Chapter 2: Going Green | Crooked Media
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June 07, 2023
Dreamtown: The Story of Adelanto
Chapter 2: Going Green

In This Episode

The recent election fills Adelanto’s city council with fresh faces, including the conservative hippie John “Bug” Woodard Jr. But his plan to bring weed to the city is far from complete. He needs to actually pass a cannabis legalization ordinance via City Hall. There’s just one problem: he doesn’t have the votes.

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TRANSCRIPT

 

David Weinberg If you like Dream Town, The Story of Adelanto and want access to early add free episodes, join Friends of the Pod, Crooked’s new subscription community at crooked dot com slash friends.

 

Betsy Zyko Now, if you forget what happened the last time, I don’t blame you. The main thing to remember is this guy named Bug rolled into town and ran for a seat on the city council. He had a big plan. It was going to save the city of Adelanto by legalizing marijuana. Growing it, that is. Well, he won, and so did a new mayor, A guy by the name of Rich Kerr. Oh, I can’t wait to see how this all goes.

 

David Weinberg Soon after, Bug won a seat on the city council. He was interviewed on a local television show called California Edition. The host, Brad Pomerantz, opened the segment by referring to the recent election, where all three incumbents had been defeated as an insurgence.

 

Clip Suffice it to say, in Adelanto, a bit of an insurgency occurred it was a revolution in the November 2014 election. What happened?

 

Johnny Bug Woodard Jr. Well, I’ll tell you, it sure was a revolution, you know. Three comments were very smug with their jobs. Well, I’ll tell you why. Just because you got name recognition doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be reelected. So because of, you know, their failed policies, you know, they had the people had have spoken.

 

David Weinberg Bug and the new majority on the council brought with them a lot of fresh ideas about how to save the struggling city. They also brought a lot of chaos. When reporter Shay Johnson first started covering the Adelanto City Council meetings, they were a bit of a snooze fest.

 

Shay Johnson Yeah. So Adelanto council meetings were really sort of these mundane government meetings in a city that’s really sort of a dusty outpost of the high desert.

 

Betsy Zyko And never really paid attention to city hall, city council politics here in the city.

 

David Weinberg Growing up in Adelanto, Steve Evans never thought much about local politics.

 

Betsy Zyko You know, as young folks, we’re like, how do we pay rent and buy food and pay our bills and pay our student loans? That was you know, that’s our mindset. I have three children. Got time to focus on what’s going on at the city. It doesn’t really affect me, so I don’t care.

 

David Weinberg But then Bug, the ex-Marine Rich Kerr and former Adelanto Mayor Charley Glasper were elected, and Shay Johnson saw a drastic change in the council meetings.

 

Shay Johnson I feel like a Jerry Springer show because it was loud, you know, Really no order to the meeting, just regular attendance could shout in questions to the council, and the council would address them, which is unusual. But it was fun. It seemed like folks were having a good time being there on a Wednesday night.

 

Johnny Bug Woodard Jr. Now, and we have our city council meetings. We pretty much have a packed house every night. We’ve actually been standing room only before.

 

Betsy Zyko So I started going to city council meetings and I’m like, What the hell is happening here? We’ve got people deciding on things that they hadn’t even read every two weeks at City Hall. These people were making decisions that directly affected my life.

 

David Weinberg Bug had won his seat on the council by promising legal weed to the city, but his plan was far from complete. He still had an uphill battle ahead of him to bring weed to Adelanto. He needed a majority of the council to vote for his plan, and Bug didn’t have the votes, but he was more than ready to roll up his sleeves, get a little help from some war veterans. And use his charm to change some hearts and minds. From Crooked media. This is Dream Town. The story of Adelanto. Chapter two Going Green. 2014. Going into 2015 was a complicated time for weed politics in California. At the statewide level. Marijuana was not legal the way it is today. Dispensaries had only been offering weed to medicinal patients, but the state was on the verge of legalizing recreational marijuana in an upcoming ballot initiative. And Bug had dollar signs in his eyes.

 

Johnny Bug Woodard Jr. I was the only person that was pretty educated on the subject and comes to find out. I really didn’t know much as much as I thought I did.

