No winner means Mega Millions rises to record $1.6B jackpot

Emilie Richardson/ABC News(NEW YORK) -- If you're checking your numbers Saturday morning for the $1 billion Mega Millions jackpot, you're not a grand-prize winner. But neither was anyone else.

The next Mega Millions jackpot will be an estimated $1.6 billion -- the highest total in U.S. lottery history. The cash payout is $904 million.

"We're in unchartered territory," Gordon Medenica, Mega Millions lead director and the director of Maryland Lottery and Gaming, told Good Morning America on Saturday.

The drawing will be Tuesday at 11 p.m.

And the record jackpot can increase between now and then.

"Hold on to your hats," Medenica said. "It could go up even further."

When asked if the grand prize could hit a shocking $2 billion, Medenica said, "Anything's possible."

"I don't want to jinx it," he added.

The numbers drawn Friday night for the second-largest lottery prize in U.S. history were 15-23-53-65-70 and a Mega Ball of 7. A single winner taking the cash lump sum would have received about $565.6 million.

There were a number of smaller winners in Friday's drawing, including 15 people who won at least $1 million for matching each white ball. New York had the highest number of second-prize winners -- with four. One ticket in Texas was worth $2 million for matching all five white balls and doubling the total with the Megaplier.

The Mega Millions jackpot has skyrocketed since the July 24 drawing when a group of 11 co-workers in Santa Clara County, California, shared a $543 million jackpot, the game's fourth-largest.

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Marijuana company heads to New York Stock Exchange

rgbspace/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The New York Stock Exchange is about to get greener. Canada-based Aurora Cannabis plans to start trading on the NYSE on Oct. 23, the company announced Thursday.

The move comes in spite of the fact U.S. financial institutions are still barred from doing business with marijuana companies, be it financing the businesses or accepting deposits or allowing employees to open personal bank accounts.

Aurora Cannabis is allowed to be listed in the U.S. because it's not an American firm. A weed company in, say, Colorado wouldn't be permitted to list shares because of federal law.

"The Exchange has broad discretion regarding the listing of a company," Lisette Kwong, a spokeswoman for the NYSE, wrote in an email to ABC News.

Canopy, based in Ontario, became the first weed producer listed on the NYSE earlier this year under the ticker CGC. It also trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange as WEED.

Canada legalized recreational marijuana use for adults this week. It remains illegal in the U.S. under federal law, although many states have decriminalized it in some form.

Because the U.S. federal government still classifies pot as an illegal controlled substance, U.S. banks cannot technically accept deposits from marijuana businesses and are subject to money-laundering rules. However, a growing number of state-chartered banks and credit unions are experimenting with cannabis businesses.

Experts have said Canada's legalization may spur more investment into the cannabis industry as a whole.

"U.S. institutional investors who have not understood the industry, or had concerns about the regulations, now that we're ready to go, you might see more institutional investors, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world, start to allocate money or capital into the sector," said Jesse Pytlak, an analyst with Cormack Securities.

As a result of U.S. federal law, most marijuana is purchased with cash, not credit cards, causing a problem for dispensaries that end up hoarding greenbacks until massive deposits can be made.

"Previously, these businesses have literally laundered their money, whether it's using a product like Febreze or some other scent-covering agent to try to deposit these large sums of cash," Amanda Avret, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Bankers Association, said. "Tellers have stopped those deposits by literally smelling the money."

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Amazon reviews: Inside the murky world of pay-to-play 

Poike/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Jeff, a home builder in Lasalle, Illinois, said he bought a battery adapter for his cordless drill on Amazon, and it worked for about an hour before it broke.

So Jeff, who asked that his last name not be used in this story, wrote a review saying just that.

He said the third-party seller emailed him later, asking him to delete the review in exchange for a $30 Amazon gift card. The seller also asked how to improve the product, according to emails Jeff shared with ABC News.

"I figured, Why not? That would cover my loss on the adapter," Jeff wrote in an email. "I ended up changing it to a positive review because I couldn’t delete it. Seller did thank me and sent me a code for Amazon. Sure enough there was a $30 credit in my acct. I was leery of this somehow being a scam but figured I could always put a bad review back up."

