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Police and FBI Press Conference on Elizabeth Smart Case

Aired July 11, 2002 - 13:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: In Salt Lake City, a handyman who worked for the family of a missing teen is being hauled into court today; 48-year-old Richard Ricci has denied that he kidnapped Elizabeth Smart, but law enforcement officials are keeping the heat on him.

CNN's Mark Potter is in Salt Lake City with the latest from there. Hi, Mark.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kyra. Well, in a few moments, we are expecting a news conference here. You can see the crowd gathered behind me. We are expecting to hear from the police chief of Salt Lake City, the head of the FBI office and the district attorney. And they are expected to talk about burglary and theft charges that are going to be leveled against 48-year-old Richard Ricci. He was the handyman for the Smart family. He is also the focus of the law enforcement investigation into the abduction of 14- year-old Elizabeth Smart.

Now, according to sources, he will be charged with stealing two bracelets and a perfume bottle from the Smart home -- this was well before the abduction -- some jewelry from a neighbor's home, and tools, a pressure sprayer and a welder from a Home Depot. We have been told that in connection with the neighbor home, that that burglary occurred at night, while the family was in the house.

Now, these charges, to be clear, do not relate to the abduction itself. No charges have been filed in connection with that. And as we all know, Ricci -- Richard Ricci has denied any involvement at all in the abduction. In fact, through his attorney, he has extended his condolences to the Smart family.

Now, yesterday there was another interesting development. It involved a letter. The father, Ed Smart, the father of the missing girl, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart, said that the family received an anonymous letter from someone, probably a woman, claiming to be in contact with the abductor. And according to the letter writer, that abductor wanted to negotiate the release of the young girl.

Now, even though Ed Smart said that he questions the credibility of the letter, he has been reaching out publicly just in case the letter is real to the purported abductor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ED SMART, FATHER OF ELIZABETH SMART: I'm just -- I am so anxious to have this over with and to hear from whoever this captor is. And I would love to hear from somebody that is credible that can tell me about Elizabeth that -- you know, something that I can truly, truly believe, and that I know Elizabeth is out there.


POTTER: Now, the letter is missing several things that would normally be expected in a serious letter, the police tell us. Ed Smart actually says that the letter has no details on how this negotiation is to be worked out. There is no ransom demand. There is no credible information on Elizabeth or any proof, any credible proof that she might be alive. The police have taken a look at the letter. They, too, have very serious doubts about the validity of the letter. They point out that there have been some hoaxes already in this case. There were three phony ransom demands dealt with earlier in the investigation.

And so, as sad and cruel, Kyra, as it might be, it appears to authorities and even to the Smart home that -- the Smart family that this may indeed be another one of those hoaxes, another false lead in this very difficult and emotional case here in Salt Lake City -- back to you.

PHILLIPS: Mark, two questions for you, first on the letter. When police look at all of the facts of this case, and then they see this letter, do they see any type of connection at all that the person that wrote this letter may actually know something or -- what that letter said, does it parallel at all with the facts that they have on the case?

POTTER: No, the letter does not, and that's a good point. They look at the letter itself, and they also look at it in connection with what they know. And they are focusing elsewhere in this case, and this letter just does not seem to fit in to them. And for that and other reasons, they have pretty much dismissed it as anything credible.

I want to tell you also that we have just gotten a warning. We are about a minute-and-a-half away from that news conference.

PHILLIPS: All right. So let's talk a little bit. Let's see if we can wait it out and then take it live, Mark. The hospital surveillance tape, whatever happened to that, and the witnesses -- remember we talked about those guys a while back?

POTTER: Right. That's a topic that has been talked about for several weeks here, and I think now authorities are able to -- are willing to put that to rest. They say that they got back this week, on Tuesday, an enhanced version of that videotape that was taken from a hospital surveillance camera of a parking lot, where some cars were seen coming together on the night of the abduction.

The enhancement came back Tuesday. It was handed over to the police Wednesday, and both police and federal sources tell us that the enhancement just did not help. There is nothing there that they can see. They see a couple of sedans, perhaps, mostly headlights and taillights, nothing else, no people. And they do not think that that videotape helps them, and they really don't think that the cars in the parking lot were involved in the kidnapping anyway.

