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In this episode of The Speaker Show, Maria Franzoni interviews Robert Mazur.

Robert Mazur was a highly sophisticated, mob connected, money launderer for Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Drug Cartel, a criminal organisation that was, at the time, the largest drug trafficking enterprise in the world. For years, Robert was a conduit between drug barons and corrupt bankers & lawyers that taught him some of the most sophisticated and secretive methods of laundering billions.

He was so well liked by his cohorts in crime around the world that they traveled to a Florida country club to attend his wedding.

Episode #239

Lessons from the Underworld

Maria Franzoni (00:17): Hello. And welcome back to The Speaker Show with me, your host Maria Franzoni. In today’s show, we’ll be talking about corruption, money laundering and drug trafficking. The Speaker Show is brought to you by Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau for the world’s most successful organizations, providing keynote speakers for events, conferences, and summits. Robert Musella was a highly sophisticated, mob connected money launderer for Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Drug Cartel, a criminal organization that was, at the time, the largest drug trafficking enterprise in the world. For years, Musella was a conduit between drug barrens and corrupt bankers and lawyers that taught him some of the most sophisticated and secretive methods of laundering billions. He was so well liked by his cohorts in crime around the world that they traveled to a Florida country club to attend his wedding. It was that affair that they lost their freedom and were taken into custody by US Federal agents. What they soon learned was that Robert Musella was actually a US Federal Undercover Agent himself. And he’s our guest today. Please welcome Robert Mazur. Robert, I was gonna say, it’s wonderful to see you, but obviously, under the circumstances of your work, I can’t actually see you, but it’s wonderful to hear you.

Robert Mazur (01:30): Oh, it’s wonderful to see you again and looking forward to chatting with you today.

Maria Franzoni (01:34): Thank you so much. Thank you for the time. So, last time we spoke, I had just watched the amazing film, The Infiltrator, and I’m a huge fan of Brian Cranston. So I love the fact that he plays you in The Infiltrator and I thought you were going to retire because that’s what it said in the film. And that was going to be your last adventure. What’s happened?

Robert Mazur (01:54): Well, you know, actually my interaction with Brian spirited me on, into the thought of doing the second book. I’d spoken with him quite a bit of that second operation. And he, after seeing a book proposal that I wrote said that he felt that it really potentially could be a sequel to The Infiltrator. And he thought that it was a compelling story. And with COVID, it was very convenient for me to stay in the house and just work on the book and over time we finally got it together. And, so Amazon Publishing is publishing it in North America, Icon Books in the UK and other publishers in Europe. And, so this may be my last endeavor, but we are working also with the Amazon studios in an effort to try to develop a screenplay that would warrant a sequel that’s a very long and tedious process, but we’re given it a shot.

Maria Franzoni (02:51): I hope you succeed because I absolutely loved The Infiltrator. I hope that I will be able to see the betrayal soon. I’m very much looking forward to that. So, there’s been decades of time and enormous amounts of money devoted to fighting the illegal drug trade, money laundering and corruption. How much success has been achieved, would you say in these battles?

Robert Mazur (03:12): I share the opinion of David Lewis, the former executive secretary of the financial action taskforce who recently retired and his comment was we’re all doing poorly, just some doing more poorly than others. And I hate to say it, but the amount of corruption has massively increased. The amount of drugs have massively increased. And the amount of money laundering has massively increased. You know, the United Nations on drugs and crime pegs the amount of money seeking secrecy every year at about $2 trillion and of that about 400 billion from the sale of illegal drugs. And if you look closely at law enforcement’s asset forfeitures, now I’m not talking about fines, billions of dollars in fines, imposed on banks, paid shareholders. I’m talking about real bad guy money. There’s no more than about a billion that at least in the United States is identified and seized each year. That’s one fourth of 1%. There’s absolutely no doubt. 98% of the coffers of these criminal organizations, which certainly work together much better. And then our legal representatives wind up working together internationally, but they work very closely together. The Mexican and Colombian Cartel is working with Hezbollah that has now seen this as a very significant way to raise monies in terrorism. There’s the Chinese Triads, the Italian Mafia is they’re, everybody’s working together and they are definitely, they’re winning the battle. There’s no doubt about that.

