American Hindu scientist Dr.Divyendu Sinha Murder case comes to an end

Update 55 Dr. Divyendu Sinha Murder Case: Steven Contreras sentenced to 12.5 years Dr.Divyendu Sinha Murder case comes to an end

April 12, 2014

Dear Supporters and Well-wishers of Sinha family:

Namaste. Finally, the day for which we all had waited so long came on April 3, 2014. The last remaining convict in the brutal attack on Divyendu Sinha family which led to his death has been sentenced.

Steven Contreras lies on the stand, pays heavy price- Four years sentence turns into 12 ½ years

{Alkabahen Sinha’s thoughts at the end of this email}

You will recall that Steven Contreras (SC), the driver of the car that brought the attackers to the street where Sinhas live and were walking at night had agreed to a plea bargain back in November 2012, which limited his maximum jail time to four years as against a possible 30 years if convicted.  The plea deal was contingent upon him testifying truthfully at the trial of two of his co-defendants, Christian Tinli and Cash Johnson.

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However,  Mr. Contreras decided to lie wantonly at that trial. He gave answers to suit the need of the attorneys for the two defendants and contradicted himself several times. Those of us who had followed the case closely were aghast at such a callous attitude of someone who had been instrumental in taking life of Dr. Sinha.  It was clear that his attempt was to save his friends from a long prison term. His testimony damaged the case of the prosecution considerably and those two defendants got off scott-free as the judge could give them only six months jail sentence based on the crime for which the jury convicted them. That judgment was the lowest point for Mrs. Alka Sinha and her supporters in this three years and nine months saga.

The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s office, represented by First Assistant Prosecutor, Christopher Kuberiet and assistant prosecutor Michael Allongo decided to move a motion  to the judge to vacate the plea as Mr. Contreras had failed to honor the commitment of truthful testimony.

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Jennifer Wang         

Victim Assistance Representative

SC hired a new lawyer, Carlos Diazi Cobos who first made a motion to withdraw the guilty plea and cited double jeopardy as the cause. As we reported to you earlier in Update # 52, that motion was soundly rejected by the judge Bradley Ferencz, stressing the fact that the terms of plea agreement were not dictated by the prosecution but were structured at the request of the defendant’s attorney to avoid stigma of “aggravated manslaughter” and to limit his sentence to less than five years.

Judge had set April 3 for hearing any other motion and then based on acceptance or rejection of the motion, sentencing SC.

The hearing started at 2:00 PM. Defense attorney Carolos Diaz Cobo contended that his client was not aware of penal consequences of his plea (i.e., if he did not fulfill his side of the bargain.) Here, the attorney made a stupefying argument, viz., SC heard the judge’s comments, and felt that if the judge felt that he was guilty, then he did not have a chance with the jury.

Judge’s comments were: ”At a minimum your conduct was reckless, enough to prove guilty. I won’t be surprised if the jury came back with a different verdict than last time.” My client felt that he won’t get a fair trial.

Now I am going to address whether my client was aware of the penal consequences of the plea. SC pled to second degree charges for which the sentence range is from five to 10 years. His plea called for no more than four years on third degree. However, the plea form does not say what would be the maximum sentence, if he were to violate the agreement. No one, not his former lawyer, nor the prosecutor or the court told him what the maximum sentence was.  There was ambiguity about the maximum sentence he would face.

My client is protesting his innocence. He did testify that there was no conspiracy with the codefendants for second degree assault. Jury acquitted him of that charge.

Assistant Public Prosecutor Jason Boudwin argued that there was no coercion. The plea form stated that he faced up to 10 years. Judge had asked him to consult his family. He waited from June to November before deciding to plead guilty, so there was no coercion. Not every constitutional right need to be waived explicitly in a plea bargain. NJ case law indicates that one cannot willfully break agreement and then come back and ask for withdrawing a guilty plea. Jury did not find that SC did not commit crime; it simply found reasonable doubt. This defendant effectively sabotaged the trial of his two co-defendants.