Amazon has been criticized over the credibility of customer reviews as the number of third-party sellers using its platform has skyrocketed, creating a potential cottage industry of fake reviews.

The third-party seller who supplied Jeff's battery adapter didn't immediately respond to an email request for comment.

Recently, Amazon fired an employee for sharing customers' email addresses with a third-party vendor, though it didn't provide details on who the seller was or where it was located. In a statement to The Wall Street Journal, the company also said it was "supporting law enforcement in its prosecution."

It's unclear how questionable such pay-for-play tactics are in the world of e-commerce, assuming they don't explicitly violate the terms and conditions laid out by a company like Amazon, whose Anti-Manipulation Policy states that "any attempt to manipulate reviews, including by directly or indirectly contributing false, misleading or inauthentic content, is strictly prohibited."

"When you hear about a commercial reaction like that, it sounds shady," said Simeon Siegel, an analyst at Instinet, a tech-focused firm that's part of Nomura Securities. "But would we feel the same way if a restaurant manager comped a meal after someone complained? Should we be thinking about it through an old-school lens, when some sort of compensation would be implicit?"

In September, Amazon confirmed the company was investigating a Wall Street Journal report that employees had offered to disclose sales data and delete negative consumer reviews for third-party sellers in exchange for payment. It's unclear whether the recent termination was related to that investigation.

Amazon didn't respond to a request for comment, but the company's Anti-Manipulation Policy also states: "Customers trust that they can shop with confidence on Amazon. Reviews provide a forum for sharing authentic feedback about products and services -- positive or negative."

The company also told the Journal that sellers found to be in violation of its customer review policy would face discipline. "We have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems and if we find bad actors who have engaged in this behavior, we will take swift action against them," a company statement read.

"Reviews allow e-commerce to bridge the gap of brick-and-mortar stores -- it allows customers and brands to reach a larger audience," Siegel said. "But one part of the equation is the ability to try to make it right."

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Mega Millions prizes keep skyrocketing as 'people want to see bigger jackpots'

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The record $1 billion Mega Millions jackpot is the latest prize to balloon to astronomical figures -- and officials say they're giving people with dreams of winning exactly what they want.

“People wanted to see bigger jackpots,” Carole Gentry, a spokeswoman for the Mega Million Group and managing director of communications at Maryland Lottery and Gaming told ABC News.

The drawing for the Mega Millions prize will be Friday night.

The prizes for lotteries have jumped recently, officials said. Gentry said starting jackpots also increased to $40 million from $15 million last year to "allow for bigger, faster-growing jackpots.”

Lottery players used to pick five numbers from 1 to 75 and one Mega Ball number from 1 to 15, with nine different prize levels ranging from $1 to the jackpot available for the players to catch.

The odds of winning the jackpot prize were 1 in 258 million, and the overall odds of winning a prize at any of the nine prize levels was 1 in 14.71 million.

As recently as last year, the price for the ticket was $1.

But that all changed last year.

The odds of winning the second-tier prize of $1 million were improved by the matrix changes, Gentry said.

Before October 2017, the odds of a $1 million prize were 1 in 18.49 million. Since October 2017, the odds of a $1 million prize are 1 in 12.6 million.

And the ticket price is now $2.

Players now pick five numbers from 1 to 70 and one Mega Ball number from 1 to 25 with nine different prize levels, now ranging from $2 to the jackpot.

The odds of winning the jackpot are 1 in 302 million, and the overall odds of winning a prize at any of the nine prize levels is 1 in 24 million.

"Longer odds for the jackpot and better odds for all of the other prize levels,” Gentry said. “It increases the chance of winning the second tier million dollar prize and the lower prizes. And it allows the jackpots to increase at a faster larger rate.”

The modification also was made to attract players from all walk of life.

“We also know that when the jackpots are larger, we start seeing many groups of co-workers, friends or relatives buying tickets together. It becomes something that people share with others around them,” she said.