So that may be something that goes the way of other interesting, but now apparently unproductive leads in this case.

PHILLIPS: All right. Another player with whom we talked about, Bret Michael Edmunds. Have you heard what's happened to him lately? I mean, the last time he was checked into the hospital on an apparent drug overdose. Do you know his condition, or what he's doing now, the situation with him?

POTTER: Yes, we do. He has been released from the hospital and from custody in West Virginia. He is now in the clutches of the U.S. Marshals coming here.

I understand the press conference is under way. Let's go to that now, Kyra.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... bring Elizabeth back, and also the faith and prayers of the nation in helping find Elizabeth.

We'd also like to put -- just let the perpetrator or person, who may be holding Elizabeth at this time, know that we'd like -- if they would, send us some credible information about Elizabeth, and also that we'd like to communicate with them in any way, shape or form in the anonymous tip line of 1-866-find-liz, is another way that you get a hold of us, or through fax or through mail.

Is there any questions? OK.

CHIEF RICK DINSE, SALT LAKE CITY POLICE: Good morning. With me on my right is Chip Burris (ph) of the FBI, special agent in charge of the FBI, and Mr. David Yocum, who is the district attorney for Salt Lake City. And Mr. Yocum will, after I speak, will take a few moments, make a few comments. And after that, we'll be open for some questions.

Today, the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, in conjunction with the Salt Lake City Police Department, has filed one count of burglary and two counts of misdemeanor theft against Richard Albert Ricci. The burglary and one theft charge stems from a crime that occurred in April of 2001 in the federal -- in a Federal Heights residence. The second theft charge stems from a theft occurring at the residence of Ed and Lois Smart during June of 2001.

It is important to note that while Mr. Ricci remains a central figure in this abduction investigation of Elizabeth Smart, he has not been charged and with that crime -- I'm sorry -- he has not been charged with that crime and is not the sole focus of the investigation.

Now, with that and a little more specificity, I will turn it over to the district attorney -- Dave.

DAVID YOCUM, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Thank you, Chief. Our office, as the chief has indicated, has filed two separate informations charging Mr. Robert Albert Ricci in one information of the crime of burglary, a second-degree felony, and theft, a Class A misdemeanor, from that same residence in the Federal Heights area.

We have also charged in that information, charged him with being a habitual criminal, which would enhance these offenses to a first- degree felony or a five-to-life sentence. So the penalties possible for this information would be up to life imprisonment.

The second information that was filed, as he indicated, charges a theft of the property from the Smart residence, that also we have added a habitual criminal enhancer, which would also enhance that offense to a life sentence.

Mr. Ricci, since he is in the Utah State Prison, will not be admitted to bail. There will be no bail on the offense. He most likely will be brought before the 3rd District Court either tomorrow or Monday, depending on transportation from the prison, to appear at the 3rd District Court to answer to these charges. The first appearance, they will set a preliminary hearing for these offenses, appoint him counsel, and proceed from there.

That's all I have.

QUESTION: Why did it take you so long to file these charges?

YOCUM: I don't think there was any delay on our part. When the police brought them in last week, we started working on them and finished them yesterday. And so we haven't delayed from the time that they were brought to us. Is the question, from the time of the offense or to the time of...

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I know the police department apparently...

YOCUM: Right.

QUESTION: ... was working on these charges for some time. Is this an indication that the possible plea bargains with Mr. Ricci have failed or have not come through?

YOCUM: There have been no plea bargains with Mr. Ricci.

QUESTION: Any workings on trying to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) other information potentially with the abduction that may not have gone through, and that's why these charges are now being filed? Because he does lose rights -- or he gains (ph) rights -- pardon me -- with the filing, right? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as free to interview him as you would be before filing these charges.

YOCUM: He has had an attorney all along, so any interviews that were made have been made with his counsel present. QUESTION: Would you normally file the habitual criminal offense against him in instances like this? Or is it an attempt to pressure Mr. Ricci to cooperate on other crimes?

