Sext Fiend: Jovica Petrovic tried to embarrass his ex-wife to death, and revenge porn was the name of the game
Illustration by Marcus Howell

Jovica Petrovic first agreed to meet with Riverfront Times in March 2012, when he was already locked up at the St. Charles County jail for trying to destroy his ex-wife online.

"You know why I want to talk to you?" he asked, seated in a bare visitation cell lit by fluorescent bulbs. "I want you to win the Pulitzer Prize."

The 61-year-old Petrovic looked sunken and pale in orange prison scrubs, yet his dark eyes smoldered.

"All the case against me is fabricated," he insisted. "It's a crooked system. I need an attorney who can take the case. We can smash everything."

With a heavy accent, Petrovic sketched out his story: He'd been born in Croatia but had spent most of his life in Germany. He said he had earned a doctorate in economics from the University of Hamburg then emigrated to Florida in 2001 to work in real estate and software development.

One day in 2006 he crossed paths with a woman from St. Louis who was vacationing in Bonita Springs. Her name was Megan. They began a torrid affair and eventually got married in 2009.

"You cannot describe this relationship in 100 sentences," he said. "We got very, very close. It was crazy, like I was in another world."

But the relationship soon soured. When Megan left him six months after they tied the knot, Petrovic snapped, launching an online campaign against her that was so meticulous and cruel it drew the attention of federal prosecutors. In 2011 a jury convicted Petrovic of stalking and extortion.

"The justice system can have my body," he told RFT, "but it can never have my mind."

Petrovic came to this jailhouse interview carrying several documents. He had a chart, drawn by hand, to quantify his life in detention. In one column he recorded the number of days he'd served. In another, he tallied up the mileage he had covered pacing back and forth in his cell: a total of 4,167 miles in 2011, the grid showed — "a minimum of ten a day," he said.

And yet another column counted the number of days since Megan had left him.

He had also brought photos of them as a couple, taken at restaurants. In those shots, he looked prosperous and pleased. Now he was 60 pounds lighter with shaggy whiskers. The grin in the photos had vanished.

"I'm here seventeen months and twenty days," he said, "and my brain works only in one direction: Why am I here? What crime have I committed?"

Part of what Jovica Petrovic did to his ex-wife could properly be called "revenge porn" — graphic photos taken consensually during a relationship that get posted online later to humiliate a former lover. Websites such as Is Anybody Down? and Pink Meth now exist mainly as a platform for revenge porn (although some of the content is generated by peeping Toms and hackers, leading analysts to prefer the catchall term "involuntary porn").

John Sauer, the former assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Petrovic for the government, had other names for the defendant's behavior. In pleadings and during trial, Sauer claimed Petrovic was motivated by "pure malice" and a "a relentless desire to mentally torture his victim." He called the online campaign "vile," "appalling," "disgusting" and "uniquely repulsive."

Jovica Petrovic, the prosecutor told the jury at one point, possessed "an evil mind."

One afternoon last January, Megan arrived at the Ritz-Carlton lobby lounge in Clayton to recount her nightmare. At 37, she cut a striking figure in a long sweater, black tights and high leather boots. Her hope, she said, was that her story would serve as a cautionary tale for others — especially teens — who share intimate photos and thoughts via cell phones and the Internet.

"I was really spoiled growing up," began Megan, her arms crossed tightly. She remembered having everything as a kid in Chesterfield — even horses. Her father was a real estate developer, while her mom stayed at home. But once her parents split, she said, her mother had to find a way to support five kids by herself. That insecurity left an imprint on her. She was further destabilized by bipolar disorder, a diagnosis she received when she was eighteen.

Megan drifted after graduating from high school, attending aesthetician school, bartending, even dabbling in exotic dancing. At age 23 she married a real estate developer named Ben.* They had two kids and moved into a "gorgeous" house in Lake St. Louis.

Yet as a stay-at-home mom, she said, she grew bored and anxious. Worse still, she realized that she'd become her mother and lived under the constant fear of abandonment.

"I was so afraid that what happened to my mom was going to happen to me that I was always feeling I needed a backup," she said. "That's why I did some of the things I did. That's what led me to Joshua."

