Archive for October, 2012

A Secret Service officer assigned to Vice President Joe Biden’s residence was arrested Monday for allegedly sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in his custody Fox News reported Wednesday.

Hector Reynaldo Cuellar of Woodbridge, Va., was charged with three counts of aggravated sexual battery and three counts of taking indecent liberties with a child by a custodian, according to a daily incident report released by the Prince William County Police Department. He is being held without bond.

“The investigation revealed that the 14-year-old female victim was sexually assaulted by the accused family member on separate occasions between August and October of 2012,” according to the Prince William County Police Department’s daily incident report.

There is no mention of his employment with the Secret Service in the police report, but sources told that Cuellar, 51, is a uniformed division officer assigned to the vice president’s residence in Washington, D.C.

In response to’s request for comment, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said via email:

“We are aware of the arrest of this employee. He has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of judicial action. Any other questions should be referred to the PrinceWilliam County police.”

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Police are allowed in some circumstances to install hidden surveillance cameras on private property without obtaining a search warrant, a federal judge said yesterday.

CNET has learned that U.S. District Judge William Griesbach ruled that it was reasonable for Drug Enforcement Administration agents to enter rural property without permission — and without a warrant — to install multiple “covert digital surveillance cameras” in hopes of uncovering evidence that 30 to 40 marijuana plants were being grown.

This is the latest case to highlight how advances in technology are causing the legal system to rethink how Americans’ privacy rights are protected by law. In January, the Supreme Court rejected warrantless GPS tracking after previously rejecting warrantless thermal imaging, but it has not yet ruled on warrantless cell phone tracking or warrantless use of surveillance cameras placed on private property without permission.

Yesterday Griesbach adopted a recommendation by U.S. Magistrate Judge William Callahan dated October 9. That recommendation said that the DEA’s warrantless surveillance did not violate the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and requires that warrants describe the place that’s being searched.

“The Supreme Court has upheld the use of technology as a substitute for ordinary police surveillance,” Callahan wrote.

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When hackers broke into computers at Abilene Telco Federal Credit Union last year, they gained access to sensitive financial information on people from far beyond the bank’s home in west-central Texas.

The cyberthieves broke into an employee’s computer in September 2011 and stole the password for the bank’s online account with Experian Plc, the credit reporting agency with data on more than 740 million consumers. The intruders then downloaded credit reports on 847 people, said Dana Pardee, a branch manager at the bank. They took Social Security numbers, birthdates and detailed financial data on people across the country who had never done business with Abilene Telco, which has two locations and serves a city of 117,000.

The incident is one of 86 data breaches since 2006 that expose flaws in the way credit-reporting agencies protect their databases. Instead of directly targeting Experian, Equifax Inc. and TransUnion Corp., hackers are attacking affiliated businesses, such as banks, auto dealers and even a police department that rely on reporting agencies for background credit checks.

“This is profoundly important, because it illustrates a growing problem when it comes to data breaches and security –the chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a former attorney general who has investigated credit-rating agencies before, said in an interview. “If their customers have inadequate security practices, so do the credit bureaus.”

Six States

This approach has netted more than 17,000 credit reports taken from the agencies since 2006, according to’s examination of hundreds of pages of breach notification letters sent to victims. The incidents were outlined in correspondence from the credit bureaus to victims in six states — Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina and Vermont. The letters were discovered mostly through public-records requests by a privacy advocate who goes by the online pseudonym Dissent Doe and who asked not to be identified to preserve the separation between profession and advocacy.

Experian, based in Dublin, and Chicago-based TransUnion said in statements that the breaches began with infections of customers’ computers, an area over which they have little control. The credit bureaus said that their databases weren’t breached directly.

Tim Klein, a spokesman for Atlanta-based Equifax, and Clifton O’Neal, a spokesman for TransUnion, declined to comment on specific cases. Neither would provide details about any breaches they’ve had involving the compromised log-ins of clients.