Maria Franzoni (04:51): That’s a bit depressing, to hear actually, Robert. I was hoping that made some success.

Robert Mazur (04:57): Well, you know, what really scares me the most and what I think is the most deadly product that’s produced by the cartels is corruption. And it’s amazing that I would ever be in a position to say that last year, we identified a person in Spanish. It’s El Padrino, it’s The Godfather who was working very closely with a Mexican cartel. We finally, through text intercepts and wire intercepts identified that person. And it turned out to be the Secretary of Defense, General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda of Mexico, who was on their payroll, working with them. What’s even more concerning to me is within about 30 days of his arrest and incarceration while pending trial. There was an uproar from Mexican authorities who accused the US of violating their sovereignty and demanded that Cienfuegos be turned over to them so that they could rightfully investigate this alleged involvement in drug trafficking.

Robert Mazur (06:04): And it took him a couple of weeks after they forced us to. And our attorney general did let him be taken back to Mexico for them to say, oh, we looked at it. There’s no crime here whatsoever. And he exonerated. We also have the brother of the President of Honduras, Tony Hernandez, his brother Juan Orlando Hernandez. Tony Hernandez is doing life in prison in the United States. Having worked with senators in Honduras and businessmen in Honduras to facilitate trans shipment of drug, through that country for the Columbian and Mexican cartels and the testimony in the trials of El Chapo and other Mexican cartel, drug king pins was that they were in fact providing millions of dollars to the President himself in funds that were used to finance his campaigns. So we have Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Venezuela, Columbia, Mexico, and many other nations that are suffering a loss of the rule of law.

Robert Mazur (07:16): And with these cartels being able to operate with impunity, the problem is only gonna get worse. There are things that we can do, and I address that in my book, in the epilogue of my book. Cause I think there are a few things that are critical. One, I think we should have zero tolerance for corruption zero. And when you situation such as we recently had with foreign officials who were clearly shown to be involved in the cartels, the hammer should really go down. They should not see the light of day again. I think that there’s also a lack of a vigorous prosecution of the corrupt professionals within the banking and business community that market this money, you know, we are so focused on artificial intelligence and allegedly identifying every transaction that’s being carried out. To me? That’s silly. To me.

Robert Mazur (08:16): And I guess it was Albert Einstein who was given credit for the phrase of saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. And that’s what we’re doing here. We are attempting a different outcome, but we don’t when it comes to these financial institutions, we find them, but we never seem to be able to find an individual or the individuals who are responsible for the criminal conduct. It always comes down to, and governments, including, the United States find it much easier to say, well, it was a systems failure. They intentionally failed to maintain an anti-money laundering compliance program. These are not systems failures, people with billions of dollars don’t accidentally, or without any guarantees, move their money through institutions. And most importantly, if there’s a silver bullet, in my view, it’s the demand side.

Robert Mazur (09:13): It’s focusing on the people with the disease of drug addiction and attempting to help them now, how can we help them? And I think it’s a three-legged stool. One, obviously, addiction education and addiction treatment. I have two cousins who died of overdoses of heroin and one who I helped to save to get treatment, but to get him a bed and to get him the treatment was a full-time job for probably a month plus some people don’t get that even get that opportunity. But most importantly, what can we do? And I think it is that we need to recognize that there are underserved, underprivileged segments of our cities, where people are not given an opportunity, an equal opportunity for an education and an economic future. And unless you give people an equal economic opportunity and education, you’re gonna continue to have people who feel futile, and wind up getting into these things.

Robert Mazur (10:20): I think education should be free in the United States for at least 14 years. And for those who, and actually, I think should be 16 years, but for those who succeed, well, and 14 years should, they should have an option for another two. I mean, let’s look at the numbers, it costs in the United States, depending upon what state you live in between 25,000 and more than 60,000 a year to maintain someone in prison. We put 1.8 million people in prison in 2021. That’s a lot of money.

Maria Franzoni (10:54): Yeah.

Robert Mazur (10:54): You know, and the fines, in my book, I list 18 bank, banks that paid cumulatively 24 billion in fines. If we took those fines, we could put 4 million underprivileged, underserved, young adults through one year of state college. That’s where you get the fix. And unfortunately, since we all love computer mouses, we think that we click and our real problem is solved with a click.