Megan was 31 and separated from Ben when she and a girlfriend flew to Bonita Springs for a beach vacation. As they sat at an outdoor bar one day, a gentleman with a thick German accent sidled up and bought them drinks. It was Jovica "Joshua" Petrovic.

"He reminded me a lot of my father," she said. "Very life-of-the-party, upbeat. When he walked into a room, everyone kissed his butt. Everybody liked him. Everyone knew him, everywhere."

According to Megan they became intimate within days (Petrovic says it occurred within hours). She then returned to her normal life in St. Louis, but soon after, Petrovic flew here to visit her. They met at the Ritz.

"We sat over there," Megan said, pointing across the lobby. Petrovic counseled her during that visit to finalize the divorce, which she and Ben did in 2006.

They took it slowly at first, in part because Petrovic was often in Germany trying to launch a business called "Myestate" — a television station that would allow the booming American real estate industry to advertise to European viewers. But during his trips home, Megan would often fly down to visit Petrovic at his Fort Myers residence. There, under the south Florida sun, their relationship turned steamy.

"They were a crazy couple," says Joe Lopez, a friend of Petrovic's. Lopez remembers how, at the end of one wine-soaked evening in Miami, Megan stood on a chair and stripped naked outside of a restaurant. "She did that a couple times," Lopez says. "She was kind of wild. And Joshua, he's a handful. There's never a dull moment when he's around."

Behind closed doors, it got even wilder. They had all kinds of sex, and photographed it, too. To spice up the long-distance relationship, Megan sent Petrovic erotic pictures of herself.

They texted each other constantly. Megan struggled with depression during those years and confided many of her darkest thoughts to Petrovic.

"I was her diary," he would later say.

As they grew closer, Megan said, Petrovic became more controlling.

"I wasn't allowed to talk to anybody," she said. "Waiters, I wasn't allowed to speak to. I wasn't allowed to wear jeans. He'd freak out about what makeup I was wearing. It kept getting worse and worse."

Petrovic felt his female companion drank too much, and more than once, he grew so enraged that he demanded that she return to St. Louis early.

"It was always huge blowouts every time," she said.

But over and over, they reconciled. In June 2009, they exchanged vows in Miami.

One afternoon the following month, while her new husband was away on business, Megan shopped online with Petrovic's computer. She stumbled across correspondence between him and a woman in Miami named Tatiana. Not only had Petrovic been unfaithful, Megan discovered, but Tatiana had become pregnant with his child.

Distraught, she confronted her husband over the phone. Petrovic rushed home, infuriated that she'd dug up the evidence. He arrived, and a screaming match erupted. Megan grabbed a kitchen knife and a bottle of Xanax and retreated to the upstairs bathroom where she tried to kill herself by slitting her wrists and overdosing. Petrovic called an ambulance. When the medics found her, Megan lay barely conscious, her blood smeared across the floor.

Their marriage continued to spiral downward from there. While in St. Louis, Megan lived in a house that Petrovic rented for her in the New Town development of St. Charles. During one of their fights, Petrovic canceled the lease on her.

"Since I knew you, you produced drama," he texted her on November 21, 2009. "I told you that I am different. I am a German with Croatia blood. Don't fuck with me...."

Megan's family urged her to sever all ties, but she wouldn't. At a family Christmas gathering in 2009, Megan's continued involvement with Petrovic prompted a shouting match. Megan left drunk and angry then called Petrovic and asked him to do physical harm to certain family members — a request he dismissed.

That same month Megan and Petrovic were making one final attempt to patch things up. Petrovic visited St. Louis and booked a room at the Drury Inn in Chesterfield for a few weeks. They had sex several times — strangely, Megan noted, with the lights on.

When he flew back home to Florida on December 28, 2009, Megan decided to end the relationship for good. "Joshua, I just can't get back together with you because of my family," she texted him. "I am sorry."

He reached out to her multiple times that afternoon. She didn't respond.

Then they exchanged the following texts, reprinted here as they appear in court records:

Petrovic: "Megan, if you don't call me in next 15 minutes I will put all our text message [on the] Internet.... I don't think so you will like it. I will wait for your call. You play bad hands with me but I can play your games also. Think about."