Judge Bradley Ferencz: This court went over each exposure painstakingly with SC. SC maintains that he first came to know about penal consequences only in October 2013 (after the trial of Christian Tinli and Cash Johnson, in which SC had lied.) But the State has clarified that SC pleaded voluntarily without any coercion after three meetings where his parents were present. All possible scenarios were discussed before the first trial. I (judge) wrote on the plea form “If you are not candid or decide not to testify your plea stands but benefit of bargain does not. Do you understand?” And SC answered “Yes Sir.”

SC was made aware of maximum sentence in June 20, 2012 status meeting. I said candidly that his exposure was 30 years but he wouldn’t get that much.

In the afternoon session of trial on 8/13/13, the prosecutor asked him if he knew his exposure for lying would be 30 years in NJ state prison and SC answered “Yes Sir.”  When the defense lawyer Joseph Mazaraani asked him about prosecution having told SC that he could face 30 years in a state prison, SC’s answer was ‘yes.’ He also answered ‘yes’ when Mr. Mazaraani asked him if he had accepted that he had conspired with other defendants to attack Sinha family.

The issue of this court having made a public comment that SC could be found guilty strains credibility. This court advises all defendants and publically of what they could face, if convicted. It is the right of the defendant to know that. There was nothing coercive about that statement of 6/20/12. Court wanted to make sure that he understood the consequences. This court set on the trial, knew every detail; so it was appropriate to bring it to the defendant’s attention. Court also told him that what he decided was up to him as it was his life. Court asked him to discuss this with his lawyer and family and then decide what was in his best interest. I tis evident that the defendant, his family and his lawyer were involved in making a decision (to plead guilty) voluntarily and intelligently. Burden to prove otherwise is on the defendant.

He changed his testimony during Christian Tinli and Cash Johnson’s trial.

He was informed of consequences. His argument that he did not know that he could face 30 years in a state prison is not believable.

Plea bargain should be given high degree of finality. He broke his obligation.

I find Mr. Jason Boudwin (State)’s argument persuasive that SC’s lying created unfair prejudice to State’s case. There is no way the State can go back (to retry Christian Tinli and Cash


This court can only speculate what other convicted defendants would have to say about it.

The defense fails on all four counts (Claim of innocence, nature of plea, existence of plea, no prejudice to state.)

It would be prejudicial to the victims to go for another trial.

So, the defense motion to withdraw the guilty plea (and go for a new trial) is not granted.

The judge called for a recess at this point before moving on to sentencing phase.

After the recess at 3:30 PM, the judge mentioned that he had received letters supporting Steven Contreras affirming his good character. To that, Mr. Kuberiet mentioned that he got a copy of the letters only around 12:10 PM (less than two hours before the start of the court session.)

Carolos Diaz Cobo, the defense attorney asked to stay the sentencing, stating that his client wanted to appeal on the grounds of double jeopardy. The judge denied the request saying that he saw no substantial issue for this appeal (request.)

Then Mr. Cobo made the standard, formal request that the time spent by Steven Contreras in jail,

i.e., from 10/18/2013 to 04/03/2014 should be credited towards total sentence imposed.

He also mentioned that SC was earning $1000/week at Grease Monkey and was deprived of that income during this period (10/13 to 04/14.)

He said that his heart went out to the victim family and SC’s family. His client didn’t stop with Martino incident; actually, it lit a fuse. My client stopped (at Nathan and Fell Dr.) He didn’t want anything to do with it. He just gave them a ride.

My client is now facing five years each for aggravated assault in 3rd degree on Martino, Ashish and Ravi. He is also facing 10 years for conspiracy to commit aggravated assault on Divyendu Sinha, time for hindering investigation, conspiracy to commit riot and committing riot. My client is looking at more jail time than people who actually committed physical assault. My client was only 17 at that time. He had graduated from high school and was working several jobs. He was looking to go to college. It won’t happen now for some time. I have submitted dozens of letters from family members and friends, attesting that he is a person of good character.  Even people of good character get caught up in bad things. My client is unlikely to commit another crime (mitigating factor #9.) Prescription pad charges (he was in possession of stolen prescription pads from a dentist) should go to the juvenile court. It should not be applied here (in deciding his character.) Mitigating factor #8 à Conduct in this case is unlikely to reoccur. He has no probation with the second degree charge (which he would have otherwise in a third degree charge.) He was influenced by other persons. His parents have always been here to support him. Today there were 30 people here to support him. My client should be sentenced to a minimum allowed by the law. 