Before the drawing Tuesday, the previous Mega Millions record jackpots was $656 million, which was shared by winners from Kansas, Illinois and Maryland in March 2012.

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A tech investor brought cell phone voting to West Virginia, igniting debate about access and security

iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLESTON, W.Va.) -- A few hundred West Virginians are poised to cast a federal election vote on their cell phones this November. And depending on the outcome, they’ll have Bradley Tusk to thank -- or to blame.

Tusk, a 45-year-old former political operative and early Uber investor who once specialized in helping the rideshare giant beat taxi regulations, is bankrolling an effort to allow West Virginians serving in the military or living overseas to cast absentee ballots through an app on their smartphones.

Modernizing voting to make it easier, Tusk says, is the answer to the low voter turnout plaguing our “dysfunctional, polarized democracy,” and he hopes to see the program expand to other constituencies and other states in the near future.

“It’s a system that was built for an agrarian society 250 years ago,” Tusk told ABC News. “People do it if you make it easy enough, but if you don’t make it easy enough, they’re not going to.”

It’s believed to be the first time U.S. voters in a federal election will make their mark via smartphone app, but what might otherwise be celebrated as a pioneering milestone is instead saddled with suspicion.

Tusk’s project comes at a time of heightened concerns over vote hacking following Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, when many election-security watchdogs –- both inside and outside of government -– are calling on states to move back to paper ballots.

Lawrence Norden, a prominent election security expert at the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, didn’t hesitate to deliver a harsh verdict on the project.

“I think it’s a horrific idea,” he said, suggesting states should focus on spending money to enhance cybersecurity rather than rolling out new voting methods.

West Virginia’s voting app has ignited a debate over what’s more important –- using new technologies to expand voting access to those who may have a hard time casting ballots or protecting the integrity of the vote itself from the hacking of those new and potentially vulnerable technologies.

Tusk, the developers of the app, and election officials in West Virginia all say the tradeoff is worth it. Election-security experts are, to say the least, not so sure.

Here’s how it works. According to a state-issued video tutorial, voters will download an app, called Voatz, and use it to take pictures of their government-issued ID cards (West Virginia implemented a voter-ID requirement this year) and verify their identities by taking selfies and letting the app match them to the faces on their IDs.

“With the option of mobile voting for uniformed and overseas citizens,” the video’s narrator said, “West Virginia is leading the nation in serving those who serve us.”

The app uses blockchain technology, which will store a record of a vote several different computers or servers at different locations, each of them checking the record against each other. It won’t say who owns those computers, but it has hinted that some will be its own and some will belong to the state government.

The scope will be extremely limited. Following a two-county trial run in the state’s May primary in which 16 votes from six different countries were cast, the state hopes that between 200 and 400 votes will be cast via Voatz in November.

Tusk led the effort to connect a reliable app with a willing state, and when he found Voatz and West Virginia, he put up the money to make it happen. Through his philanthropy, Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies, Tusk has already spent $250,000 to subsidize the project in West Virginia, and he says he’s prepared to spend “eight figures” —- at least $1 million —- to advance it elsewhere.

He says he is negotiating with other jurisdictions to adopt cellphone voting in some municipal and state elections next year.

Tusk insists he’s not in it for the money -- he has no plans, he says, to invest in Voatz or any other voting-app startups –- but he has nevertheless set an ambitious goal.

“I want everyone to be able to vote on their phones because I want everyone to be able to vote,” Tusk said.

West Virginia, for its part, does not share Tusk’s expansionist attitude. The state only plans to use cellphone voting for military and overseas absentee voters.

The state’s top election official, Secretary of State Mac Warner, served in Afghanistan and entered office with a priority of making it easier for service members to vote while serving overseas. His son, an active service member, was the first to cast a cellphone vote in the state’s primary, Warner’s spokesman said.

Any risk in using the new technology is worth the reward of making it easier for service members to vote, Warner said.

“When you get sent into harm's way, you want to have a voice in who sent you into harm's way. You want to vote for the person who's gonna get you out of harm's way,” Warner told a gathering of election officials at an Election Assistance Commission summit on election readiness in Washington, D.C., this month. “That's what we're facing.”