Robert Mazur (11:28): And it’s not. This approach of providing equal education and economic opportunity is a two generation tasks. It’s not gonna happen overnight. We just have to change the way we think about these things. We need to continue to go after the heads of the snake, you know, we’ve gotta disrupt command and control. We’re pretty effective at that, unfortunately, to be quite honest, and having been in law enforcement for 27 years, I could tell you that there’s probably, we always used to say, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. And that’s probably the case in a lot of private sector companies as well. But, the fact of the matter is that there’s a small segment and, my heroes are the agents assigned to the special operations division of DEA. That’s three groups. I think it’s three. About 40 or 50 personnel who put cases together against the biggest and the badest people on the planet and go after them, no matter where they live, if they are involved in a conspiracy to traffic drugs or illegal arms, that impact the lives of US citizens.

Robert Mazur (12:46): One of the people they got was Victor Bout. Victor Bout was a Russian, I think it was a major, at one time, who was the biggest provider of illegal weapons to terrorist organizations around the planet. They went after him, I’m in Juma, probably one of the biggest money launderers that the world has seen, who was working, a Lebanese Columbian who was helping to finance, Hesbulla accounts that were established for the purposes of killing, Israelis. So, it’s an ugly world out there. We can’t give up, we have to continue to fight, but I think we need to recalibrate a priority on our resources.

Maria Franzoni (13:33): And as you say, it’s not going to be a quick fix. It’s, you know, two generations. And so we probably won’t you and I won’t see the results if it begins today. I mean, do you think we’ll ever really achieve zero tolerance?

Robert Mazur (13:49): You know, I believe that the drug trafficking problem that’s out there is going to stay with every generation to come. It’s just a question of how do you manage your risk and how do you minimize the impact? And I say that because when I was working closely with, within the Medellín Cartel, with traffickers, I knew what the numbers were. It cost about $500 at that time to make it kilo of cocaine and about $2,500 per kilo to get it into the United States. So that was a $3,000 investment. Oddly, people invested in those ventures, so they didn’t even put up their own money. And there were people who would get involved in this with an expectation that in about 90 days, they were going to double or triple their money. And in many cases they did, but then they sold that their $3,000 investment for about $15,000. And they were bringing in tens of thousands of kilograms at a time, tens of thousands times, 13,000 profit. My calculator doesn’t have enough zeros

Maria Franzoni (15:01): Yeah.

Robert Mazur (15:02): To figure it out. It’s amazing.

Maria Franzoni (15:04): It is incredible. So you mentioned, you know, what needs to happen? So is this what nations need to do in order to have greater success? Are these the actions they need to all be taking?

Robert Mazur (15:16): You know, back in 2019, I wrote a white paper that people can find on my website, under the publication section, I have a list of publications or articles that I’ve written and a list of articles that have written about me, but under the ones by me, I wrote a white paper. And I thought, you know, this is a simple answer to a situation. We have a joint terrorism task force that is established in the United States that has 500 state and local law enforcement agencies participating with 55 federal law enforcement agencies. And they work with joint terrorism task force around the world. That’s the same approach that’s needed to be taken on money laundering. We seem to feel, we trick the world into thinking that we go after money launderers because we indict people for money laundering. But most often that’s an addon charge to another criminal matter.

Robert Mazur (16:19): For example, a healthcare fraud case where the person who committed the fraud then concealed and disguised the profits from the fraud and tried to hide it from the government. So they’ll add on a money laundering statute. I hate to surprise law enforcement. I hope they know this, and I think they do. There are people who are in the business of laundering money. That’s all they do. There’s a gentleman by the name of Altaf Khanani, who operated at a Pakistan and Dubai who was arrested a couple of years ago. He was the Goldman Sachs for the underworld. He moved, I think the number was 16 billion a year. Those are the types of individuals that law enforcement needs to be going after, a joint terror, a joint money laundering task force that would be set up. That would be a part, a task force that would be, man and woman, and by law enforcement officers on the federal, the city and the state levels, that would be in many major cities that would attempt to identify the 10 biggest money laundering threats operating, and go after it.