Then Mr. Kuberiet, First Assistant Prosecutor for the State spoke.  What is the minimum sentence? Defense attorney says it was a tragedy. It was no tragedy, it was an assault, and ambush of the Sinha family (in particular) and Old Bridge community in general. It is an understatement to call this a tragedy. SC was not just a class clown making everyone laugh. Presentencing report (PSR) says that SC had lengthy disciplinary record in high school. He was taking honors classes but he claims he does not understand what the maximum sentence was (for breaking the plea.)! He said his heart goes out (to the victims) but this guy was on the witness stand for 3 ½ days (during Christian Tinli and Cash Johnson trial) and he lied. It is like “I helped Christian Tinli and Cash Johnson and now I don’t know maximum sentence.” SC lied to both defense lawyers about who was first to return to the car after the assault (to one he said it was Christian Tinli and to other he said, it was Cash Johnson.) I had explained to SC and his parents that there was no minimum and this was an open plea. He lied about the car battery He conspired with other defendants- he drove them to the school, drove them to the liquor store, drove them back to school, drove them to Wendy’s, drove them to Stafford Drive, drove them to Pressmill Dr.

and then drove them to Fella Dr. He has stated that he got angry when he was cut off by Martino’s car.

Was there a single character witness at his first trial? No. Because they were (his friends) all on phone (with him after the incident) and would have been asked questions (by the prosecution.) None of them testified.

Writer of the first letter as character witness wants to remain anonymous! One of the youngest guys (Julian Daley) told him to stop at Nathan and Fella and he did. So (unlike the defense argument), he was not influenced by a mature (and older) person. He parked the car diagonally at Pressmill Rd. to beat the s**t out of Martino. It was road rage. From Stratford to Nathan is not far away. But for Christopher Conway’s statement, SC did not come forward (with information.) He drove them home. Wendy’s video shows they were not drunk, but SC said they were drunk. He goes home and does not say anything until cops knock on his door. He does not tell the truth in his first disposition. –Good character?

He did not call 911 when he heard a woman’s screams. – Good character? He said “pop off” meant verbal confrontation; he said that to minimize his involvement in the attack on Martino’s car- an attack that caused $2200 damage to the car.

According to SC, he parked the car on Nathan, cut out his lights and waited for his codefendants. When he was asked if thought of pulling away, he said, ‘No, I was there for my friends (coconspirators.)’

Concept of vicarious liability is that all of them were equally responsible for the assault on Sinha family (and death of Dr. Divyendu Sinha.)

There is no mitigating factor here. It was a conspiracy.

Unlikely to commit a crime again?  He has history of disciplinary actions, history of possession of stolen prescription pads, history of driving co-conspirators to the crime.

But for Steven Contreras, this case would not have occurred. He acknowledged and agreed with that at the trial.

Divyendu Sinha was not lost like a piece of property. He was murdered by these guys.

SC says that after he heard the screams, “it all came alive.” So much that I did not make a 911 call, did not call any of my character witnesses to come help the Sinhas, took home all the coconspirators!

He committed perjury at the trial. There cannot be an overriding case for deterrence than this.

When you hinder police investigation, prosecution of another individual, destroy/temper with evidence, you are acting against the State. 

SC’s lawyer states that SC will not be able to pursue his college studies but I want to tell, Mr.

Sinha’s sons do not have a father to talk when they have problem with studies or need guidance.

For conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, the character witness blames it on Julian Daley. So no personal accountability. The letter says, “Mistakes were made on SC’s behalf; do not latch on Julian’s crime on SC’s shoulders.”  What about the fact that some of the defendants walked away because of Steven Contreras (lying)?  This is like killing your parents and then crying orphan!

This guy lied and but for him, this case would not have happened. 

I ask the court that he be sentenced for

Conspiracy to assault Anthony Martino     1 year

Assaulting Martino                                     4 years (both concurrent)

2nd degree conspiracy to commit assault on Divyendu Sinha    8 years (consecutive)

Assault on Ashish and Ravi Sinha            4 years each (concurrent) 4th degree hindering the law enforcement officers   18 months (consecutive) Total 17 ½ years.

