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FULTON DAILY NEWS

LAST MODIFIED: Tuesday, 30-Jul-2002 09:24:48 EDT

News:

Cooper's Family Wants Traveling Sales Industry To Check Workers' Backgrounds
By Heidi Webb /Fulton Daily News

The awarding of $1 million to the family of murder victim, Diana Cooper is a step in the right direction, her family and lawyers feel, but more needs to be done.

Cooper was murdered in May of 2000 in her Fulton home by a door-to-door magazine salesman who talked his way into her home.

MORE INFORMATION:
The lawsuit filed against Palmetto Marketing, Inc, alleged that the firm did not perform background checks on its sales crews and that they "fostered and encouraged illegal behavior within their road crews, including drug use and violence and that Palmetto was on notice that known immoral and illegal behavior . . . created danger to all potential customers who came in contact with their sales crews."

Cooper came into "contact" with Palmetto employee, Matthew Maxson, in May of 2000 after he asked to use her bathroom and she caught him stealing her jewelry. He stabbed her to death.

He told police he intended to commit theft when he went into her house and he had to kill her because she had seen him stealing.

Family lawyers, Elden Rosenthal of Portland, Oregon and Bruce Soden of Syracuse said that if Palmetto had done even a cursory background check, they would have found that Maxson had been convicted of two crimes and had a history of drug and alcohol abuse. He had also been fired from two jobs for misconduct, they said.

"These firms typically hire young people who are having trouble at home, seduced by the prospect of seeing the world while making a lot of money," said Soden Monday after he and Cooper's daughters, Kimberly McMillan and April Searor, signed the legal papers to settle the lawsuit.

"For a lot of these kids, it's a way out," he added. "Unfortunately, they quickly find out that there isn't a lot of money in it and the conditions are often horrible. A lot of these kids already have problems and in this environment, they're often made worse."

According to websites that track the issue, here is how door-to-door sales works: Young people are recruited to join traveling crews. The pitch: Make money, travel, compete for prizes. The crews are driven to a new city each week, where they stay in motels. Each day, they are driven to a drop-off point in the target city. They leave the vehicles and fan out into neighborhoods to begin knocking on doors.

Some former sales workers say they are told to lie to potential customers, to tell them that they are a local college student who needs just a couple more sales in order to qualify for a trip or that they are raising funds for a local organization. Not all companies or all door-to-door salespeople operate this way.

Salespeople are paid a daily fee, commonly said to be $15 or $20, and a small commission on each magazine they sell. they may earn as little as a dollar per subscription.

"A lot of them have quotas they have to make or they don't get paid," Soden said. "That's why Maxson said he went to Ms. Cooper's house- he hadn't made his quota and knew he was going to be in trouble."

Rosenthal said that the industry is unregulated and that Cooper's death was avoidable.

"The door-to-door magazine sales industry has a track record of luring unemployed young people into the industry, transporting them around the country without adequate supervision, creating a climate rife with drugs and violence," he said.

"I don't want to paint a picture that all these kids are bad- some of them are used horribly," he continued. "But because of the industry's hiring practices (of hiring) a lot of disadvantaged and homeless kids, there are dangerous people working."

Rosenthal has settled one other lawsuit for $1.8 million for the family of a man beaten into a coma by two magazine salesmen in Oregon.

Palmetto Marketing and an industry trade association did not respond to calls seeking comment Monday.

Cooper's daughters want to warn people.

"Pay attention to what is going on around you," said Kimberly. "If you see someone strange at your neighbor's house, be safe, call the police and have them check it out."

"Protect yourself and the people who live around you," she added. "If someone shows up at your house, ask for their permit. Don't open the door. Call the police and see if they're supposed to be there."

Maxson had no permit to be selling in the City of Fulton, though all solicitors and peddlers are supposed to register with the City Clerk's office. The law was strengthened in the wake of Cooper's murder, but there have been few arrests since then.

No law requires marketing firms to check the backgrounds of those they hire, said Soden.

"They really ought to do a background check," he said. "They're basically dropping strangers into neighborhoods."

Kimberly plans on trying to make background checks mandatory for all firms like Palmetto. She said she would welcome anyone who wants to help.

Because of the hiring practices of many of the marketing firms, there seems to be an increase in violence happening to both the young salespeople and the community in contact with them, said Earline Williams, Director of Parent Watch, who has been studying the traveling door-to-door youth sales crews.

Here are some of the latest, according to Parent Watch:

February 2002: Two magazine salesmen are convicted in the beating death of a Ft. Wayne, Ind., man at a motel used by the magazine sales company to house its sales force. One is awaiting trial and the other received 25 years in prison.

January 2002: A magazine salesman was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a 12- and a 13-year-old girl in their home after asking for a drink of water in Parker, Colo. A second salesman is also awaiting sentencing.

October 2001: One magazine salesman was killed and 10 injured, several of them seriously in Minneapolis, Minnesota after an auto accident.

August 2001: A 66-year old woman was beaten, raped and stabbed to death in Knoxville, Tenn. The magazine salesman who allegedly committed the crime is awaiting trial.

April 2001: A magazine salesman pleaded no-contest to stabbing another salesman with a pair of scissors in a motel room used to house a sales crew in Boulder, Colo. He received one-year of probatiion.

March 2001: Cooper is murdered in her Fulton home.

February 24, 2001: A magazine salesman was sentenced to two to four years in prison for the attempted sexual assault durig a robbery in a parking lot in Lincoln, Neb. A second salesman was sentenced to two-and-half to five years for attempted robbery in the same incident.

January 2001: A local drug dealer in Norfolk, Va., was sentenced to 43 years in prison for gunning down a magazine sales crew manager during a drug deal in a motel room the manager had rented for young salespeople.

January 2001: A magazine salesman pleaded guilty to luring two sisters, one seven and one 10, into a secluded park in Olympia, Wa. He was sentenced to five months in prisona dn one year probation.

Williams said that increased media coverage and increased attention by police agencies has created a 'double-edged sword."

She said that many of the kids are saved from a bad sales experience by their parents or by newpapers who refuse to run recruitment ads, but those who do get lured in are facing an "even harsher working environment as a result of the increased difficulties companies are having in attracting recruits."

That means, there are "slimmer pickings" for the companies and they are more often taking on people with criminal histories.

The marketing companies often recruit kids off the street, at teen hangouts, dance halls and shopping malls with promises of fast money, said Williams.

© 2002, dot Publishing, Inc.

fultondailynews.com

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner.
Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.


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