YOCUM: With Mr. Ricci's record, I would think that it would be fairly normal to add the habitual criminal provision. He has a long, extensive record. He has been at the Utah State Prison before. He fits the category of being a habitual criminal.

QUESTION: Are these charges the charges that Mr. Ricci really gave up to you all? It's not like you all discovered all of this. He basically freely came out and told you of these crimes.

YOCUM: The probable cause statement does indicate that he has made an admission with regard to these offenses.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because he was -- did he not make these admissions, because he was given some kind of guarantee that if he cooperated with police in the Smart investigation that there might be some kind of leeway, some kind of agreement?


QUESTION: What are the exact dates that the theft and burglary in June 2001 and April, 2000?

YOCUM: April, 2001, April 1, 2001 is the date on the first information. The second information alleges the occurrence was...

QUESTION: And what items were taken?


YOCUM: ... on June 6, 2001.

QUESTION: And what items were taken?

YOCUM: I don't think we detail that in the information. There was some jewelry taken, some cash taken, some other items of personal property.

QUESTION: And when did Mr. Smart file the original complaint or the complaint on these theft and burglary charges?

YOCUM: Well, I don't think he ever filed a complaint. I don't think he realized he had been stolen from.

QUESTION: How about the other family? Did they ever file a complaint?

YOCUM: There was. There was the intruder in the residence, it was noticed, reported, and it was investigated at the time.


YOCUM: OK. DINSE: There was a theft complaint filed in the Smart incident several days after I believe it occurred.

QUESTION: Was Mr. Ricci interviewed?

DINSE: I don't remember on that one. I'd have to look at it to see if he was actually interviewed. But he was -- we were aware of him at the time that that was filed that he was one of the people involved as a possible suspect in that case.

QUESTION: Did any of the items taken from the Smart home belong to Elizabeth?

DINSE: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Chief, where does the investigation stand now? I mean, we haven't heard from you guys in two-and-a-half weeks. It has been some time. There has been -- since there has been some information that has come out (UNINTELLIGIBLE) now, you guys have come and spoke to us (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Where do you guys stand? Are you any closer than day one?

DINSE: Well, first of all, it's been great not having to be here every day. And it has allowed us an opportunity and a freedom to do our investigation without having to daily report. But we have made some progress. It is slow. You know, the information flow at the very beginning of this investigation was huge. We were getting a tremendous amount. We had a lot to do.

Some of the information coming into the investigation now has come down and has slowed down, and so we are following up on those things. It is not coming as fast, nor is the progress of the investigation being as rapid as we would like it, but we are trying to be as thorough as we possibly can, so that's part of it.

QUESTION: With yesterday's letter, the communication broke down?

DINSE: Yes, it was just a communications breakdown, nothing more.

QUESTION: With these charges, are you now calling Ricci a suspect?

DINSE: No. We are kind of into semantics here. I could use the term and say, everybody involved that we have looked at in this case is a suspect until we solve it. But the reality is, he is a person we are looking at, among other people, not -- he is not the sole person of our investigation, but he is certainly one of the focus points of our investigation.

QUESTION: Does these charges mean you are narrowing in on him?

DINSE: Well, these charges mean that certainly he has committed a crime. We have identified him as being a career criminal to begin with, and he has some crimes that we have been able to file against him. So we are just going forward with that filing. QUESTION: What, if anything, do these charges have to do with Elizabeth's disappearance?

DINSE: Well, you know, it shows a pattern of his conduct. He is certainly capable of committing thefts. We have somebody who broke into the Smart residence in the middle of the night. You will see from looking at it, one of the burglaries is a similar type of burglary. So I mean, it certainly raises the level of our concern and interest in him.

QUESTION: Well, what do you say to the thought that if you really had anything linking him to the kidnapping, that there would be charges by now?

DINSE: Absolutely. If I could have charged him, I would charge him. Now, that doesn't mean I don't have anything linking him to this case. I am not saying that, but if I could charge him and I could prove it today, we would file on it today.

QUESTION: Does this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) give you now probable cause? Because he has broken into the Ricci (sic) home, he has admitted to it. Does this not give you probable cause to take before a grand jury?