Protect Consumers

“We continue to invest in the security systems we have in place to protect our clients and consumers,” Gerry Tschopp, a spokesman for Experian, said in an e-mailed statement. “Of course, the first line of defense lies with end users who are obligated to manage and protect their credentials, which in all these instances were compromised through malware that infected their hardware and other illegal means.”
Representatives of Abilene Telco said no bank employees were involved in the data breaches.

“We don’t know what happened and we don’t know how it happened — we just know we didn’t do it,” said Pardee, the branch manager at Abilene Telco, now renamed First Priority Credit Union, recalls telling victims who called the bank after discovering that someone had viewed their credit reports.

Experian’s database was breached 80 times for a total of almost 15,500 credit reports, Equifax’s was breached four times for more than 1,200 reports, and TransUnion’s was breached two times for almost 500 reports, according to the website, where Dissent Doe and other advocates have posted the documents. All of the incidents involved hackers stealing online log-in credentials from the credit bureaus’ customers.

Congress Investigation

The incidents shed new light on security weaknesses at credit bureaus at a time they are under investigation by both houses of Congress over how much data they collect and how it’s used. While security hasn’t been a focus of the probes, the breaches are cause for further investigation, Blumenthal said.

Dissent Doe has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, arguing for a formal investigation into Experian’s security practices and urging lawmakers to enact legislation that creates a national database of breach reports.

The FTC declined to comment specifically on the incidents. The agency has punished data brokers when hacking attacks on their customers led to the theft of credit reports. Last year, the FTC sued three credit-report resellers when compromised client log-ins resulted in more than 1,800 stolen reports. The agency also filed a lawsuit in 2008 against a mortgage lender after at least 400 credit reports were stolen.

Failure to Check

The commission faulted the companies for failing to check whether their customers had sufficient security and for not adequately monitoring suspicious behavior coming from them. The cases were settled, with the companies agreeing to 20 years of security audits.

“If you are providing access through an online portal, it’s your responsibility to secure that portal,” Maneesha Mithal, associate director of the FTC’s division of privacy and identity, said in an interview.
Credit reports are highly coveted in an identity theft industry that the U.S. Department of Justice estimates affected more than 8.6 million people and cost U.S. households $13.3 billion in direct financial losses in 2010.

FTC Crackdown

When criminals steal a credit report, they get enough information to take out new credit cards, qualify for loans, get a driver’s license and even obtain medical treatment, according to Chris Jay Hoofnagle, director of information privacy programs for the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology.

“One basic problem is that unsophisticated companies tend to treat their own customers as insiders, and not treat them with the type of skepticism and controls aimed at outsiders (hackers),” he wrote in an e-mail. “Of course, the insider risk is a massive problem.”

A crackdown by the FTC almost a decade ago led to stronger security measures among information brokers, including credit bureaus, according to Jay Foley, a partner with the consulting firm ID Theft Info Source, who has followed the industry since 1999. Those efforts, though, have focused mostly on preventing the data providers from being tricked into giving criminals accounts that give them access to credit reports, Foley said.

A series of breaches at ChoicePoint and Seisint, data brokers that were bought by LexisNexis parent Reed Elsevier Plc, led to landmark settlements that served as a warning to the industry. The newly disclosed breaches show that credit bureaus haven’t invested enough in fraud-detection technology to spot odd behavior coming from customers, Foley said.

The company has since improved its security with a number of measures including audits and additional fraud-detection technologies, Stephen Brown, a spokesman for Reed Elsevier’s LexisNexis division, said in a statement.

“The industry has cleaned up its act, but the act it was cleaning up was who they were allowing to have credentials,” Foley said in an interview. So instead, criminals are going through the third parties that have already gotten approval, he said.

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The Luxury Repo Men

The white yacht bobbed at the end of a pier on the St. Johns River in Central Florida. On the opposite riverbank, several men tried to convey boredom from a distance: stretching, taking off sunglasses, yawning, squinting, replacing sunglasses. The small team’s leader, Ken Cage, peeked at the boat through binoculars, then turned with a snap. “That’s the one,” he said.

