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State warns magazine publishers

3/31/00

By Mike DuPré/Gazette Staff

Wisconsin's top lawman is working his way up the ladder of people and groups he holds responsible for the van crash that killed seven people in March 1999 and for the miserable living and working conditions of young magazine peddlers.

The base of the ladder was the van driver. Up the ladder are owners of businesses that sold and processed the subscriptions. At the top are the publishers of the 39 magazines sold by the van crew.

The van driver, Jeremy Holmes, already is serving a prison sentence for 12 felonies, including seven counts of negligent homicide, because of prosecution by Rock County authorities.

On Thursday, James Doyle, Wisconsin attorney general, filed criminal charges against YES, the company that recruited Holmes and the other young sales people, and Choan A. Lane of Iowa, the owner/manager of YES.

Felony charges against YES were seven counts of negligent homicide, three counts of reckless injury, two counts of physical abuse of a child and one count of recklessly endangering safety.

Felony charges against Lane were delivery of marijuana to a minor and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Misdemeanor charges also were filed against YES and Lane.

An arrest warrant was issued for Lane, and the attorney general's office is discussing Lane's potential surrender with his attorney. If he does not surrender to authorities, "we will track him down and bring him back to be prosecuted," Doyle said.

YES faces a maximum fine of $10,000 for each felony charge. Lane could be sentenced to 11 years in prison and fined up to $60,000 if he is convicted of the two felony charges.

Doyle also filed a civil suit against YES, Lane, Subscriptions Plus and its owner, Karleen Hillery, also known as Kay, of Illinois. Subscriptions Plus processed the orders sold by YES, and Lane and Hillery once were married.

The suit seeks more than $475,000 for a variety of alleged violations of child labor and wage laws and for reimbursement to the state fund that provides benefits for workers whose employers fail to carry the required worker's compensation insurance. YES did not have the required insurance, Doyle said.

"Through the civil process, we will get depositions," he explained. "As this goes along, we hope to see the financial records of the companies involved and hopefully get into the records of the publishing companies to see how much money is made."

Criminal and civil charges apparently are not now in order for the magazine publishers, but Doyle is using shame against the publishing houses. He wrote letters to the publishers and released copies to the media Thursday.

"Our complaints document a pattern and practice of illegal conduct and deception in the marketing of your magazine," Doyle wrote. "Unfortunately, last year's accident in Wisconsin was not an isolated incident. Other young people and adults have been killed in other states while working for itinerant magazine sales crews.

"Young people are recruited to sell your publication with promises of extensive travel, wealth and college scholarships. Once employed, they are treated like animals.

"Our investigation found that they were poorly fed, inadequately housed and dangerously transported. Moreover, our criminal complaint alleges that the children selling your magazines were exposed to alcohol and other drugs, and given sales incentives to obtain marijuana and hashish for others in their sales crew.

"As a major publisher, you have the ultimate responsibility for the way your magazine reaches the public. You also control the purse strings because you pay these companies for obtaining new subscriptions.

"Clearly, you are in the best position to ensure that these companies obey the law and do not risk the lives of the children representing your product."

The letters serve as official notices that the magazines were sold in Wisconsin by juveniles through illegal and deceptive practices, Doyle wrote. He urged the publishers to refuse to accept subscriptions sold by YES, Subscriptions Plus, their successor companies and any other subscriptions service that uses child sales crews to sell magazines door to door.

"If you continue to accept these subscriptions, I will be forced to assume that you are condoning, approving and encouraging these practices," Doyle wrote. "Lack of action on your part could have serious legal consequences in Wisconsin and other states that limit the use of children in unlicensed door-to-door sales."

Investigations continue into YES and Subscriptions Plus, Doyle said. More information is becoming available as the young people involved get further away from the "us against the world" mentality of the itinerant sales crews, he added.

"If we can establish that one corporation was acting as a sham or cover for the other corporation, the other corporation can be held liable as well," he said. "We will be looking into this.



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