 

David Weinberg But that did not deter bug. He forged ahead, making his pro weed arguments at the City Council meetings, trying to convince the other council members to go along with his plan. And much of that argument was centered on the economic benefits of weed. In fact, lots of cash strapped cities like Adelanto wanted to get ahead of the expected green rush. Once California legalized weed, a whole new class of people were likely to jump into the market.

 

Betsy Zyko The industry is conservatively 40 to $50 billion a year in the United States. It’s the second most valuable crop in the country after corn.

 

David Weinberg That’s Amanda Chicago Lewis, a journalist who covers the weed industry.

 

Betsy Zyko The green rashers was like the. Usually the well-funded individuals were like, Oh, this is a new and emerging market. Like, let me get in on the ground floor. First mover advantage.

 

David Weinberg Among this new class of weed entrepreneurs were celebrities, professional athletes and venture capitalists. Bug’s thinking was that all these folks would flock to Adelanto to grow their weed. Not only was their land cheap, but Adelanto was only an hour and a half from Los Angeles, one of the largest markets for weed sales in the country. Before a single marijuana plant could be legally grown in Adelanto, the city council had to pass a legalization ordinance, and Bug wasn’t the only one pushing for this ordinance. There were a lot of lobbyists and cannabis entrepreneurs who were eager to help him.

 

Johnny Bug Woodard Jr. The people from the industry that were knowledgeable came. They put on a presentation they brought, and they brought a poor little girl that was like paralyzed or something and had real serious problems. And on CBD doing much better, we brought in veterans, had lands blown off, you know, in the war and all that. And and we listened to them. We listened to the citizens.

 

Betsy Zyko They did have a lot of people at the council meetings. A lot, but they weren’t all residents.

 

David Weinberg This is longtime Adelanto resident Diana Esmeralda.

 

Betsy Zyko You had to walk through all of those dudes in the back of the room to get in or out of the city council chambers. I was like, all these guys kind of lurking in the back of the room. Like, who are these dudes, man? We kind of have morbid vibe to it.

 

David Weinberg Diana grew up in Adelanto, and she’s a bit of a gadfly around town. She attends city council meetings often. She’s also run for mayor and for city council a few times. She’s never one, but once she came in third. Also, she loves weed. She was all for Bugs plan. But she was also wary of the deep pocketed outsiders who started showing up to the city council meetings.

 

Betsy Zyko It’s hard to overstate how much riskier and more dangerous the cannabis industry is because of the inconsistency between federal and state law. It’s crazy. The type of person that wants to work in that environment is not necessarily going to be the most, you know, safe, trustworthy, reliable business person because the, you know, reliable, trustworthy, safe businessperson doesn’t want to get involved in something where you’re violating federal law.

 

David Weinberg Over the course of a year, this parade of passionate weed advocates and mafia looking dudes made their case to the city council that this plant was the last best chance to keep Adelanto solvent. And at times, it got ugly.

 

Johnny Bug Woodard Jr. It was just so nasty and chaotic.

 

David Weinberg A lot of people in town were worried that if they legalized marijuana cultivation, it would bring more crime and flood the community with weed. And those opinions spilled out into the chaos of these unorganized meetings.

 

Johnny Bug Woodard Jr. I just go out the back door, hop in my car and leave while there. All the commotion may go on as I’m meeting is over. I’m out of here, man. I just go hungry. Sometimes these meetings will go to like one in the morning and it’s like, Wow, what an tomorrow. I’m tired. Right? I got to go, man.

 

David Weinberg Just a reminder. It was and still is against federal law to grow, possess or sell marijuana. The feds still classify weed as a Schedule one narcotic, which is insane and makes no sense. And that classification also makes it a very complicated, high risk endeavor to build an entire economy around an illegal substance. For Bug, the risk was worth it, and not just for the good of the city. For the good of the whole world.

 

Johnny Bug Woodard Jr. I want to make the strain. I cures a disease here in Adelanto. I want to be able to say that our products coming from our city are curing people, you know, and I don’t know. Bogota, Colombia and Australia, you know, England, Africa. I mean, we could be actually helping the entire world.

 

David Weinberg The debate dragged on for months. Bug tried all sorts of arguments. He talked revenue. He talked curing diseases and healing veterans. But none of them seemed to resonate. And then finally, one of bugs arguments started to gain some traction. The idea that if Atlantic got rich from wheat, then the city could stick it to their neighboring rival, the town of Victorville.

