SUN PHOTO BY DAVID LIAM KYLE
By KEN WOOD
July 7, 2005
The man in the snappy purple shirt and matching tie had the kind of brazen confidence that comes with selling magazine subscriptions to strangers. Derrick Todd Jones did what he always does. He rang the doorbell.
Derrick Todd Jones was
convicted of committing two
sex crimes against teens in a
A 15-year-old baby-sitter, a girl Jones had first approached in a park earlier that afternoon, answered the door at the Twinsburg home. Jones, 32, who was going door-to-door in the Cleveland area, selling magazines and books, suddenly turned toward the street, reached back and put his hand down the front of the girl's pants.
The startled teen told Jones she felt like she was "being raped.
"Jones all but shrugged.
"He turned to face me and said he had better things to do than rape little girls," the babysitter told police following the Aug. 5, 2004 incident. Jones put his lands down the girl's pants a second time before leaving on foot, according to a police report.
The girl flagged down a Twinsburg police officer. Within the hour, Jones, who was carrying a birth certificate but no photo identification, was arrested. He was later charged with two counts of unlawful sexual contact with a minor and failure to get a solicitor's permit.
Authorities soon discovered this was not Jones' introduction to the legal system, nor the first time he'd been charged with a sexual assault while selling magazines door-to-door. It wasn't even the first time he had faced such allegations that year.
Seven months earlier and 2,500 miles away, Jones had been arrested by Menlo Park, Calif. police for sexually battering a 17-year-old girl who refused to buy a subscription
from him. The arrest followed a two-hour manhunt in the community 20 miles south of San Francisco. He was convicted and served 70 days of a l20-day sentence before being released from the San Mateo County Jail.
Now he was accused of simply moving across the country and committing the same type of crime.
"To be quite honest, it seemed unreal," said Kristina Raynes, the Summit County assistant prosecutor assigned to the Twinsburg case.
Raynes would ultimately succeed in getting Jones sentenced to six months in prison for gross sexual imposition. The case and others like it have fueled criticism of a hiring process in which some door-to-door sales people are recruited even though they have criminal backgrounds that include violent offenses and sex crimes.
Jones, according to police records, had been convicted of carrying a concealed weapon,
receiving stolen property, obstructing official business and petty theft m Dayton, his home town, before he was hired to sell subscriptions in California. He continued door-to-door sales in Ohio after his California conviction, ignoring requirements that he register as a sexual offender and stay away from juveniles court records show. "
"You would think that kind of thing wouldn't happen, but it doesn't surprise me."
PHIL ELLENBECKER ,
"You would think that kind of thing wouldn't happen, but it doesn't surprise me," said Phil Ellenbecker, who heads the Dedicated Memorial Parents Group, a nonprofit organization that monitors the door-to-door sales industry." California didn't do a whole lot with (Jones), so he made his way across the country to Ohio and did it again."
Ellenbecker said the industry is not regulated at the state or federal level, and local solicitation laws are often ignored, with violations considered part of the cost of doing business.
"The number one problem in the country is none of these people do background checks," he said. "And even if they do, it's scant."
Raynes also questioned how much some companies know about the people they are sending door-to-door.
"Obviously, they aren't doing background checks that are thorough or they're not doing them at all," she said.
The president of the board of directors of the National Field Selling Association,
a trade industry group based m Philadelphia, said the organization recommends that all member companies conduct criminal background checks of would-be sellers.
"Most of us are doing it, but there may be some that are not (doing background checks),"
said Vincent R. Pitts, who heads Palmetto Marketing Inc. in Coral Springs, Fla. "We can recommend policies, but we can't dictate. Obviously, an incident involving one company can affect our entire industry. They lump us all together."
According to Pitts, his company does hundreds of background searches each week. He
said prospective door-to-door salespeople with criminal histories that include assaults, sexual crimes or burglary are not hired.
"That's a no," Pitts said.
At its annual convention last month, the NFSA put on a seminar stressing the importance of doing background checks, according to Pitts. He said firms that don't do the checks run the risk of being sued for negligent hiring.
Make sure sellers have city permit
Police say while crimes committed by people selling items door-to-door are rare, homeowners who follow a few commonsense tips can lesson their chances of becoming victims:
"If you have any doubt whatsoever, call your local police department," Westlake Capt. Guy D. Turner said.
A Menlo Park police report does not specify what company Jones was working for when he was arrested there, but records show he was carrying a portfolio for Unified Stars, one of the magazine crews affiliated with Washington, D.C.-based Go Doers Inc., according to that firm's Web site. During his questioning in Twinsburg, Jones told police officers he was working for Go Doers, a firm that promotes door-to-door sales as "a great training ground" for employees.