The four men—Cage, his No. 2 man, a boat captain, and a driver—hustled into two trucks, wheeled over a river bridge, and entered the marina. They walked quickly along the waterfront until they saw their target—a gleaming Luhrs yacht—and huddled again behind a patch of tall grass. “That has to be our boat,” Cage said. “Has to be.” The team fell silent. An alligator lay motionless in the grass three feet away.

The St. Johns emerges from central swampland and descends less than an inch per mile, lolling instead of rolling. The marsh seemed to be reclaiming the small marina itself, host to only a handful of working boats. It made a strange home for a seagoing sport yacht. “He probably knows we’re after him,” Cage said. “He figured we’d never find it here. See how he has it tied parallel to the dock?” All the other boats sat like parked cars, nose to the dock. “He wants an easy getaway.”

Cage and his guys make a living taking from the rich. He’s one of a handful of the world’s most sophisticated repo men. And while the language may be different from the doorbusters who grab TVs, the game is the same: On behalf of banks Cage nabs high-dollar toys from self-styled magnates who find themselves overleveraged. Many of the deadbeat owners made a killing in finance and real estate during the economic bubble—expanding it, even—and were caught out of position when it burst. So now men like Cage steal $20 million jets like they were jalopies. And fast boats. Even, on one occasion, a racehorse.

A pair of local fishermen stepped out of a building on the dock, looked curiously toward the newcomers, and took a few steps forward.

“Now or never,” Cage said. He bounded to the end of the pier and climbed onto the yacht’s deck. The other team members, including Cage’s lieutenant, Randy Craft, moved to their assigned lookout positions on the dock. Craft always handles security; he’s a colossal human, with a polished bald head and fists that hang like wrecking balls. (He had, moments ago, tried to grab the immobile alligator by the tail, sending it thrashing into the river. “Ah, just a small one,” he said dismissively.)

Cage made his way to the stern and leaned over the rear to examine the hull number. “This is it,” he said.

Craft leapt aboard and pulled out a small set of lock-picking tools. While he kneeled at the cabin hatch, focused on its lock, Cage’s boat captain jumped aboard. “Look,” he said, and pointed to the owner’s cooler full of beer, sitting in the sun with the ice not yet melted. Cage hurried to untie the boat from the dock. If the owner appeared before they got the engines running, they would shove away with no power and drift ever so slowly until they could get her started.

With a final flick, Craft popped the lock. He climbed down into the cabin, where the bed was rumpled from a recent sleeper. The whole endeavor suddenly felt less like an act of piracy than a home invasion, but Craft stayed focused. He grabbed the boat’s ignition keys from a shelf and tossed them to the captain, who fired up the twin diesel engines. And then, just like that—as the two locals on the dock stood staring—the yacht pulled away from the pier. The bow tipped up as it gunned toward Cage’s own hidden marina to the south. The owner might return soon from a bathroom, or newsstand, or diner, to find his boat gone.

Cage climbed up to the yacht’s bridge, into the wind, and sat grinning. “This is the best part,” he said. Half-exposed cypress trees lined the riverside where turtles and herons posed in the Florida sun. Not bad for the scene of a heist. “Yeah,” he said. “But I really like doing jets.”

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Homeless Man Saves Police Officer From Attack

A Dallas Police officer is recovering from serious injuries, after he was attacked by a man suspected of being on a drug-induced rampage. The injuries may have been more serious, perhaps even life- threatening, had a homeless man not stepped in to stop the attack.

Video of the assault is working it’s way up the chain of command at the Dallas Police Department. It shows Officer Billy Taylor waving a baton and backing up in retreat as a man believed to be high on PCP charged at him outside The Bridge shelter last Tuesday at Corsicana and Polk.

Wendy Poole says the man attacked her and other homeless bystanders as well.

“We were fearful at first when the guy pulled up in the SUV,” says Poole.

Charles Alexander is one of several homeless who noticed the officer being beaten in the middle of the street. The former Crip gang leader is the last person you would expect to come to the officers’ aid.

“He went straight for the officer, and the officer had his baton out,” recalls Alexander. “But it wasn’t doing any good because he was really pc’d out.”