 

Shay Johnson So I think what this council was able to tap into is they very much see themselves as underdogs.

 

David Weinberg Again, this is Shade Johnson, the reporter who covered City hall during this time, taking notes and observing the early stages of a frenzy that would later engulf the town.

 

Shay Johnson They see themselves as, you know, the kid brother to the city of Victorville, the city of this area, the town of Apple Valley, which are all neighboring municipalities in the area who relatively have their stuff together.

 

David Weinberg The newly elected mayor, Rich Kerr, was also on board with Bug’s plan and the two of them got some traction pitching this idea to the citizens.

 

Shay Johnson Everybody laughed at Adelanto and look at us now. We’re going to bring marijuana in here. We’re going to get tens and tens of millions of dollars. We’re going to have a budget surplus. We’re going to build hotels. Kind of all these things that a modern city will have. And then you’ll see.

 

David Weinberg With these kinds of predictions floating around. Public opinion was shifting and there was a growing demand for this dream that Bug and Rich were selling the silver bullet that would not only save Adelanto from bankruptcy, but usher in a new and unprecedented era of prosperity in the city.

 

Shay Johnson By and large, the people who went to council meetings and I mean like 90% of them were the cheering section for the for the city council. You have a lot of just public who are like. You know, Go, Ridge. Go, go, Bug. Let’s do this thing.

 

David Weinberg But even with all this cheering from the audience, the other council members were not on board. The other three members, Ed Camargo, Jermaine Wright and Charley Glasper, were all opposed to legalizing cultivation before it came to a vote. Jermaine, the former pastor, was a man of God and he was morally opposed to legalizing weed.

 

Jermaine Wright If, you know, you just want to go out and smoke a doobie and he doesn’t do any just to get high, I have a problem with that.

 

David Weinberg And Ed? Well, I’d like to vote no on things tomorrow. No.

 

Shay Johnson Ed presented himself to be very skeptical of everything. Very cautious of everything.

 

David Weinberg Charley Glasper was also a hard nosed.

 

Clip But they’re going to say what I have to say about it.

 

Mark Gutglueck Charley Glasper was adamantly opposed to the city involving itself in the sale of marijuana.

 

David Weinberg Mark Gutglueck is a reporter who’s been covering Adelanto for decades. One of Glasper’s big concerns was that all this weed would be sold to local residents. Bug And Kerr countered this argument by promising that they would only be legalizing the growing of weed.

 

Mark Gutglueck And they convinced him that they weren’t going to be selling marijuana to Adelanto citizens.

 

David Weinberg Apparently promising not to sell weed to citizens was enough to get him to change his mind. On November 23rd of 2015, one year after Bug was elected. His plan became a reality. When the ordinance to legalize medicinal weed cultivation was approved, including a vote from Charley Glasper.

 

Diana Esmeralda I believe fully that they took full advantage of Charley Glasper.

 

David Weinberg Again, here’s Diana Esmeralda, a local pot advocate. She’s talking about something else that was going on with Charley Glasper at this time.

 

Mark Gutglueck Quite unfortunately, I believe she was in the initial throes, initial stages of dementia.

 

David Weinberg Diana remembers one incident in particular when she and her partner Tim, came to say hi to Glasper before a council meeting.

 

Diana Esmeralda We walked in and Charley didn’t even know who we were.

 

David Weinberg Some people, including Diana, believe that glass bears memory loss, whether it was from dementia, Alzheimer’s or something else, made him vulnerable in ways that bug and maker took advantage of.

 

Diana Esmeralda I didn’t realize that he had lost so much of his memory, but they were doing this on purpose and he was a really good man. He didn’t deserve that. That was like. Gut wrenching.

 

David Weinberg It’s hard to know how much Glasper his mental decline affected his decision making. He passed away in 2021, so we weren’t able to ask him about this. But there was another reason why Bugs ordinance went through. A second councilmember flipped. One that was maybe even more surprising than Charley. Jermaine Wright, the pastor, the guy who met Bug on the side of the road and from the beginning was against Bugs plan. In a surprising turn of events. Germaine also changed his mind and he voted yes. So Bug had his majority. Wheat was coming to Adelanto. So why did the former pastor change his mind? And what would all these radical changes mean for this small town? That’s after the break. When Bug and MCR stirred up all this excitement about weed, it put former pastor Germaine Wright in a difficult position. On one hand, it was his job to represent the interests of his constituents. On the other hand, he was personally against weed. But one of the points that Bug kept making when weed came up was that he was not talking about drugs. He was talking about medicine. He made it clear that Adelanto would never allow recreational marijuana to be grown in Adelanto. Their ordinance would only cover medicinal marijuana. This distinction between recreational and medicinal created an opening for Germain to reconsider his position.

