-quo between Mastro and PSA as it was known by PSA graders that the cards originated from Mastro.

Once cards are encapsulated by PSA with favorable grades it is highly unlikely that the cards will ever be examined in their natural state again to detect fraud.  Breaking the holder open would jeopardize the value of the commodity that PSA has already created value for.  Other notable PSA gradings of fraudulent T-206 cards include examples of the Magie, Snodgrass and Doyle error cards.  One hobbyist told us, “If PSA cant (detect) a re-back on a rarity, then how many re-backs are out there in PSA holders? Hard to believe Mastro would only send one valuable T-206 to get re-backed, especially if it worked and got into a holder.  Crooks rarely do something just once.”

Interestingly enough, the Mastro plea agreements are devoid of any mention of the bogus autographed items sold by Mastro and authenticated by PSAs Steve Grad and Jimmy Spence.  Included in that group of fraudulent material are dozens of Babe Ruth fakes created by just one forger who executed Bill Mastro’s now infamous Ruth photo inscribed to actor Gary Cooper.  Sources familiar with PSAs internal operations confirmed for HOS that the company was aware of the Ruth fakes dating back to 2000 but continued to authenticate the counterfeits and even used them in print advertisements with endorsements from Mastro auction executives (see PSA print ad above).  More recently Legendary Auctions steered away from Steve Grad and PSA/DNA and entered into an agreement with former PSA authenticator Jimmy Spence of JSA to handle the authentications for autographed items consigned to the Illinois auction house.

While the government appears to give PSA a pass in relation to its grading of the fraudulent T-206 Plank card, one former Mastro customer and victim told us that he has knowledge of PSA President Joe Orlando’s involvement in criminal activity related to a PSA-certed autographed item sold in a Mastro sale.  The big question now is whether the government will continue its investigation and examine the PSA/DNA-Mastro relationships starting with Steve Grad.  Sources at the National Convention in Cleveland reported to Hauls of Shame that Grad stormed out of the PSA booth when an FBI agent commandeered the company’s “Spectrograph” machine to examine an 1869 Peck & Snyder Red Stocking trade card temporarily confiscated from auctioneer Leon Luckey.

Collector and New York defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman, who once represented John Gotti Jr., has been outspoken in his criticism of Mastro & Co. and weighed in on the plea agreements at collector forum Net54.  Adding to the speculation that PSA is in the government’s cross-hairs Lichtman said, “I’m sure Doug Allen provided all info to the federal investigators about PSA when he was cooperating” and added, “Regardless, I have no doubt Joe Orlando is more nervous than usual these days.”

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