The 45-year-old homeless man ran into the street and pulled Samuel Jackson off the officer. He then body slammed the suspect just as other Dallas Police officers arrived.

Alexander is not seeking attention or appreciation for his actions. But he’s deservedly getting it anyway.

“He’s a good man and that was blessing what he did step up like that,” says Andre Collins, another homeless man who witnessed the attack. “I think he’s a hero. He saved us the officer.”

Jackson faces charges of assaulting a public servant and Officer Taylor remains on medical leave with dislocated fingers among other injuries.

Alexander is back to his life of day jobs and roaming downtown without a home. He may not have found his place in society yet, but society has found a place for him. It was being the in right place at the right time when an officer was alone and in serious trouble.

“I think he would have been hurt,” says Alexander. “He pulled up on me and he told me congratulations for helping him get out of the situation.”

City council member Dwaine Caraway tells CBS 11 News he will make sure Alexander is recognized for his actions.

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The Top 20 Airports for TSA Theft

Your suitcase has been tagged and whisked away for a TSA security check before being loaded onto a plane en route to your final destination. How safe are the belongings inside? The TSA has fired nearly 400 employees for allegedly stealing from travelers, and for the first time, the agency is revealing the airports where those fired employees worked.

Newly released figures provided to ABC News by the TSA in response to a Freedom of Information Act request show that, unsurprisingly, many of the country’s busiest airports also rank at the top for TSA employees fired for theft.

Sixteen of the top 20 airports for theft firings are also in the top 20 airports in terms of passengers passing through.

At the head of the list is Miami International Airport, which ranks twelfth in passengers but first in TSA theft firings, with 29 employees terminated for theft from 2002 through December 2011. JFK International Airport in New York is second with 27 firings, and Los Angeles International Airport is third with 24 firings. JFK ranks sixth in passenger traffic, while LAX is third. Chicago, while second in traffic, ranked 20th in theft firings.

The four airports listed in the TSA’s top 20 list of employee firings for theft that aren’t also among the FAA’s top 20 for passenger activity are Salt Lake City International, Washington Dulles, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International, and San Diego International.

The top airports across the U.S. for TSA employees fired for theft are:

1. Miami International Airport (29)

2. JFK International Airport (27)

3. Los Angeles International Airport (24)

4. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (17)

5. Las Vegas-McCarren International Airport (15)

6. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and New York-Laguardia Airport (14 each)

8. Newark Liberty, Philadelphia International, and Seattle-Tacoma International airports (12 each)

11. Orlando International Airport (11)

12. Houston-George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Salt Lake City International Airport (10 each)

14. Washington Dulles International Airport (9)

15. Detroit Metro Airport and Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (7)

17. Boston-Logan International, Denver International and San Diego International airports (6)

20. Chicago O’Hare International Airport (5)

During a recent ABC News investigation, an iPad left behind at a security checkpoint at the Orlando airport was tracked as it moved 30 miles away to the home of the TSA officer last seen handling it.

WATCH the ‘Nightline’ report on ‘The Case of the Missing iPad’

Confronted two weeks later by ABC News, the TSA officer, Andy Ramirez, at first denied having the missing iPad, but ultimately turned it over after blaming his wife for taking it from the airport. Ramirez was later fired by the TSA.

PHOTOS: A Rogues’ Gallery of TSA Agents

The iPad was one of ten purposely left behind at TSA checkpoints at major airports with a history of theft by government screeners, as part of an ABC News investigation into the TSA’s ongoing problem with theft of passenger belongings. The other nine iPads were returned to ABC News after being left behind.

The agency disputes that theft is a widespread problem, however, saying the number of officers fired “represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed” by TSA.

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Firearms sold on cyberspace

Over 1,000 guns and 10,000 bullets were confiscated and 241 people arrested for running an illegal, cyberspace firearms business in Jiangxi Province, reported the Beijing-based Legal Daily.

The investigation by the Pingxiang Public Security Bureau, which lasted a year, found the suspects had sold guns to over 700 clients in more than 200 cities and counties in 30 municipalities, provinces and autonomous regions across the country.