Petrovic: "I have to tell you something and you won't like it. For my protection I was recording movies with you.... I was recording how we fuck. Everything since I met you in Drury hotel the last two weeks. You was wondering why I got the lights on we was fucking. Now you know why. I will never use it against you this is just for my protection in case your famile push you to be nasty to me"

Megan: "I want nothing to do with you ever again. I never want to speak to you. Have a nice life. Truly I'm done — I am done. This is it. Don't ever call me again. I am taking these text messages to the police now. This is blackmail. I am not joking."

Petrovic: "Just do it. I never blackmake you. It was just for my protection.... I don't think so you want that your family figure out what you was talking about them. Be smart."

Petrovic: "Usually you always want a porno movies from us but now I have it. Was nice the scene when I was fucking you in your tiny ass. I will send you copies and you can also enjoy it. Good night now."

Megan: "I am changing my number, stay away from me. I am taking these text messages to the police and getting an order of protection against you."

Petrovic: "Ha, ha, just do it.... You don't needed to change your number because will cost me nothing to figure out your new."

Soon, Petrovic was calling Megan several times a day at Hans Wiemann, the hair-restoration clinic where she worked. Then packages — candy, flowers, even their own sex photos — began arriving at the company's address.

"I just was in love with her, and I couldn't help myself to go away from the woman," Petrovic would later explain in court.

In mid-January 2010, Petrovic came to St. Louis to reclaim some furniture from their rental house in New Town. Megan learned of his presence and warned her family members.

Petrovic later described his state of mind at the time: "Every divorce have dark side. Every end of relationship have dark side. Some people go crazy, and some people don't understand...."

At about 8 p.m. on January 14, Megan finished her shift at Hans Wiemann, walked outside and noticed something odd: a white U-Haul van sitting in the parking lot. It looked empty. She shrugged it off, climbed into her 2002 Mitsubishi and headed for Lake St. Louis to pick up her children at the home of her ex-husband, Ben.

As she neared Ben's neighborhood, she got the uneasy feeling she was being followed. She called Ben, who told her to pull off into a nearby cul-de-sac and shut off her lights. She did so. Sure enough, a white U-Haul van came roaring past. Megan panicked.

Ben kept her on the phone as he walked out of his house. Then he saw the U-Haul van pull up in front of his driveway, idle briefly and continue through the subdivision. Shortly thereafter, Ben says, Megan grew "hysterical" on the phone.

"I couldn't understand what she was saying," Ben recalled later during the trial. "She just kept saying, 'He's chasing me, he's chasing me!'"

Megan had decided to dash for the police station by taking the back way out of the subdivision, but the U-Haul van started tailing her.

"I was going as fast as I could possibly go to get away from him," Megan said later in court. "I didn't look at my speedometer. I was too scared. There's no street lights on those roads back there."

Then it hit her: She couldn't get out that way. The bridge leading out of the subdivision was closed. She had to circle back toward Ben's house.

The U-Haul van, she said, crept up close on her bumper and even tried to surge forward until it was alongside her.

"I felt like if he cut me off or got me there, he was going to kill me," Megan testified. "He had, like, snapped."

But she accelerated ahead, made it back to Ben's house and pulled into the garage. The U-Haul fled the scene.

Ben hopped in his own vehicle and went looking for Petrovic; he wanted to jot down the license plate number to get a restraining order. After rolling through some side streets, he finally spotted the van at a nearby Shell station. Petrovic had just finished pumping gas and was sitting in the driver's seat.

Ben approached, knocked on the driver side window and asked: "Do you know who I am?"

As Ben recalled it, Petrovic only smirked, put the van in reverse and started backing out. The extended side mirror on the van briefly dragged Ben along with the vehicle. When Petrovic pulled forward to leave, Ben had to clear out of the way.

Ben returned home. Deputy Brandon Penuel of the St. Charles County Sheriff's Department arrived in response to Megan's 911 call.

"She was very distraught, crying and weeping, very scared," Penuel testified later.

As the deputy questioned Megan and Ben, he observed their cell phones lighting up with texts from Petrovic.

"Now we are equal," Petrovic wrote to Ben. "I was fucking your wife, and now you are fucking my wife. Oh, God, I forgot. You cannot fuck because you have prostate cancer.... Ha, ha."

Then Ben received another one: "She is not worth dying for."

The day after the U-Haul car chase, Megan returned to work at Hans Wiemann. The business was about to move to Creve Coeur, and its Clayton building was up for sale. One prospective buyer arranged for a meeting that day. It was Jovica Petrovic.