Robert Mazur (17:29): That same model should be used in other countries. And there should be a, an exchange of information, between nations with respect to the intelligence developed by these joint task forces, that go after the biggest of the money launderers. And unless and until that segment that I tell you exists within the banking and business community, that markets this money, there’s gonna be no fear on their part to continue to do what they’ve done. When I worked with the cartels and when people believed that I truly was a money launderer with them, I saw that evil world. I walked through a portal of the real world, into the underworld at a level, very few people get the opportunity to see. And just about everybody that I interacted with were people who had an interest in trying to make a profit of that illicit money.

Robert Mazur (18:32): You knew who the right lawyers were to go to, to be referred to the right bankers and the right businessmen who had the right covers, in the betrayal. People who read that will see that, the money launderers in the Cali cartel in interacted with probably 10 Columbian banks. I dealt with corrupt officers with Banko Cafetero, in Bogota, their money laundering methodology is detailed in the book. You know, it was a, it was a delicate thing. I wanted to make this book appeal to the average reader, but I wanted to share with the anti-money laundering compliance community enough detail, so that they found value in the book about things that they didn’t previously know about. And, one of the partners in PwC who did a review of my book called it, edutainment, which I was very flattered to hear. Now, unfortunately, there have been other people who are not in that anti money learner compliance world, and I’ve seen their reviews of, you know, this got into way too much detail. But so I tried to find a balance and I hope I did. I hope I made it exciting, but informative.

Maria Franzoni (19:57): Well, I want to see the film I really do. So whoever I need to talk to, I want to see the film as well obviously, read the book. So obviously, I mean, this is fascinating, and it’s incredible to hear about this because you know, in everyday life, you are not connected to it. You have no idea what’s going on. What are those kinds of messages that you are delivering to business audiences and corporate audiences, and at events, when you’re asked to speak, are you sharing this level of detail, or are you talking about something slightly different?

Robert Mazur (20:26): No, you know, I offer every client the opportunity to collaborate with me, to make sure that I focus on the issues that they feel are most important to the audience that I’m going to be speaking with. You know, I’m doing, a presentation in Africa for a YPO. And, they’re all about wanting to talk about the book, the movie, what the people are like who are within organized crime. And so that’s what we’re gonna focus on, but I, you know, if I, I’m also dealing with an international bank and that’s not what their interest is gonna be, their interest is going to be to get more detail on trade based money laundering. But I’ve also tried to take the things that I learned through the undercover schools that I went to, in an effort to develop what I think is an important message for anyone whatsoever in their business and personal life.

Robert Mazur (21:23): And that is how do you enhance rapport and communication. And we, that was drilled into our heads when I went through undercover schools. And there are about nine basic important, fundamental things that you need to be mindful of, that are going to enhance your ability to establish rapport with another person and enhance your communication. And it hasn’t, it doesn’t have anything to do with tempting to trick anyone or say something that isn’t accurate. It’s a question of focusing you on the things that are most important for you to succeed in that. So I wish I had learned those lessons when I was in high school, because it took me six months to get my wife to begin dating me. But,

Maria Franzoni (22:16): You succeeded though, right? You succeeded,

Robert Mazur (22:17): But I did succeed.

Maria Franzoni (22:19): Yeah. That’s fascinating, actually. Are you able to share any of those nine? I mean, cause I would, I really would love to hear all of those, but if you could share one at least, that would be amazing.

Robert Mazur (22:29): Well, sure. I mean the very first one is, you have to really care about this person so much that you need to do your homework and in today’s world with social media being what it is. It’s very easy for you to get a sense of what that person’s hobbies are, what their interests are. You know, when I did that type of study, when I was dealing with bad guys, I did it for the purpose of coming up with things that were, we had in common so that we weren’t always trying to talk about crime. Well, Roberto Alcaino who’s play aid in the movie by Benjamin Bratt was one of the highest level people transporting, cocaine for the Medelline Cartel back in the day. And I did some research on him. I knew he was, Argentinian and Sicilian. I knew he had a collection of Roll Royces.

Robert Mazur (23:30): He had a downtown high end jewelry store, two daughters, and his wife. When he came to my undercover home, never said a word about it, but I had a Rolls Royce in the garage that we walked past. And of course it grabbed his attention. And by at, by then I had studied as much as I could about what I should know if I’m a real, enthusiast about Rolls Royces. And ultimately when it came time for us to make a bond with one another. I had an informant who was working with me, who was associated with one of the five organized crime families in New York. And, he had given, he had loaned to my agency, a piece of jewelry that we said, we’d get back at the end of the case, or if not, he would get an amount of financial reward to compensate him for the loss of it.