Election watchdogs, meanwhile, are less than thrilled.

“They've done nothing to demonstrate in a public way why it's been secure,” Jeremy Epstein, vice chair of the Association for Computing Machinery Technology Policy Committee, said of Voatz.

Tusk, the company and the state point to an audit following its May trial run that revealed no problems.

National election watchdogs aren’t satisfied. They want to see the results of audits Voatz has conducted to assess security before a live election is effectively used as a test run for a new technology.

“They’re not thinking a lot of this stuff through very much, because I think they’re too hell-bent on the outcome,” said Susan Greenhalgh, policy director at the National Election Defense Coalition.

Experts have been urging states to move back to paper and use the $380 million Congress appropriated this spring for election upgrades to do away with paperless electronic voting machines and sure up cybersecurity practices —- not to move further into electronic voting territory.

Voatz co-founder and CEO Nimit Sawhnney argued that the risk is worth the reward.

“Nothing’s 100 percent safe. We know that. Even the paper ballot system we currently use is not 100 percent safe,” Sawhnney told ABC News. “But there are safeguards built in, and you accept risks and rewards and you move ahead.”

As for the state, Warner has made his case.

“It’s much more secure than taking a paper ballot, sending it overseas, letting it sit in a dusty mail room,” Warner said.

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Nebraska's pitch to tourists: 'Honestly, it's not for everyone'

Nebraska Tourism Commission(Nebraska) -- Nebraska knows the state is "not for everyone" and it's proud of that in a new ad campaign.

"We're just simply not on people's shopping list for a vacation," said John Ricks, executive director of the Nebraska Tourism Commission, on ABC News' "Start Here" podcast.

New Nebraska Tourism advertisements boast of the state's "flat, boring landscape" and "dusty" Great Plains as part of a self-deprecating marketing campaign to tackle its "brand apathy" problem.

Nebraska Tourism Commission"You can't change perceptions just by providing information, so we had to be disruptive in some way," Ricks said of the sarcastic ads.

One print ad points out "there's nothing to do here" as a group floats down a river in a livestock tank, or what Nebraskans refer to as "tanking."

Nebraska Tourism CommissionNebraska is trying to lure tourists who are interested in an "unpretentious and uncomplicated" vacation, and as the campaign's tagline notes: "Honestly, it's not for everyone."

"We're not looking for everybody," Ricks said on "Start Here." "This place isn't for everybody, as any state isn't for anybody."

The #HonestlyNE campaign will launch in out-of-state markets beginning in spring 2019.

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MoviePass under investigation by state of New York for misleading investors

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The New York attorney general’s office has launched an investigation into whether the parent company of MoviePass, Helios and Matheson, misled investors about their finances, a source familiar with the investigation confirmed to ABC News.

Attorney General Barbara Underwood opened the investigation under her authority to protect investors in companies that are publicly traded on the exchanges located in New York.

CNBC, which first reported the investigation, reported that the probe falls under New York’s Martin Act, an anti-fraud law.

Helios and Matheson, which purchased a majority stake in MoviePass in August 2017, announced it would be lowering its price to $10 per month. Subscribers were allowed to see one standard 2D movie per calendar day at any participating theater, including major chains such as AMC and Regal.

“We are aware of the New York Attorney General's inquiry and are fully cooperating,” the company said in a statement provided to CNBC. “We believe our public disclosures have been complete, timely and truthful and we have not misled investors. We look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate that to the New York Attorney General.”

The company's stock price has collapsed in 2018. Helios and Matheson finished the day Wednesday trading at just 20 cents per share after reaching a year-to-date high of $2,442.50 on Jan. 23. The stock had dropped to half its high by mid-February and under $100 by June 5.

MoviePass began implementing various restrictions on its service earlier this year. In April, the company no longer allowed subscribers to view the same film more than once. MoviePass installed peak pricing, a surcharge for any movie deemed to be in high demand, in July.

