Mother wants son to quit selling magazines
By Kevin Woster, Journal Staff Writer
Rapid City Journal; Rapid City, South Dakota
This story ran: Thursday April 29, 2004
For more than a year, Liz Fisher of Scenic has hoped her 22-year-old son would quit his job as a traveling magazine salesman. But her hope has an anxious edge since the death last week of a 21-year-old California woman who was selling magazines in Rapid Valley.
Fisher said she last spoke to her son, Gentry, when he made a collect call from Tucson, Ariz., a few days ago. She can't call him directly because he doesn't have a cell phone or a regular work phone.
The crew travels all the time and works six days a week, sometimes until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., Fisher said. The young crew members live in motels and seldom stay in one place long enough to get a day off, Fisher said.
"I've been trying to get him home for a year. Now, I'll double my efforts," Fisher said. "He works all the time. He doesn't get any time off. And he's not making any money."
The death of Kristina Moore and subsequent first-degree murder charge against Rapid Valley resident Neil Frame has Fisher especially frightened for her son's safety. Officials for youth-advocate groups trying to reform the door-to-door sales industry say that Fisher has reason to be worried.
"Anything's possible with those crews," Phil Ellenbecker of Verona, Wis., said. "I've been profiling these groups for five years and found every kind of crime imaginable."
Members of sales crews have robbed, assaulted and even killed homeowners, Ellenbecker said.
"We've even had cases where a kid would offer sex in order to sell a subscription," he said.
Ellenbecker founded the Dedicated Parents Memorial Group after his daughter died in a van rollover while traveling with a magazine sales crew. The accident occurred when the van driver, who had a suspended license, tried to change seats with a passenger to avoid being picked up by police, Ellenbecker said.
Ellenbecker works with Earlene Williams, founder of Parent Watch, a New York-based group that helps kids break away from magazine crews. Williams said crimes committed by sales people against prospective customers are common. So are crimes between crew members.
It's rare for a homeowner to kill a member of the sales crew, she said.
What isn't rare, she said, is the exploitation of impressionable young people who are controlled by older supervisors, some of whom make hundreds of thousands of dollars while the crew members all but starve, Williams said.
"They're only making money each day for food. Very few come home with anything," she said.
Fisher said her son hasn't been a crime victim but that members of his crew were badly beaten by another sales crew when they ran into each other in the same sales area.
"They were in L.A. at the time, and several kids in his crew got beat up pretty bad," she said.
Fisher said her son learned to work hard while growing up on a ranch. After graduating from Wall High School, he went to work in Rapid City. Then, he saw an ad for magazine sales that promised good money and plenty of travel.
Fisher said her son has received half of that promise.
"Oh, he gets to travel. But he doesn't have any money," she said. "He gets frustrated and tired and talks about quitting, but his managers show him the big checks they get and tell him he can do that, too. They dangle a carrot in front of his nose, and he bites every time."
Fisher's son now works as a car handler, a step up from the door-to-door sales crews. But Williams said the drivers don't make much money, either. She said magazine buyers don't do members of sales crews any favors by buying magazines. And people should never allow the sellers in their homes, she said.
Sales groups will often lie to get into the home, then make a sales pitch, she said.
"It's always risky to take anyone into your home. Don't open the screen door. Don't feed them. Don't let them use the bathroom or come in to borrow a pen," she said. "If they want help, take a number and call their parents or call Parent Watch."
That number is 1-212-666-4221. Williams, e-mail address is EWilliams11@nyc.rr.com.
The Parent Watch Web site is www.parentwatch.org.
Fisher plans to contact Williams to seek help in convincing her son to quit the crew known as Super Star Sales.
She recently found the cell-phone number of one of her son's managers, so she can at least call and leave a message for her son. "Then, I just have to wait for him to call collect," she said. She hopes one of those calls will mean he's coming home.
Contact Kevin Woster at 605-394-8413 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This Article was published online on Thursday, April 29, 2004
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