"He walked past my room and gave me just a look — like a scary look," Megan said. Fearing she might lose her job, she didn't report it to her boss, general manager Ed Gawerecki.

But Gawerecki learned a lot about Petrovic a few weeks later.

On February 19 a FedEx package was sent to Gawerecki at work showing a return address of a construction company. When he opened it, Gawerecki found about a dozen glossy photos, blown up to 8.5-by-11 inches. They were graphic stills from the video that Petrovic had secretly recorded.

A similar package arrived at Megan's ex-husband's house on February 20. This one came as a FedEx priority overnight mailing. It too showed a local construction company as the sender, so Ben figured it was a request for a bid and tossed it on the kitchen counter.

His seven-year-old son opened it. Inside were glossy photos of the child's mother engaged in oral sex with Petrovic. Some of the printouts had captions such as, "I put my dick little bit too deep in Megan's mouth, ha, ha."

When Ben found his son looking at these pictures, he snatched them away.

By then Megan had filed for a divorce and temporary restraining order. Both parties appeared in person at the St. Louis County Circuit Court building in Clayton on February 26, 2010. Each signed a consent judgment whereby Petrovic would not contact Megan in any manner.

Yet when Megan exited the building and walked to her car, Petrovic pulled up quickly behind her and honked. He later wrote about the incident online: "I saw Megan by the court. She could not see me in my eyes.... She look nice and sad and her eyes was death..... [I] push my horn. She was very scared."

The contact continued in further violation of the consent judgment. On March 8, Petrovic texted Megan: "I hate you so much that you can never imagine... I wish you painful and unhappy life. TANTRUM IN YOUR HEART ... TANTRUM IN YOUR SOUL... my website is almost finish... Enjoy your pain."

Then postcards began appearing in mailboxes — dozens, possibly hundreds. Petrovic sent them to Megan's family, to her friends — even to the parents of her kids' friends. He sent them to the bank where Ben financed construction projects. He sent them to Megan's local Walgreens and to one of her favorite restaurants in St. Charles.

Many of the postcards featured an image of Megan in a skimpy outfit unzipping her top — a picture she'd allowed Petrovic to take on one of his birthdays.

The postcards described Megan as a "young, mentally sick slut," "just a whore 4 sale," a "golddigger," "screwed up in the head" and "a bitch, men love 2 fuck me and I love 2 shop, so it's a great trade off!"

And all of the postcards pointed recipients to a new website:

The site is no longer live, but according to court records, it featured image after image of Megan performing fellatio, as well as close-ups of her and Petrovic engaged in genital intercourse, mutual masturbation and anal sex. There were even some photos of Megan in the bathtub and on the toilet.

Petrovic also posted reams of deeply private text exchanges they'd shared over the years. Many he had altered to make himself look better, or to make her look worse, but the originals alone were enough to humiliate Megan — and her family.

In some texts Megan made negative remarks about her mom and discussed her sister's extramarital affair. In others Megan wrestled with suicidal urges and felt guilty about that as a mother. Petrovic reserved a special link for texts in which Megan confided that she'd been sexually abused by a male family member and how deeply it had damaged her.

A photo gallery on the website featured pictures of Megan's mother, siblings and nephews and nieces — some of them toddlers. He included pictures of Megan's own kids, plus a tax return filed by Ben revealing their children's social-security numbers. Petrovic also set up a separate photo page entitled "BLOOD" with images of the stained tiles in the bathroom where Megan tried to commit suicide.

After the site went live, a secretary at Hans Wiemann fielded a postcard from Petrovic and handed it to Megan during her shift. She typed the URL into her phone, then suffered a breakdown and had to leave work.

Ben's business associates were getting the postcards, too. They stopped joking around with him and inviting him out socially, he later said. The children suffered as well.

"Our kids were not invited over to the birthday parties," Ben said. "I mean, it just ended. They weren't allowed to do sleepovers. Just nobody called."

Later, during Petrovic's trial, Megan described the sensation she felt at this time: "It feels like somebody rips your entire inside out of you, somebody that you loved. I mean, it was the worst feeling in my life."

The website, she said, brought her to the brink of suicide.

"I wanted to die," she said. "I didn't know what to do to get it to stop."