At this point the judge asked, if Mr. Kuberiet had any one from the victim’s side who wanted to speak. Alkabahen Sinha declined the offer. Then, the judge asked same question to the Defense attorney and there was no one to speak from SC’s side.. Now the Judge asked Steven Contreras if he wanted to make a statement before sentencing.

Steven Contreras: On June 25, 2010, I committed gravest mistake of my life. I followed bad company and listened to others to do bad thing. There is not a  day that goes by that I don’t think about it. My heart goes out to the family (Sinhas.) I hope one day to become a productive member of the society. I apologize to the court and the prosecutor. am sorry for causing pain to my family and friends.

Sentencing: At 4:23 PM judge started the final part of sentencing process. It is a tragedy for both families. I have read letters from character witnesses and family. I have viewed Mitigating Factors (MF) and Aggravating Factors (AF.)

MF #13: I cannot accept that they were all young at that time; I have watched the (testimony and video disposition.) You were the only sober one that night. You were in control. You made the decisions.

MF #10: This can result in probation but it is out of this court’s hands per State law (second degree conviction.)

MF #7: No prior arrest. This is a significant factor.

MF #8: Conduct won’t reoccur: I cannot agree to that.

This gives me great concern. Character and attitude to commit the offense (again.) After entering the plea bargain, you were not candid. At the trial (of Christian Tinli and Cash Johnson) you testified differently, knowingly (lying) to help your friends. So I cannot agree that you are unlikely to commit a crime again.

MF# 9: State’s argument is that to deter this (a convict lying in violation of a plea bargain), the MFs and AFs are not equal in weight.

Factually, a bunch of kids were out there to rough someone up- foolish, stupid and reckless. This kind of conduct cannot be tolerated. Message is clear. MF slightly outweighs AF.

AF # 8: Hindering Law Enforcement: I put some weight on this.

Issue of Sentencing: Concurrent or Consecutive?

If it was one ongoing episode, then concurrent sentencing would be justified. But here, there are three separate incidences. Drive to attack Martino (at Pressmill Dr.), stop, attack; then drive (to Nathan and Fella), stop; attack Sinha family, drive (home). Cooling off period and then being dishonest with police officers (while giving audio and video dispositions.)  In this matter, the court does not have a choice.

Count 3b: Aggravated Assault 

Steven Contreras did purposely attempt to cause significant bodily injury to Anthony  Martino.

 I sentence you to 3 years in the care of NJ State Prison.

Consecutive to that, 

Count 6b: Significant Bodily Injury

Steven Contreras did attempt to cause or purposely, knowingly or under  circumstances

manifesting an extreme indifference to human life did  recklessly cause significant bodily injury to

A.S. (Ashish Sinha.)

I sentence you to 3 years in the care of NJ State Prison. This will run concurrent with the following.

Count 7b: Significant Bodily Injury

Steven Contreras did attempt to cause or purposely, knowingly or under  circumstances

manifesting an extreme indifference to human life did  recklessly cause significant bodily injury to

R.S. (Ravi Sinha.)

I sentence you to 3 years in the care of NJ State Prison. This will run concurrent with the following.

2nd Degree charge of “Conspiracy to Commit Aggravated Assault” on Divyendu Sinha I sentence you to 8 years in the care of NJ State Prison.

(Sentences for crimes on Ashish Sinha, Ravi Sinha and Divyendu Sinha will run concurrently, but consecutive to crime on Anthony Martino.) Count 10: Hindering Apprehension or Prosecution

I sentence you to 18 months in the care of NJ State Prison.  This sentence will run consecutive to above sentences.

You have 45 days to appeal the sentence.

Thus Steven Contreras’s net time behind the bars will be 3 +8+ 1 ½ = 12 ½ years.  Thus the whole case came to an end today (April 3, 2014) at 4:42 PM.