Peak pricing was suspended the following month when the company changed its monthly subscription plan to allow for just three movies per month.

“MoviePass reserves the right to change or modify the Service or subscriptions at any time and in its sole discretion,” the company stated in its most recent terms of use, “including but not limited to applicable prices, at any time, without prior notice.”

Theater chain AMC launched its own subscription service, titled A-List, in July. Under this service, users are able to see up to three movies per week, including those in 3D and IMAX. Unlike MoviePass, A-List subscribers are able to reserve seats on the mobile app ahead of its listed showtime.

The New York attorney general’s office declined to comment.

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Twitter releases 'motherlode' of data on alleged Russian, Iranian influence operations

Twitter(NEW YORK) -- Twitter has released data on more than 10 million tweets from nearly 4,000 accounts it said were linked to Russia and Iran, which paint a more nuanced portrait of the nations’ purported online influence operations.

The social media giant previously disclosed the operations and lawmakers released hundreds of suspected account names that Twitter said were linked to the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based “troll farm” that worked day and night to spread propaganda and stoke division online ahead of the 2016 election. But this is the first time the public and independent researchers have been given access to what data analyst Ben Nimmo described as the full “motherlode” of information.

Nimmo, an information defense fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab whose team was given a preview of the data in order to post their analysis with Twitter’s announcement, said that for all the attention given to Russia’s online influence in the U.S. ahead of the 2016 presidential election, he was surprised that the data showed that the “first targets and the first victims” were, in fact, Russian users.

“Particularly in the Russian dataset a lot more of the content was in Russian than in English,” said Nimmo. “It’s a really important reminder that the Russian troll farm started out as a tool of domestic repression. It then became a weapon abroad… They adapted it to the U.S. audience.”

Nimmo pointed to the blast of social media activity after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine, which international investigators blamed on Russia. On the day before the incident, accounts linked to Russia’s troll factory posted a total of 19,000 times. On the day after, the number jumped to 57,000, most of them using hashtags that blamed Ukraine.

“You can see that somebody hit the big red button that said, ‘Trolls, go troll,’” Nimmo told ABC News.

Only later did the Russians turn their attention to the U.S. election, where their goals evolved along with developments in the political race. While a full analysis of the ideological breakdown of the entire trove of tweets has yet to be undertaken, the DFRLab determined that the Russian trolls appear to have been surprisingly “non-partisan,” at least when it came to divisive issues.

“They tried to inflame everybody, regardless of race, creed, politics or sexual orientation,” the analysis said. “On many occasions, they pushed both sides of divisive issues.”

For example, DFRLab identified two Russia-linked accounts that straddled the gun control debate: “Mass shooting occurs even in #GunFreeZones so people is the problem not guns #Prays4California,” one said the day after the San Bernardino shooting. “mass shooting wont stop until there are #GunFreeZones #Prayers4California” another said.

Darren Linvill, a Clemson University professor who with his colleague Patrick Warren previously analyzed some 3 million tweets linked to Russia, told ABC News that influencing the elections might not have been their only – or even their primary – goal.

“The primary goal was be divisive and get Americans to question each other and question institutions,” he said.

As for the Iranian operation, Nimmo said it was less widespread and “much, much clumsier” than the Russians’. It consisted of about a million tweets from 770 accounts that mainly attempted to get Twitter users to go to websites that hosted pro-Iran, anti-Israel or anti-U.S. content.

“It used fewer personalities, which is much less effective,” Nimmo said.

In releasing the dataset, Twitter said the move was “in line with our principles of transparency and to improve public understanding of alleged foreign influence campaigns.” Twitter and Facebook have come under increasing pressure to counter the spread of inauthentic accounts on their platforms, including those linked to foreign state-sponsored actors.

Linvill called Twitter’s disclosure a “great first step,” and said the data could prove of great analytic value when it comes to understanding online influence operations but he still expressed some concern about what he called “a look back at history.”

“The way in which the IRA changes its behavior almost completely year-to-year, this won’t be particularly helpful to understand what they’re doing now,” he said. “The way they operated in 2016, 2017, looks nothing like they’re doing now.”