DINSE: Well, we are -- well, I am not free to discuss what we do or don't do with a grand jury. We certainly have cause to do a lot of things with Mr. Ricci and have been doing that and have been working diligently with all of our legal framework to investigate this case and to find out who did it, and hopefully we will be able to do that.

QUESTION: If I might follow-up, Chief. Angela Ricci has always maintained that she was at home in bed with her husband the night of Elizabeth's disappearance. Is there anybody or any person that might suggest to you that was not the case that has come forward and has talked to investigators that would say Mrs. Ricci is not telling the truth, and that her husband was -- that there were maybe hours that were -- of that night, that she cannot account for?

DINSE: A simple answer to that is I can't discuss what we know about Angela and the alibi. Yes.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) any frustration building after five weeks? I mean, you are looking for that one key piece of evidence that would potentially tie this all together?

DINSE: We'd like all of the key evidence to come forward to tie all of this together. And we are looking at a lot of things, and I am not at any stage, at least at this point, ready to say that we have reached a wall. We are continuing. We are continuing to get information. We are continuing to follow up, and the direction of this investigation, I think, is healthy.

QUESTION: Can I follow-up with one question? Are you looking at this as being one person perpetrating the crime or of a group? Or is it still an open item? DINSE: It's still an open item. It could be multiple people. We have not excluded that as a possibility. Somebody over here in the back.

QUESTION: Chief, what about (UNINTELLIGIBLE) reports that have surfaced about the possible charges in connection with a bank robbery. Can you comment on that at all (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

DINSE: You know, maybe the FBI -- I am not at liberty to talk about that.

JAMES BURRIS, FBI: No. We can just tell you that there was a bank robbery, and that we are following the evidence. And that's what we will continue to do is follow the evidence. We just don't want to talk about it much more than that.

QUESTION: Does his name come up in the evidence?

BURRIS: Well, that would be answering the question that I don't want to answer. So there was a bank robbery, and we are working on it. But we haven't eliminated anybody as a suspect at this point.

QUESTION: Could this be a bank robbery that John Remington (ph) was involved with?

BURRIS: Nice try.

QUESTION: Hey, Chief, in the Ricci burglary, the one he started, that's after April, 2001.

DINSE: Yes, Kevin (ph), yes.

QUESTION: What was he wearing when he broke into the house?

DINSE: You know, I don't have that, and maybe -- I don't know if it's in the affidavit that you have there. I am not at liberty to discuss it at this point. Mainly, I just don't have the information.

QUESTION: Is it fair for us to assume that the police focus on Ricci involved with Elizabeth's disappearance is the theory is he was burglarizing the Smart home and was seen by the girl?

DINSE: Well, I think that can be one theory. There are certainly other theories that we are considering, but that is one theory.

QUESTION: That is with Mr. Ricci?

DINSE: With Mr. Ricci and with anyone else.

QUESTION: But the charges are indicative -- Chief, the charges are indicative that he is capable of going into a home, and you know, when people are around in the middle of the night, perhaps snatching a girl out of the house. Is that a fair statement?

DINSE: It's a fair statement to say that's a very interesting concept here, and a part of the investigation that is certainly one that has raised our interest on Mr. Ricci, a considerable...

QUESTION: Would the -- I'm sorry.

DINSE: I was just going to say considerably -- raised our interest considerably in that.

QUESTION: Would the attire that the suspect was reported to wear at the time, is that -- does that sound like a cat burglar to you?

DINSE: Are you talking about...

QUESTION: A tan hat, a tan coat, light-colored pants.

DINSE: You know, in my 37 years in law enforcement, I haven't found what the exact robe of a cat burglar is. So when I do, I will let you know, Kevin (ph).

QUESTION: Is this surprising attire for a cat burglar to wear?

DINSE: I wouldn't say it's surprising attire. I don't think there is a consistent attire for a cat burglar.

QUESTION: Chief, getting back to Angela Ricci, she is Ricci's alibi. Does she have credibility issues?

DINSE: Well, I think that's part of what we are looking at is her credibility. And at this point, we have not strengthened her credibility in our minds at any rate.


DINSE: I am not free to discuss that -- nice try.