Police tracked the gun buyers and confiscated their weapons, along with 200 firearms that were found when the sellers were busted. Police said they also confiscated 55,000 firearm parts.

“The stealthy cyber crime was very difficult to investigate,” Yang Fukuan, head of the crime investigation team at the Jiangxi Provincial Public Security Department, was quoted by the Legal Daily as saying Tuesday.

“A huge organized criminal gang and an extensive network of buyers are involved in the case,” Yang added.

Guns are strictly controlled in China and private gun ownership is outlawed.

“The illegal gun trade used to be limited to a small and secretive group, cyberspace now provides a hotbed for trade in weapons,” Liu Tao, professor from the Chinese People’s Public Security University, told the Global Times.

“An increasing demand for guns also plays an important role,” Liu added.

He Li, deputy director of the firearms control department at the Ministry of Public Security, said criminal gangs, ethnic minorities who hunt, bodyguards and drug dealers are the main clients of illegal gun sellers, the Beijing News reported.

“The crackdown on online gun sales is positive as authorities have become familiar with the new methods of the illegal firearms trade,” Lü Benfu, an expert on Internet security with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told the Global Times.

The Ministry of Public Security launched a campaign on September 25 with 29 provincial police departments to contain the sale of firearm online.

More than 530 suspects have been arrested in the campaign, and over 1,000 guns and 10,000 bullets confiscated during this crackdown.

In June, local police in Taizhou, Zhejiang Province, arrested 1,700 suspects who sold about 2,000 guns online to 32 regions in the country.

However, experts advised that more work needs to be done to fight cyber crime.

“The current Criminal Law defines cyber crime only vaguely and leaves loopholes in handing out harsh punishment,” Liu said, adding that more detailed regulations are needed.

Lü said that China needs to improve its ability to detect cyber crime by learning from successful experiences in foreign countries.

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Internet users continue to use many of the same weak passwords used a year ago, according to a new list compiled from password files released by hackers.

Despite the vulnerability presented by weak passwords, many Internet users continue to put their security at risk by using common words or number sequences that are easily guessable.

Unchanged from last year, the three most popular passwords for 2012 were “password,” “123456,” and “12345678,” according to SplashData’s annual “25 Worst Passwords of the Year” list. The list was compiled from files containing millions of stolen passwords posted online by hackers.

But that isn’t to say that our choices have stagnated; new entries to the list this year include “welcome,” “Jesus,” “ninja,” “mustang,” and “password1.”

In a year punctuated by high-profile hacks that leaked millions of passwords, SplashData hopes the lists highlights the importance of choosing a robust password.

“We’re hoping that with more publicity about how risky it is to use weak passwords, more people will start taking simple steps to protect themselves by using stronger passwords and using different passwords for different Web sites,” SplashData CEO Morgan Slain said in a statement. “Just a little bit more effort in choosing better passwords will go a long way toward making you safer online.”

A security breach revealed in July at Yahoo yielded nearly a half million login credentials stored in plain text. Other password thefts at LinkedIn, eHarmony, and contributed to approximately 8 million passwords posted in two separate lists to hacker sites in early June.

SplashData’s list, including changes in ranking from last year’s list:

password (unchanged)
123456 (unchanged)
12345678 (unchanged)
abc123 (up 1)
qwerty (down 1)
monkey (unchanged)
letmein (up 1)
dragon (up 2)
111111 (up 3)
baseball (up 1)
iloveyou (up 2)
trustno1 (down 3)
1234567 (down 6)
sunshine (up 1)
master (down 1)
123123 (up 4)
welcome (new)
shadow (up 1)
ashley (down 3)
football (up 5)
Jesus (new)
michael (up 2)
ninja (new)
mustang (new)
password1 (new)

Security experts suggest picking long passwords (the longer, the better) that include as many different characters as possible while excluding anything that can be personally linked, such as birthdates or names of relatives. Choosing passwords that include words found in common dictionaries is also discouraged.

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Self Defense: How Much Force Is Too Much Force?