Robert Mazur (24:34): Roberto Alcaino was very religious. This was a gold cross studied with diamonds worth about $25,000. And when I gave that to Roberto, a jeweler, a very religious jeweler, it really impressed him. Now, I’m not suggesting you go out and buy a $25,000 cross, but, you know, if I’m gonna be hopeful that I’m gonna develop a business relationship with you, I’ll find the things that we have that are in common. And I’ll focus on those when we have a three-dimensional conversation and not one just about the work. And that’s just the first step. There are eight others that I really go into detail, with my audience on that they really should do. And, you know, you oftentimes people speak with more than their words. They speak with their reactions. And there are, it’s like looking, it’s like looking through a dictionary. Once, you know, what those body language issues are and what words they may use that may have another meaning.

Robert Mazur (25:56): It gives you a greater insight into being able to understand whether or not they’re telling you something that they truly believe or whether they’re just telling you something, that they don’t believe. So, you know, that’s another little one. But, I really enjoy sharing time with people on those. And one of the things I’d like to do, I haven’t done it yet, but, you know, thinking of it, like from a corporate receipt, a corporate retreat for executives, I’d like to add to it. I use clips from the film to show the things that I’m explaining that people need to do. But I’d like to add a little role play, in that also, I think that would be a lot of fun, to do if you’re, you know, if you’re in a corporate retreat and you want, you just want get a, you know, this is a time when you want to get away and you’re not gonna be crunching numbers and you don’t need to be talking about trade based money laundering. This is something that you can use in your everyday life.

Maria Franzoni (26:57): Fantastic. I love that. And you know, it’s music to my ears to hear you talk about, you know, that three dimensional conversation, getting to really know somebody. I do feel that there’s a lot of shortcuts these days. There’s a lot of, I mean, there’s advantages to automation, but actually I think you, can’t automate building a relationship. You do have to do that person to person. And so I like that a lot. Thank you. And so you said that that particular topic area, you know, I suppose lessons from, you know, undercover, undercover lessons there in communication and building relationships and rapport applies to everybody, you’ve got the money laundering as well. You’ve got the stories that, your stories, all of those things. What are the audiences that have sought you out to deliver keynotes, to deliver masterclasses?

Robert Mazur (27:41): Well, a lot of institutions, I have a long standing relationship with actually with PwC, in Luxemburg, they have a very young financial investigative unit that, I’ve gotten the opportunity to share time with and to, kind of do a bootcamp with them on the fundamentals of financial, investigating financial crime. We’ve all, I’ve always spent, had the opportunity also to spend time with the senior executives there, who invites CEOs of major institutions. And we do a VIP dinner, at a time when right close to when I’ll then also do a presentation to their clients, about risk and how to identify risk. And so financial institutions, a lot of the institutions that are involved in developing artificial intelligence, those that are interested in cryptocurrency, digital currency, its impact in financial crime, those types of things.

Robert Mazur (28:54): So, that’s pretty much rounds it out. Before COVID I was very, very active, in person presentations. And then it went for a while when COVID was at its worst, to go into the, by, you know, delivering by computer by zoom. And now it seems to me that it’s kind of a combination of both. I think, budgets being what they are, people kind of tend to maybe shy away from always going live, and wanting to be able to offer more content that they can do at a more effective price point by doing it on an internet based presentation. So, but I’m, but I am heading, heading to Africa next week. And, I’m looking forward to that. And that’s an interesting group that the YPO, this is a fourth YPO that I’ve presented to, I’ve presented in Lebanon and Bahrain and Dubai, and now I’ll be making this presentation with them.

Maria Franzoni (30:10): Great audience. Great organization. So Robert, I have to address this because anybody who’s watching the video will see that you are obscured. We can’t see what you look like. And, you know, people will be wondering, so how does that work then when you go to an event or when you do something on zoom, a presentation, how do organizers deal with the fact that you’ve got to, and actually do you need to still protect your identity and protect what you look like to explain that for those who don’t know?