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Recap of the entire case

Dr. Divyendu Sinha, 49 years old, a brilliant  computer scientist, his wife Alka Sinha and two sons, Ashish (16 years then) and Ravi (12 years then) were out for a late night stroll in their

neighborhood of Fella Dr. and Nathan Rd. in Old Bridge, New Jersey on the night of Friday, June 25, 2010. Suddenly they were pounced upon by four teenagers. Dr. Sinha was punched repeatedly on the side of his head and when he fell down, was kicked in the head again. Both Ashish and Ravi were kicked and punched too. Alka Sinha was not harmed. The attackers were driven away by their accomplice who was waiting in his car at the corner of the street.

Divyendu Sinha was transported to local hospital by 911 but his condition became grave as he had suffered brain hemorrhage and paralytic attack. He was moved to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ in the early hours of June 26th. Dr. Sinha succumbed to his injuries and was declared brain dead on the morning of June 28. Family decided to donate his kidneys. He was cremated on June 30th in presence of hundreds of people.

Law Enforcement  Officers made a quick work of tracing the attackers. Sargent Paul Miller of Middlesex County Prosecutor’s office and Detective Greg Morris of Oldbridge police department, through their investigative work,  were able to apprehend them One by one within days of the murder. They were (1) Steven Contreras (Driver of the car) (2) Julian Daley (Ring leader)  (3) Christopher Conway  (4) Christian Tinli (5) Cash Johnson (both Tinli and Johnson were involved in attacking Divyendu Sinha.)  #1 was Hispanic, #2, 4 and 5 were African Americans and #3 was Caucasian.

It has been an arduous, testing, trying and emotionally draining journey for Alkabahen Sinha, Ashish and Ravi. Their pain and grief, hopes and despairs were shared by a large number of wellwishers and friends.  This has been a journey of three years, nine months and nine days.   During this time there have been close to 100 times that Alkabahen and others had to go to the court to attend hearings or meetings. Besides there were several off-site meetings with the prosecutorial team.  We had expected swift action, conviction and punishment that would fit the crime of murder but we were naïve and wrong on all counts. We learnt a lot about our Justice system. While it is designed to protect the innocent, it also allows willy and skillful lawyers to sway the jury by what I can charitably call ‘white lies.’ We found out to our chagrin that 90% of the case never go to trial and they are always plea bargained. We also learnt that while there are ranges for different categories of crimes, judges try to impose a sentence that is at midpoint. There are several reasons for this, precedence and possibility of judgment being reversed on appeal are two of them. Jury selection, composition of jury and ability of the jury to be neutral are areas which lead one to question if this system is really as good as it is made out to be?   In spite of prosecution’s sincere efforts, outcome  was not satisfying as can be seen from the following.

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(1)  Steven Contreras: Was first to be tried and on May 7, 2012 after a 13 days trial jury found him not guilty on all serious charges and convicted him on third degree charges only. However Jury was hung on charge of “reckless manslaughter”. State had offered him a plea bargain in order to avoid a fresh trial but he had rejected it on June 20, 2012. Later on November 27, 2012 he accepted a plea deal that would limit his sentence to only four years. As you have seen in this report, Mr. Contreras failed to testify truthfully in his codefendants’ trial so State successfully argued for vacating “punishment” part of the plea bargain. The judge concurred and end result is that Mr. Contreras will serve 12 ½ years behind the bars (sentenced on April 3, 2014.)

(2)  Julian Daley pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated manslaughter and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault on February 7, 2013 and was sentenced to 15 years on November 12, 2013.

(3)  Christopher Conway pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated manslaughter and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault on July 30, 2013 and was sentenced to 7 years and fined $5000 on October 18, 2013.   

(4)  and (5) Christian Tinli and Cash Johnson Went to trial that lasted for 24 days. On September 30, 2013 a jury found them not guilty of all the charges except a minor charge of simple assault on Ravi Sinha. We believe that Steven Contreras willful lies in their favor robbed us of fair justice. They were sentenced to six months on October 18, 2013.   

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There are two or three hearing in next few weeks in the Appellate court in Trenton which are necessitated by appeal to reduce sentence (review of the sentences given) by Julian Daley and Christopher Conway. This is a quick affair of less than an hour unlike what you have witnessed here in the county Superior Court. However, it is important that we have some representation there. I will be in Bharat (India) from mid- April to end of May, so I request some other members of the community to find time and be with Alkabahen at the Appellate Court. We will inform you of date, time and location. Steven Contreras is most likely to appeal his conviction but that will not come up for another two years or so.