A courageous 12-year-old Oklahoma girl was home alone when an intruder, Stacy Jones, came to her house, rang the doorbell, and pounded on her door. When she didn’t open the door, he apparently went around the back of the house and kicked in the back door. At that time, this brave girl, in her frightened state, called her mother. Her mother told her to get the family gun and hide in the closet. While she was hiding out in the closet, the suspect allegedly went to open the closet door at which point she fired the gun through the door, injuring him.

Thankfully, the young girl was able to defend herself. The intruder survived the shot but sustained enough injuries to keep him away from the girl. He was sent to the Bryan County jail.

How much force can you use to defend yourself?

If faced with a situation where you need to defend yourself from unlawful force, you may either use deadly force or non-deadly force. Of course, the type of force that may be used depends on the situation.

You may use non-deadly force when it is reasonably necessary to protect yourself from unlawful force. You may use deadly force in self-defense if you are “confronted with unlawful force and are threatened with imminent death or great bodily harm.”

A minority of states requires that the victim of a deadly attack first retreat prior to using deadly force in self-defense. However, in a majority of states, the victim does not have to retreat first.

Can you use deadly force to defend your home?

No. While solely defending your property, you may never use to deadly force.

You can learn more about self-defense by watching informational videos . Simply type the words “Self Defense” in the search area provided on the upper right-hand corner of the page.

You have a right to self-defense and when necessary you should use it. Do you think this young girl did the right thing by shooting the intruder? Should she have called 911 and waited for the police to come to her aid instead?

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You are what you eat, and what you eat ends up in your hair. Scientists in the U.S. and Europe have used this basic idea—and some sophisticated isotopic analysis—to devise a sort of hair-based GPS tracking system. A single strand contains information on your whereabouts over the past few months, a fact that law enforcement agencies are now using to solve crimes.

Lesley Chesson opens a cardboard box inside her office at IsoForensics, a Salt Lake City-based company that uses science to fight crime. She pulls out a bulging manila envelope.

“That one definitely has hair in it,” she says with a chuckle.

A senior scientist at the company, Chesson reaches into the envelope and removes a mass of brunette hair. Her colleague, Luciano Valenzuela, looks over a list to see where it came from.

“It’s hair from Shawnee, [Oklahoma],” he says.

Another 2,000 envelopes and vials stored here also contain human hair, collected from across the United States and around the world. “Guatemala, Japan, Newfoundland, Thailand,” says Valenzuela, rattling off some of the countries.

In fact, the scientists have hair from every continent, even Antarctica. They are using all this hair—from regular, everyday people—to perfect a technique to help solve murder cases.


Both Chesson and Valenzuela were mentored by a professor at the University of Utah, Jim Ehleringer.

Ehleringer was trained as a plant biologist, but about a decade ago, he became curious about animals and whether he could develop a new technique for addressing a question that wildlife biologists commonly ask: where do animals eat and drink, and does the location of their watering hole, say, change over time?

“I could find out by being in the field every single minute of the day,” he says. “Or I can let nature do the recording for me.”
Ehleringer realized that what an animal eats and drinks does get recorded—in its tissues.

Every chemical element comes in different forms, known as isotopes, with some slightly heavier than others. Take hydrogen and oxygen, the atoms that make up water, H2O. Their different isotopes are found in different concentrations depending on where the water comes from. And that mixture of heavy and light atoms gets laid down in the growing tissues of the animals that drink the water. These tissues include hair.

“The hair becomes a linear tape recorder,” says Ehleringer. “So it tells us a little story about the history of what an animal was eating or drinking.”

Our hair acts as a timeline—recording where each of us has been and when we were there.

Ehleringer suspected the same thing would apply to humans and our hair. So he and his colleagues collected hair from local barbershops across the U.S. to test a hypothesis. They wanted to determine if it was possible to tell where hair came from based on an analysis of the hydrogen and oxygen in the local water supply.

Thure Cerling, a geologist at the University of Utah and another collaborator on this project, says the vast majority of the water in our diet is local.

“People often say, ‘Well, oh, I don’t drink water. I drink Coke,’” he says. “[But] where was the Coke or the Pepsi bottled?” It’s usually at a local bottling plant, using local water.

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