 

Mark Gutglueck I spent a lot of time speaking to national bishops in the Methodist Church, as well as Church of God in Christ. Talking to a lot of people that I’ve known that I have a lot of respect for, and really searching myself to see, you know. Am I doing what’s right not only for my city, but can I look at myself in the mirror when I do this? After much prayer and talking and researching. And actually, I spoke to my mother and she’s like, remember when, you know, back in 94, when we were at grandma’s house just before she passed and she kicked you out of her room. And I’m like, yeah, it’s because she was using my medicinal marijuana because, you know, she was dying of cancer. And I’m like, Well, why didn’t you tell me that? You know, what’s going on in my community? She’s like, Would you had to find it out for yourself?

 

David Weinberg So as Germaine listened to Bug and Kerr make their arguments alongside the growing chorus of pro pot locals. Jermaine’s opposition to weed started to soften. As a politician. He was also reading the room. Here’s Shay Johnson again.

 

Shay Johnson I think Jermaine just sort of knew like this is this is where it’s headed. There’s no stopping the train once it kind of got started.

 

David Weinberg The next order of business once the ordinance passed, was deciding where exactly in the city they would grow all this weed. Adelanto is mostly undeveloped land, but one area stood out as the best option. The southern edge of the city, home to a few industrial businesses. The federal prison. The immigration detention facility. And a strip club.

 

Mark Gutglueck We actually took the extra step to make sure it was away from schools, away from students, way from the general population. So if parents came in, my kids are going to be out there where they’re growing medical marijuana. Well, if your kid is by prisons and a strip club, what kind of parent are you?

 

David Weinberg This part of town now had a new name, the Green Zone.

 

Mark Gutglueck And that touched off a just incredible frenzy.

 

David Weinberg With the ordinance now in effect. The city started accepting cultivation permit applications and suddenly the green rush was on.

 

Johnny Bug Woodard Jr. The wheels are in motion. Ain’t nobody get in the way. You know, I don’t care if you’re the sheriff. I don’t care if you’re the governor. I don’t care who you are.

 

David Weinberg All of a sudden, there were a whole lot of new visitors to Hotlanta, and they were making a beeline right to city hall.

 

Mark Gutglueck There was a line at the planning counter, and that that line stretched through down the hallway, through down into the foyer of city hall and out the door. And many of these applicants were carrying briefcases, and those briefcases were loaded with cash.

 

David Weinberg It takes significant capital to fund a large scale grow operation. And because pot is federally illegal, much of the business is done in cash. Many of the folks lining up at city hall were representatives of people with very deep pockets, basically bagmen for people like billionaire real estate developer James Perfetti, Russian oligarch Dmitri Bozarth, and former professional boxer Mike Tyson. Bug was giddy about all these rich people suddenly interested in Adelanto, and he felt like he deserved credit for bringing them to town.

 

Johnny Bug Woodard Jr. No, you wouldn’t see very expensive sports cars and Rolls-Royces and Bentleys driving down the street. No, none of that would happen if I would have never ran on this issue. Nothing would have ever changed in this city.

 

David Weinberg Even Jermaine was now joining Bug his victory lap as they started to calculate the expected tax revenue based on the number of permit applications they had approved and how many weed plants each permit allowed. They predicted how much tax revenue each grow facility would bring in.

 

Mark Gutglueck On the low side, the larger facility should be bringing in about $75,000 every three months to the city and tax.

 

David Weinberg That amount is just per facility. Just to put these numbers in context, the council predicted that when just the growth facilities whose permit applications had been approved were up and running, they would collectively be bringing in $12 million a year. And this is in a city where the entire budget was roughly $14 million, and this was only in the first year of legal weed.