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As much as we wish that such incidences do not happen, reality is that we live in a society that is short on patience and quick on resorting to violence. I hope we all have learned as a community importance of being together, being vigilant, being visible, being vocal, being giving and extending ourselves to make our voice heard. This applies to all of us, irrespective of our faith, origin, race, color of skin or political preferences.

On a personal note I want to thank one and all. You have stayed with the case from the beginning. Many of you have attended sessions at the court and also taken time off from your work. Many have inquired about progress of the case from time to time and written comforting notes for the Sinha family. People from as far as India have kept in touch, though they do not know Sinha family personally. In the beginning when we made an appeal many of you donated generously. When we circulated petition to the honorable judge to give appropriate sentences to the convicts, in a short span of eight days 7,500 of you signed it, including people as far away as Russia, Afghanistan, Africa and Europe. Some of you fanned out to various community events; petition in hand to get signatures.

I would like to make special mention of Nikhil and Manisha Muzumdar, Hariett Souzzo, Hanjan Lee, Suresh Kumar, Rajeev Parikh (Pro bono Legal advice), Ram Tewari, Pradip Kothari (Indo

American Cultural Society, Quick Travels), Murli and Swati Sastry, Satish Penkala, Krishna

Perinkolam,         Balwinder Singh, Nalini and Mr. D’Alotto, Jack McInerney, Susan McCann, Terry

Cahill, Arvind Sant, Ila Sukhadia, Jitendra Gulati, Praveen Sharma, Satish Mullick, Anil Kappa, Hiren Gandhi, Kiran Desai, Navneet Bhalla (SALT), Ram Gadhavi, Sandeep Sharma, Satya

Nemana, Satyanarayan Dosapati, Sid Nag, Sudhakar Govindavjhala, Sudhanshu Prasad, Sunil

Nayak, Victor Tewari, Chaula Bhatt, Himanshu Desai, Jiby Thomas, Krishnakant Patel, Madhu

Upadhyay, Nimish Buch, Pulin Mody, Rakesh Chitkara, Tejal and Amit  Shah, Vikran

Veknkatraman, Albert Jasani (Royal Albert’s Palace), Satish Mehtani (Mirage), Alkesh Shah

(Allegra Printers), Prakash Waghmare (VHPA- Media), Sanjiv Pandya (Radio Zindagi), Raj Yadav (Mast Radio) and Gayatri Pandey (TV Asia). These are some of the names that stand out for their consistent support and/or significant contribution. Several other media outlets and individuals helped Alkabahen in various ways. It is not possible to list all the names but everyone’s combined efforts made it a little easier for Alkabahen and her sons to go through this ordeal. Thank you!

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Mrs. Alka Sinha would like to convey the following:

“It was a long and painful journey for all of us. There is nothing in this world that can ease our pain and suffering but maybe now we can have closure and move forward in our lives with a heavy heart. We are grateful to everyone who has supported us in different ways in this difficult time of our lives. With all of the support and help that we received, this tough path was a little less difficult for us.

I want to thank Mr. Christopher Kuberiet, the First Assistant Public Prosecutor who led the prosecution team and worked hard. He kept us abreast of developments and his plans. Though we would have loved to see much stiffer sentences, we realized that sometimes systematic constraints make it impossible for the prosecution to succeed. I also thank Mr. Michael Allongo and Jason Boudwin, the Assistant prosecutors. Our thanks to the judge,

Bradley Ferencz, who applied the law judiciously. We thank Officers Paul Miller and Greg

Morris who were instrumental in apprehending the culprits. Thanks also go to Victim Assistance representatives Terri Musso and Jennifer Wang who were always by my side to take care of my emotional needs.”

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This report is a synopsis of my observations and notes of the proceedings in the court. While it catches the spirit of what transpired in the session, it is not a substitute for actual transcripts. Neither can I claim 100% accuracy.

Thank you.

Brotherly yours,

Gaurang G. Vaishnav

VHP of America (World Hindu Council of America,

Edison, NJ, USA


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This is the way to success. – Swami Vivekananda