Otis Garrett, president of Go Doers, did not return a phone call seeking comment. A Go
Doers representative, who declined to be identified, said Jones was not a company employee and stressed that the firm itself “doesn't have a (sales) crew.. We clear (subscription) orders."
Managers for all nine crews listed on the Go Doers Web site have the same e-mail address, which contains the Go Doers name.
Unified Stars managers did not respond to messages seeking comment.
An estimated 50,000 teens and young adults - most between the ages of 17 and 24- are selling products ranging from magazines to cleaning products door-to-door in the United States on any given day, according to Parent Watch Inc., another industry watchdog group. The organization states it is pushing for federal regulation of traveling sales crews and says they pose a "serious social and labor problem."
Ellenbecker, who lives in Wisconsin, is a watchdog motivated by tragedy. In 1999, his daughter, Malinda, was one of seven people - all members of a traveling sales crew -killed in a high speed van crash. Today, his organization tries to steer young people away
from traveling sales crews and monitors dozens of criminal and civil cases involving door-to-door workers on its Web site, www .travelingsalescrews.info.
The cases include:
Even the industry's harshest critics concede that most door-to-door sales crew members do not go into the business to prey on homeowners.
But on its Web site, Parent Watch says "some of the dangerous individuals who are inevitably attracted to this mobile lifestyle, both managers and salespeople, are getting attention in the press due to the considerable harm they are inflicting on crew members as well as on their customers."
Most area cities have some type of permit or registration system for those selling items door-to-door for profit.
Strongsville Police Chief Charles Goss said door-to-door solicitation is a "major issue" in
his city and one reason why the municipality has a licensing requirement that is ''as tough as you can be and still remain constitutional." Would-be sellers must undergo a criminal background check and wear photo identification while working.
Goss said the city will also revoke the licenses of those who violate local solicitation rules.
Solon grants door-to-door solicitation permits only to representatives of nonprofit or
charitable organizations, according to police Lt. Chris Viland. He said police do not do background checks on individual sellers but do take notarized statements from the heads of those organizations indicating that their sales people don't have criminal records.
In Parma, solicitors can't get a permit until they are fingerprinted and get a background check through the state's Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, which takes four to six weeks. Some applicants give up when they find out about the wait, officials said. Safety Director Greg Baeppler said the city does not get an unusually large number of calls about door-to-door solicitors.
"If we get a complaint we act on it," Baeppler said.
Police said salespeople with criminal histories sometimes simply don't bother to get a permit.
Others try to beat the permit system by lying. In January 2004, a Cleveland man registering to do door-to-door solicitation in Westlake denied on his application that he'd been convicted of a crime. A Westlake police background check revealed he had been convicted of gross sexual imposition, attempted felonious assault, possession of criminal tools and drug possession, according to police Capt. Guy D. Turner.
Turner said the would-be seller was charged with falsification.
SUN PHOTO BY KEN WOOD
Most communities in Northeast Ohio have some sort of
permit or registration requirement for door-to-door sellers.
In a probation interview after his California conviction, Derrick Todd Jones maintained his innocence, saying he pleaded no contest only because he didn't think anyone would believe him given his criminal history. In the interview, he denied knowing his victim was a minor. He denied pulling down the girl's sweatpants.
He did discuss his future.
Jones told a probation officer he planned to resume work as a traveling magazine salesman and vowed to "never come back to California" following his sentencing.
As it turned out, he didn't need to go back to the West Coast to keep selling door-to-
door. That fact was not lost on Raynes as Jones was about to go on trial in Summit County Common Pleas Court. "I really wanted to go full force against this guy, because I
felt his conduct was almost predatory ," Raynes said.
Raynes' plan to demonstrate a "pattern of conduct" was scuttled when the California victim - still traumatized by the incident - refused to come to Ohio to testify against Jones. Instead, Jones struck an agreement with prosecutors in which he pleaded guilty to gross sexual imposition, a felony, and was sentenced to six months in the Madison Correctional Institution.
Jones was paroled from prison on Feb. 2 and is required to register as a sexually oriented offender. He could not be reached for comment.
Pitts said he wasn't familiar with the incidents involving Jones but described the situation
as "definitely the exception" in the industry. But Ellenbecker said the fact that Jones was even in a position to commit the crimes is further evidence that the door-to-door sales companies are worried only about the bottom line.
"This is all driven by money and greed," he said. "It's much worse than you can possibly think."
You can send email to Ken Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By KEN WOOD
July 7, 2005