Robert Mazur (30:40): Sure. You know, as depressing as the earlier portion of our discussion about the increased problems from drug trafficking and money laundering and corruption. I like to say that this is a good story about the integrity and professionalism of people in the business world, at least that I’ve had the good fortune to be able to work with, because all we do, you know, I hold the organization that hosts harmless, if this is not followed, but I ask them to please post in a PowerPoint slide, but before I get up and by the person who introduces me, a notice that simply says that, you know, Mr. Mazur respectfully requests, that you not take any photographs or video of him, for security reasons. And that’ll become obvious as he makes his presentation. I have probably spoken before tens of thousands of people, because some audiences have been over 2000, and not one person has taken a picture or video that they’ve ever posted. There was a time when I was in Sweden where a gentleman went to take a picture.

Robert Mazur (32:01): Apparently he wasn’t in the room at the beginning and he didn’t hear the notice, but he was jumped on by about five people sitting around him, who said, Hey, you’re not supposed to be taking pictures. And he didn’t know. And, he deleted what, you know, what he had done. When I do them on the internet. I prefer to do the PowerPoint slides because, I narrate through them. Some of them get a little bit, if you’re not an anti-money laundering compliance person and you’re not used to following the money, you really, really need to focus on ’em. And I have them animated in a way where the one piece will come out at a time, so I can really drill into one’s head what, that money laundering methodology is. And, so if I’m gonna be in a window, I prefer to be silhouetted, when I’m doing it on the internet, because one doesn’t know what’s going on the other side of all of the computers. So.

Maria Franzoni (33:03): Yeah. Absolutely. It’s just me on my own here with my plants. So we’re okay. So, and the plant’s not real, so, you know, I’m only living creature in the room. So Robert, I mean that, personally, actually, if I were you, I would have everybody leave their phones outside. They’re not allowed to take them in, but anyway, so you are very, more trusting than I am, which is interesting. Is there any final thought you’d like to leave our listeners with? I mean, you’ve made it very clear how you are different from other speakers, who might speak on similar messages, and you are, you know, we are very clear on what you you’ve achieved and what you’ve done and why you’re qualified to talk about your topic. Is there anything else that you would like to leave us with?

Robert Mazur (33:48): Yes. And it’s one of the things that drives me not to retire. And that is, I think it is so important for professionals who are involved on the private side, and on the public side of this war against corruption and money laundering and drug trafficking to know that they individually can and do make a difference. Their voice, their energy, their hunger for knowledge, and to do the right thing can have an impact on many, many lives. And it’s as important as the work that are done, that is being done by law enforcement officers in the field. The private sector has a tremendous responsibility in an effort to try to identify and mitigate risk and protect the reputation of their institution. Not all people who are involved in banking are bad guys. I’m telling you, it’s a very small percentage, but it’s an active small percentage of people and what the compliance departments do and what even salespeople do, who are involved can absolutely make a difference in our life. So that’s, to me, that’s an extremely important message for people that I get the opportunity to speak with to understand. And I want them to know also that I am a resource, I will field any emails to people who attend my presentations. I’m constantly sending them copies of pleadings and cases because, I collect a huge library of those things. I just want to be a part of helping them to make a difference.

Maria Franzoni (35:44): I can see why you haven’t retired. We’ve come full circle from my original question at the beginning. Robert, it’s been a pleasure to host you. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself and it hasn’t been too painful for you.

Robert Mazur (35:54): Not at all. And I did enjoy it very much.

Maria Franzoni (35:57): Wonderful. Thank you everybody for listening to The Speaker Show. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a rating on Apple Podcasts and you can keep up with future episodes on the Speakers Associates website, which is (speakersassociates.com) or your favorite podcast app. Please make sure you get a copy of The Betrayal by Robert Mazur. And if you would like to book Robert to help your organization to come and speak, please contact Speakers Associates in time to book in for your next event so that you will not be disappointed. And I will see you all next week. Thank you very much, indeed. Byebye for now.

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Maria Franzoni is an established and recognised speaking industry expert and one of the most experienced speaker bookers in Europe.

As well as working with speakers, Maria also hosts live shows and podcasts. She currently hosts The Speaker Show podcast for Speakers Associates.

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