DINSE: You know, we have the possibility that there were items that were missing during that timeframe, but I am not going to discuss what they were.


DINSE: Potentially, we don't know at this point, but potentially there were some items.


DINSE: You may.

QUESTION: Let me ask you what your thoughts are thus far, five weeks into (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

BURRIS: Well, first of all, the FBI and the Salt Lake City Police Department, I think, are working very well together. I came here three weeks ago and fresh out of FBI headquarters with full briefings on all of the technical capabilities of the FBI. And when I first sat down to discuss this case with Chief Dinse and our investigators, there was not one of those techniques that wasn't being employed or hadn't been considered.

I am not frustrated in the least. These things take time. We don't have the liberty to speculate in a court of law. We are going to follow the evidence, and we will continue as we are now to hold hands with the Sale Lake Police Department, and our agents will hold their hands. They'll hold our hands. And together, I think we make one heck of a team, and that will be the way we will continue.

But what we are going to do is we are going to follow the evidence, and we are going to do this according to procedure. Mr. Ricci does have rights. We are going to continue to follow those, just like anybody else. But we will follow the evidence, and we've got to be free to explore any and all options. You are going to report a lot of stuff, and that's fine. But please give us the authority and the ability to explore all of the options.


BURRIS: Of course. That's a theory that we have never dismissed, and that's why in any of these investigations, the FBI always goes into it with their eyes open, that this may be a violation where she was taken in an interstate capacity. Our hope is, is that we recover her back in a live capacity in Idaho or Montana or any place else, so we'd have a really nice case. But we don't know at this point, and which is exactly why we work with the Salt Lake City Police Department, hand in hand, and we follow the evidence.

QUESTION: But if the evidence has brought you to a dead end, specifically the forensic evidence, what do you do then?

BURRIS: Well, do you know that she wasn't taken interstate at that point? We don't know. We will still continue the investigation. Forensic evidence is not something that you look for in any case, and it can appear in any possible form. So what we do is we explore all of the theories that are available to us, and we try to address each one and apply the science of forensic evidence to whatever evidence we happen to come up with.

QUESTION: But do you have any forensic evidence linking Mr. Ricci to the...


BURRIS: We are not going to discuss what forensic evidence we have or what we don't. What I will tell you is that not only has the state police lab been consulted with this, so has the FBI lab, and we are taking the strengths of each of the labs and applying them to this case.

QUESTION: Speaking about the FBI lab, can you address the quality of the surveillance video at the hospital (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

BURRIS: Well, what I can tell you is, is that the video quality obviously was not what we would like it to be. But can we work with it? Well, we are still looking at it to see if we can't come up with some bit of evidence from the videotape. It's not a dead end, but it's not the quality that we would like to have seen.

QUESTION: Can you identify the make, the model?

BURRIS: Well, I won't in that -- I won't go that far. But what I will say is that we have still got the videotape, and we'll still continue to work on it.

QUESTION: Chief Dinse, what are you hoping to accomplish by the misdemeanor felony charges to let the public know that you got a real criminal off the streets? Or is this just (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

DINSE: Marcus (ph), this is, you know, a habitual criminal. I mean, if we found him and were able to prove crimes against him under any circumstances, we'd be filing against him eventually. There is no question that there is a connectivity here to the Smart case, Mr. Ricci and these charges. But at this point, it does not mean that he is, in fact, the abductor in this case. And we are continuing to look at all of the aspects of this case, including the charges that he's facing now as being possibly connected in some fashion to the investigation.

QUESTION: What's plan B then? You said that you were looking at other information.

DINSE: Plan B is to solve it.

QUESTION: Aside from that.

DINSE: Plan A is to solve it. Plan A is to solve it, Plan B is to solve it.

QUESTION: But are there other suspects besides (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

DINSE: Well, there are other people that we are looking at. Now, whether you are going to call them "suspects," we are just calling people that we are trying to identify, clarify and make sure what their connection may or may not be to this case. You know, that's what we are doing. And we certainly have a group of people surrounding Mr. Ricci that we're looking at, and we have other people that are unassociated with Mr. Ricci. And until we have every person identified that comes to our attention, that is somehow either connected in some relative way to this, and we understand who they are, understand their connection or their lack of involvement in it, we are going to keep going.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Mr. Ricci's was on parole for shooting a cop, and there is nothing more that a cop would like to see someone who has shot a cop back behind bars. I mean, isn't that what this really gets down to?