Nimmo said he hopes that the release of the information will help not only researchers but also average Twitter users to understand the need to be cautious online and “extend that idea into the political sphere.”

“Part of this is basic street wisdom online,” he said.

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Uber driver who allegedly groped customer charged with kidnapping, wire fraud

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- An Uber driver has been charged in federal court after allegedly kidnapping a woman, groping her after she fell asleep and then charging more than $1,000 for the ride after abandoning her on the side of a highway.

Harbir Parmar, 24, of Howard Beach, New York, was charged in White Plains Federal Court with kidnapping and wire fraud, officials with the Southern District of New York said on Tuesday.

On Feb. 21, a woman from White Plains requested an Uber in Manhattan to take her home, according to a complaint filed with the FBI. Parmar picked up the woman around 11:30 p.m., and she fell asleep in the back seat.

Parmar stands accused of changing the destination in the app to Boston, according to the FBI complaint. When the woman woke up, the vehicle was parked on the side of the road and Parmar had joined the woman in the backseat, placing his hand under the front of her shirt. As she reached for her phone to call for help, Parmar grabbed her phone and refused to give it back to her.

Parmar returned to the driver's seat and continued driving, according to the complaint. The woman asked she be taken home or to a police station, but Parmar refused, dropping her off along a highway in Connecticut around 1:45 a.m.

The woman said she memorized the car's license plate and went to a nearby convenience story seeking help. The next morning she saw that she'd been charged $1,047.55 for the ride.

"As alleged, Harbir Parmar was hired to transport a woman from Manhattan to her home in White Plains. Instead, Parmar kidnapped, terrorized and assaulted the woman before dumping her on the side of an interstate," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement. "No one -- man or woman -- should fear such an attack when they simply hire a car service."

If convicted, Parmar could face life in prison for the kidnapping charge and 20 years for the fraud charge.

From December 2016 to February 2018, Parmar allegedly sent false information about customers' destinations and overcharged them on more than 10 occasions. He's also been accused of submitting false information related to cleaning fees. The improper charges totaled more than $3,600.

Uber said that the company blocked Parma from using its app in February and that he hadn't taken a trip since the incident. Uber also provided information to investigators.

"What's been reported is horrible and something no person should go through. As soon as we became aware, we immediately removed this individual's access to the platform," an Uber spokesperson told ABC News in a statement. "We have fully cooperated with law enforcement and will continue to support their investigation."

The woman's fare was refunded within days, Uber added.

Susanne Brody, a lawyer for Parmar, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

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Anheuser-Busch sending 300,000 cans of drinking water to areas ravaged by Hurricane Michael

Anheuser-Busch(MEXICO BEACH, Fla.) -- As communities in Florida and Georgia began to rebuild after Hurricane Michael, Anheuser-Busch said it would be shutting down some of its beer lines to get more than 300,000 cans of drinking water to people in need.

It's an effort the company has been involved with for three decades with the American Red Cross.

"This program is among the best that we do at Anheuser-Busch," said vice president of community affairs Bill Bradley. "Anheuser-Busch has always thought that it's important to help out those in need, particularly here in the United States, particularly in the areas where we live and work."

On Saturday, the beverage company said that as part of its emergency drinking water donation program, two truckloads of water had been sent its wholesaler partners Tri-Eagle Sales and the Lewis Bear Co., both in Florida, to help with disaster-relief efforts.

The company said four additional truckloads would be delivered to communities in Georgia and Florida.

Anheuser-Busch first joined up with the American Red Cross in 1988 to provide water after disasters. The company said that along with its partners they've provided almost 80 million cans of water to U.S. communities.

Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, nearly a week ago with winds topping out around 155 mph.

In September, the company sent more than 300,000 cans of waters to communities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia in preparation for Hurricane Florence. And in November 2012, about 44,000 cases of water were sent to the New York and New Jersey area after Superstorm Sandy.

"It's really part of the fabric of our company, part of our DNA," Bradley said. "We're a 165-year-old company and this type of effort, these types of values, go back to that time."

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