 

Mark Gutglueck That is a significant shift. It actually will put the city in the black for the first time and allow us to actually start getting some projects done or getting rid of the waste. And we’re getting down to the nitty gritty of building a foundation and so that we can build the city back up. We are a Phenix City and we’re on the rise and we’re growing and out of the ashes we are rising.

 

David Weinberg It felt like a miracle for a city like Adelanto, where roughly a third of the population lives below the poverty line and doesn’t have access to safe drinking water. A city that has always struggled economically and been looked down on by neighboring towns too suddenly in the span of a few months have a massive stream of revenue pouring into the city coffers. It was wild.

 

Johnny Bug Woodard Jr. Everybody was against us, you know. But it was like Adelanto against the world. You know, we took them on and now we’re winning.

 

David Weinberg There was also another unintended benefit of passing this weed ordinance. Property value in the Green Zone skyrocketed. After the legalization ordinance passed and the Green Zone was established, I took a trip there to see the progress for myself. By this point, new buildings were being built, but there weren’t any growers up and running yet. I met up with Diana Esmeralda and her partner, Tim Gratton, the owner of a dispensary in Victorville, who is eyeing the new cultivation opportunities in Adelanto. They took me on a little tour of the city.

 

Johnny Bug Woodard Jr. So now we’re going to take a little trip down here for a few miles, and I’m going to show you.

 

David Weinberg What the industrial area is. Tim is in his sixties collared dress shirt and a vape pen in hand as he navigated the poorly paved streets of Adelanto and the distance with the peaks of the Angeles National Forest. All around us, Joshua trees were sticking up out of the ground, and along the side of the road were bulldozers flattening the land for the foundations of the massive warehouses that would soon be filled with weed.

 

Diana Esmeralda So this is new building, so this is probably something going on there. There are a lot of people who just had warehouses for years and years and years in the city, and these buildings are going for millions. Now, when you couldn’t even sell the sheet metal, you know.

 

David Weinberg Before the rapid rise in property values meant more property taxes for the city, which was just one more positive development in a city that hadn’t had many of those in a long time. There was an exuberance in Adelanto that hadn’t been felt for a while. Buildings, maybe ever.

 

Diana Esmeralda Yeah.

 

David Weinberg Shit. Just then, a warning alarm went off on Diana’s phone.

 

Diana Esmeralda Okay. It’s a dust storm warning, that’s all. Avoid travel.

 

David Weinberg In the distance, a huge dark storm cloud was headed our way.

 

Diana Esmeralda So sorry. Sorry. Okay, so I remember being a kid, and we didn’t have fancy phones like that, but we did have 11 acres and we could see the dust storms coming like this big black mountain coming.

 

David Weinberg We had to cut our tours of the Green Zone short because of the dust storm suddenly appeared. And it made me think of that old Yiddish proverb about how people plan and God laughs. On July 13th, 2017, an article appeared in the local paper that seemed to be the culmination of this new era of legal weed in Adelanto. And it put a nice little bow and bugs upon it. The headline said, City Adopts Budget with $400,000 surplus Buoyed by commercial cannabis income, the city was in the black. It was starting to look like Bug had done it. He had pulled off the impossible.

 

Johnny Bug Woodard Jr. It’s the most amazing thing. I swear to God, I actually pinch myself. Is this really real? It’s really happening. You know, it’s like being on top of the world.

 

David Weinberg Was this really happening? Were the citizens of Adelanto living through some sort of psychedelic Western or the long haired stranger in the Hawaiian shirt and straw cowboy hat comes to town to save the day? Or was the town living through its own version of The Music Man, with Bug playing the part of Harold Hill selling imaginary instruments to unwitting townspeople? While the fancy sports cars and briefcases full of cash grabbed everyone’s attention, there were some much more consequential things happening around town, particularly when it came to all that skyrocketing real estate. And maybe most interestingly, this one piece of property, an abandoned bar called the Jet Room. Chat room was a restaurant and bar that opened decades ago. Back when Adelanto was a very different place than it is today.

 

Joy Jennette Quite different. I used to get on a horse and ride it clear across. The only road that I’d have to cross would be 18 Palmdale Road.

 

David Weinberg Joy Jennette is a longtime Adelanto resident. She’s 83 and has lived in the city since 1959. Back then, the population was less than 2000 people, and the city’s economy revolved around George Air Force Base. She moved here with her husband, who was in the Air Force and stationed at George.