About 100 people attended a pool party in Wentzville on Memorial Day weekend 2010. Neither Megan nor Ben showed, but most partygoers were their friends or acquaintances, including the man who'd officiated their wedding: Patrick Coyne. Coyne is a St. Charles-based attorney and a municipal judge in Old Monroe. He grew concerned after someone entered the party waving a postcard from Petrovic. One by one the guests pulled up on their phones.

"Everybody started getting real excited," Coyne testified later. "There was laughter and jeering."

When Coyne finally glanced at a photo, however, he wasn't amused.

"It didn't seem to me that it was legal," he said.

Within a few days the site had "caught fire" in St. Charles, Coyne said, so he contacted a county prosecutor.

At the same time, post office officials in St. Peters and O'Fallon were making phone calls to downtown St. Louis, alerting U.S. postal inspector John Jackman to Petrovic's mailings. They faxed him some copies.

"At first I wondered if somebody was trying to run a prostitution ring," Jackman told RFT. On June 6, he and a colleague drove out to Ben's house and knocked on the door. Megan greeted them. She appeared relieved, Jackman said, and broke down into tears several times while telling her tale.

From that day forward, she phoned Jackman often.

"She was in fear of her life," Jackman said. "She really thought this guy was going to come kill her."

Megan called Jackman on June 20, informing him that Petrovic had just posted a new message on the site. Jackman pulled it up and read it.

"Nobody can stop me to publish this website," Petrovic had typed. "But if Megan... give me my furniture, what she stoled from me, the wedding and engagement ring, because she never want to be married to me, and $100,000 what I spend for her, her kids and her divorce attorney back, I will be more than glad to turn off this website."

To Jackman, that sounded like extortion.

He obtained warrants and took them to Fort Myers. On July 19, Jackman and another inspector waited outside Petrovic's residence for two hours. When he returned home in his black Lexus, they arrested him. He was cooperative, so they took off his handcuffs.

The house was well appointed and neat, Jackman said. Petrovic kept Megan's clothes on hangers and her shoes aligned perfectly. He also kept multiple binders of their text messages, color-coded and organized.

Several times, Jackman said, Petrovic explained that he simply wanted his website to "tell a story." And several times he referenced The Game, the 1997 psychological thriller in which Michael Douglas' character tries to commit suicide after living through an elaborate hoax.

"I think he was turning this into something like that movie," Jackman said, "that it would be so traumatic that the person couldn't deal with it, that they'd eventually try to take their own life."

Petrovic told the inspectors that the footage he had captured at the Drury Inn now resided on his laptop and hard drive — and that Megan had consented to it.

However, when Jackman watched the raw footage later, he noticed that Petrovic set up the camera three hours before Megan ever entered the room and never discussed it with her. During their lovemaking, she complained that it was too bright, but Petrovic wanted to leave the lamp on. She also complained about the cold, but Petrovic wanted to do it on top of the covers.

The inspectors seized the laptop, the binders and other evidence.

On July 28, 2010, federal prosecutors in St. Louis charged Petrovic with four counts of interstate stalking, one count of interstate extortion and one count of stalking with a dangerous weapon — the U-Haul van.

Petrovic was released in Florida on unsecured bond of $50,000 and ordered to disable He claimed he needed his seized laptop in order to comply, but the feds refused to release it in order to complete a forensic exam. A full month later, pretrial services grew impatient and threatened Petrovic with jail time if the site remained up. He quickly took it down — tellingly, without the aid of his laptop.

Jovica Petrovic didn't mesh well with any of his lawyers. Two withdrew, one claiming that Petrovic had "provided false information regarding payment." Petrovic fired another two. In March 2011 the court appointed an advocate who'd already represented several high-profile criminals: attorney Steve Stenger.

"All of us are entitled to a lawyer when we're charged with crimes," explains Stenger, who also serves as a St. Louis County councilman. "The court oftentimes calls me when the client is very difficult to deal with, and I really consider that an honor."

Stenger concedes, though, that his dealings with Petrovic grew "contentious."

The defendant refused to admit any guilt and rejected all plea deals offered by the U.S. Attorney's Office. When Petrovic insisted on going to trial, Stenger asked him repeatedly for names of witnesses who might bolster his case. Petrovic demanded access to his seized laptop first. And around and around they went.