DINSE: No, it doesn't get down to that. It has nothing to do with that. It has to do with a career criminal, who has committed a burglary that we can prove. He has committed two -- or a theft and another theft that we can prove, and he is going to jail for that. And that's all it's about. And, in fact, it's all about Elizabeth Smart. And if in some fashion or another, as a result of our efforts in this investigation we are able to solve the Smart case, then that's what it's about.

QUESTION: Chief, your profiles, have you guys narrowed this down to whether it might be a sexual crime or a crime where she may have bumped into an intruder? The reason why I ask that is because obviously you are taking a different route to try to find this intruder.

DINSE: You know, I have said before, we are looking at the major motives here. And without excluding any motive, we look at the major ones, and we -- you know, primarily we are looking at somebody who had access to the house, knew the house or saw -- had availability to the house to know how to get in and get around in there.

We are also looking at the possibility it could have been a burglary that went awry. Certainly this fits under the charge that we have with Mr. Ricci. We are also looking at the possibility that it was a predator who had staked her out, watched her over a period of time and went in and took her for sexual purposes. There also remains, I think at this point, somewhat remote, but not necessarily so remote as to be impossible, a predator who watched her, just by happenstance came across her over a period of a day, followed her and was courageous enough, I guess, to go in and take her. Those are all possibilities, and we are not excluding anything yet.

QUESTION: Chief, has your office interviewed all subcontractors who had been in the house prior to the abduction?

DINSE: We have interviewed as many of the contractors as we can, and to my knowledge, we have. I know there is a question regarding one of the contractors who has shown up in one of the newspapers. However, we have contacted that individual. The first time we become aware of that individual was on the 29th of June, and we have talked to him I believe on the 3rd or 2nd of June.

QUESTION: So Mr. Smart did not give you that individual's name when you...

DINSE: We had a name, but we didn't have a last name on that individual, and we did have -- we had to go through a contractor in order to determine what that other name was.

QUESTION: Would you actually call Floyd Dennis (ph) a legitimate witness?

DINSE: He's a witness, because we needed to interview him. And we interview all witnesses to this case that have come to our attention.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the letter that the Smart family received. Are you guy still looking into that?

DINSE: You know, we have looked at the letter. We have the letter. We know the contents of it. Right now, the contents are suspicious. There is no identity to the letter, even though it talks loosely about some negotiations over Miss Smart's return. There are other aspects of the letter that led to us believe that it is not a very credible letter. We are going to take about -- we'll take about three more questions, and then we will go. Yes.

QUESTION: Can you put it in any context to other letters you have seen? Is it more or less credible or more or less suspicious?

DINSE: You know, it probably -- not as uncredible as some, which are totally ridiculous. On the other hand, what is in the letter leads us to believe it isn't credible.

QUESTION: Have you tested it for forensic evidence?

DINSE: No. We have not tested it for forensic, yes.

QUESTION: Have you interviewed anybody -- any other young women who might have had a complaint or some sort of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for Mr. Ricci about being touched (ph) on lightly or anything like that at all? Have you had any other prior sexual interviews with him, or any other sexual complaints of anybody?

DINSE: You know, I don't believe his record reflects any priors.


DINSE: You know, I'd have to defer on that. I couldn't tell you whether she has or not. It's clear that -- whether I tell you or not is another matter.

PHILLIPS: Salt Lake City Police chief and Salt Lake City's district attorney stepping up to the microphone there in front of reporters, announcing that Richard Ricci, the handyman who worked on the Smart family home, has been charged, one count burglary, two counts of misdemeanor theft, in addition to a habitual criminal provision. He has not been charged with kidnapping, and is not the sole focus of this investigation. They are still very interested in Ricci, but he is not being charged with kidnapping.

Because of this habitual criminal provision, the D.A. was saying that he could spend up to life in prison now, and will be receiving no bail.




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