 

Joy Jennette Well, of course, when George was active, you couldn’t find a place to live. I mean, when we first got here, we lived in a barbershop. Right on Palmdale Boulevard. I’m telling you. One of my sons had a barbershop chair right in his bedroom. We couldn’t find a place. These chicken coops were being converted into apartments for our airmen because there was no place to rent. It was booming.

 

David Weinberg When the base was open, the jet room was a popular destination for locals like city employee Rachel Carranza.

 

Rachel Carranza It was a little hole in the wall, a place to go right after work. You know, there was a door on the side that you walk in and it’s a little like what you call a bar, the bar. And it was a jukebox, couple tables and stuff. Everybody knew everybody.

 

David Weinberg But the good times in Adelanto never seemed to stick around for too long. The Air Force Base closed down in 1992, and Joy witnessed the effects firsthand.

 

Joy Jennette Horrible. Now that place looks like a war zone. It makes your heart sick.

 

David Weinberg With the base closed and the airmen gone, businesses in town started closing their doors, including the jet room. The building sat there, boarded up and baking in the desert sun for years. And there’s a good chance it would have stayed that way forever. But then something surprising happened. In 2016, a year after the weed ordinance passed, a personal injury attorney by the name of David Serrano came to town and bought the abandoned property. Serrano said he wanted to turn the former bar into his law office. Which seemed odd to a lot of people.

 

Shay Johnson The jet room is this vacant bar on the highway out in the middle of nowhere. It’s a big building and he wants to operate it as a law office. So he says, which is a really strange place to put a law office.

 

David Weinberg Again, this is Shay Johnson. And like any good reporter, he had a lot of questions about this plan to turn an abandoned bar into a law office. So he started doing a little investigating.

 

Shay Johnson I went down to city hall, and I wanted to look at the plans for this law office. And sure enough, you know, I get taken to the back room. And that’s the other thing that’s great about covering a city like Adelanto is there’s everything sort of loose. There’s not a lot of like safeguards and it’s good and bad. And in this way it was really nice because I just walked right back into, you know, the planning room and they open up the plans for me and it’s no big deal.

 

David Weinberg So Shay pulled out the planning documents, which included the construction plans for the remodel of the building.

 

Shay Johnson And they open up the plans. And I see that this law office has, you know, these really elongated counters, and it’s got a safe room where, you know, you can lock stuff up and it’s got overhead lighting.

 

David Weinberg Why would a law office need glass display counters and a large safe shade kept digging.

 

Shay Johnson And so ultimately come to find out, yeah, this law office was actually, you know, go figured, set up to be a dispensary.

 

David Weinberg Now, nothing about this old bar being converted into a dispensary made any sense because while it was legal to grow marijuana in Adelanto, it was against the law to operate a dispensary in the city. Not only that, but Bug and Kerr explicitly promised people, including Charley Glasper and Jermaine Wright, that weed would never be sold in Adelanto. And the law they passed in November of 2015 reflected that promise. But she says what was also surprising was the document he landed on next.

 

Shay Johnson And another thing that was really interesting is the real estate agent who brokered the deal on the seller side.

 

David Weinberg That real estate agent, his name was John Woodard, Jr. Though most people in town knew him by his nickname, Bug. So what exactly was the real story behind the jet room? The answer would turn Adelanto upside down. That’s next time. If you loved this episode of Dream Town, The Story of Adelanto, you can hear the next episode right now. For early add free access to episodes, join Friends of the Pod, Crooked’s new subscription community at Crooked dot com slash friends. Adelanto is an original podcast from Crooked Media. It’s hosted, written and executive produced by me, David Weinberg. Nick White is our story editor. Angel Carreres is our associate producer, Sound Design, Mix, and Mastering by Brendan Baker of Phenomephon. Our theme song is by Icarus himself, and our original score is by Eric Phillips. Fact Checking by Amy Tardif. Additional production help from Inez Mesa, Sydney Rap, and Koby Copeland. Thanks to Betsy Zyko for narrating portions of the show. From Crooked Media. Our executive producers are Sarah Geissmer, Katie Long, and Mary Noth with special thanks to Alison Falzetta, Lyra Smith, Andrew Leland, Richard Parks, the third,  Shocker Molly, and Katya Epikena.

 

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