On June 25, 2011, Stenger visited Petrovic at the St. Charles County jail. According to one of many filings that Petrovic composed by hand, Stenger began "yelling and screaming," insulting him with names such as "Mr. Smarty Pants" and "Mr. Funny Voice." Stenger, in turn, asserted in a letter that Petrovic kept talking over him and refused to discuss strategy.

Petrovic motioned twice to terminate Stenger. He even filed a complaint to the Missouri Supreme Court's Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel. Neither tactic gained any traction.

The trial began on November 15, 2011.

"You're not going to walk away from this trial thinking that you just saw the movie The Notebook, I can tell you that," Stenger told the jurors in his opening statement.

Stenger tried to portray Megan as an equal partner in much of their drama and someone who exploited Petrovic for his money.

"No one is really ever the total monster, and in this case, no one is ever really the total victim," Stenger said. "That's just not reality. Things don't happen like that."

As for the erotic pictures, some of which Megan consented to, Stenger said: "When you pose for a picture naked, those things can obviously be shared.... That can absolutely, positively happen, and it's just a common fact of life. We all know it can.... If you don't want that picture being presented to other people, then, by God, don't take it."

Stenger tells RFT that his objective was not to blame the crime victim, but rather to point out the risk inherent in any exchange of texts and photos. Even so, experts on Internet law say that all too often, those targeted in revenge porn are unfairly vilified.

"Boxers do not consent to being punched in the face as they walk down the street just because they get punched inside a boxing ring," writes Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami, on the legal blog Concurring Opinions. "If you can't punch a boxer in the face when he asks you for directions, why can you take a pornographic picture intended for private use and distribute it publicly without consent?"

In the end, the jury deliberated for less than three hours before finding Petrovic guilty on four counts of stalking and two counts of making an extortionate threat. (They acquitted him of using the U-Haul as a dangerous weapon.)

At his sentencing on Februrary 15, 2012, Petrovic wore an orange sweatshirt under orange prison scrubs. He looked frail, wore reading glasses and listened to a German interpreter through headphones.

District Judge Henry Autrey asked if he had anything to say. "A lot," he replied. In a rambling speech he blamed a private attorney who'd advised him early on that his site was protected speech; he blamed Steve Stenger; he even blamed Patrick Coyne, the municipal judge from St. Charles County who had testified during trial that he thought the site was illegal after first glimpsing it at the Memorial Day barbecue.

Petrovic felt that this statement, uttered in open court by a legal authority, improperly skewed the jury.

But it was District Judge Henry Autrey who had the last word — and it was scathing.

In Autrey's view, Petrovic blamed everyone but himself. "If you were fourteen or fifteen," the judge said, "I could have appreciation for that."

He continued: "The Internet, isn't it a wonderful thing?.... Nobody can really see us as we slink and stalk and covet on the Internet, and it's kind of fun."

But there are limits, he argued. "The First Amendment doesn't protect criminal conduct. Make no mistake about that."

The government had requested an 87-month sentence. Autrey gave Petrovic 96 months in prison.

The judge concluded: "You are responsible for everything you did in this case."

Petrovic appealed his conviction right away. On February 19, 2013, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals effectively upheld it. Petrovic no longer wants to work with Stenger and says that he plans to file his own petition with the United States Supreme Court before the deadline in May.

If that fails, he'll remain incarcerated until at least 2017. He's now seeking a transfer to a German prison.

At the close of his March 2012 interview with Riverfront Times, Petrovic sketched out his romantic history. He claimed to have been married five times total. (He used to call Megan "Mambo Number Five.")

Asked whether any of his wives had remarried, he leaned back in his chair. "Every wife who is married to me will never marry again," he said. "Because no husband will be better than me."

Before heading back into jail, Petrovic allowed the RFT to photograph a few of the pictures of Megan he'd brought with him. Petrovic's photos were later confiscated when he was transferred to federal prison in North Carolina. Petrovic has since written to the RFT on multiple occasions asking for the copies of the photos.

"I cannot get this woman out of my mind," he wrote in one e-mail.

On February 21, 2013, he again asked Riverfront Times for the pictures of Megan. Asked why he still wanted them, he wrote back: "She was my wife, and I still, somehow, love and miss her." 

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