Traveling Sales Crews
How the Sales Crews Work
Why they can be illegal – For Many Reasons
Department of Justice response
Parents, students, teachers and local law enforcement agencies must be particularly wary each spring for increased recruitment efforts by traveling sales crew operators, who recruit young people for door-to-door sales of magazine subscriptions and other items. The teens and young adults who are recruited for these door-to-door sales crews typically work long hours for low pay, often in violation of state and federal labor laws. The crews sometimes drive across state lines and stay overnight in motels for days, or even weeks, at a time. The recruitment of teens and those in their early 20s is heaviest in the spring and summer as the school year comes to an end. The crews may put ads in local newspapers, go to high schools or college campuses to recruit or go to teen functions to encourage young people to join the traveling sales crews.
How the Sales Crew Work
Unfortunately, Wisconsin and other states have seen disastrous examples of what can happen with traveling sales crews. The most well known tragedy occurred on March 25, 1999, near Janesville when seven young people were killed and five others were severely injured in a van crash. The victims were all members of a traveling sales crew peddling magazine subscriptions door-to-door.
In this instance and many others, the young people who were recruited to work on the traveling crews were promised extensive travel, wealth and the opportunity to get college scholarships. Job interviews can take place in local motels. If a person accepts a job, he or she may be asked to leave within a few hours or days to join a sales team that is already out in the field. As they travel from community to community, crews may transport their existing sales team or recruit additional sales team members along the road.
The unfortunate reality is that the state found that these workers, some of whom were as young as 15 years old, were forced to endure terrible personal treatment and physical hardships. In addition to being away from home and on the road for days or weeks at a time, the crews are often poorly fed, inadequately housed and transported dangerously. To make matters worse, groups that monitor the door-to-door sales industry in America have found that teen sales crewmembers may be harassed and exposed to alcohol and drugs while traveling with their crews.
Why They can be Illegal – Many Reasons
State law requires traveling sales companies to provide benefits and maintain proper working conditions for their employees, as well as provide worker's compensation. In its investigation of the 1999 van crash near Janesville, the Wisconsin Department of Justice found that the companies violated state laws governing child labor, wage rates and wage payments. One of the companies and its principal were ultimately charged with a variety of criminal charges including felony child abuse, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, interference with the custody of a child and contributing to truancy. The actions and practices of these traveling sales crews have come under greater scrutiny as a result of such high profile tragedies. Any violations of Wisconsin's laws will be vigorously prosecuted.
Department of Justice Response
In the aftermath of the 1999 van crash, Attorney General Doyle took immediate action to prosecute those responsible. In this case, the young people were working for a subscription sales company known as Y.E.S., based in DeWitt, Iowa. The company sold magazine subscriptions that were processed by Subscriptions Plus, Inc., of Rock Island, Illinois.
The driver of the van, who was unlicensed at the time, was trying to switch places with a legal driver at speeds close to 80 miles per hour. He is now serving a seven-year prison term on charges of vehicular homicide. Criminal charges were filed against the company known as Y.E.S. and its manager, Choan Lane. In June, 2000, the company was found guilty of seven felony counts of homicide by negligent operation of a motor vehicle, two felony counts of child abuse, three felony counts of reckless injury, one felony count of recklessly endangering safety and four misdemeanor counts of contributing to truancy. The company was ordered to pay $132,000 in fines and to make restitution to the victims' families, survivors and to the state for expenses prosecuting the case. Lane is currently serving a three year, seven month prison term.
In addition, the Wisconsin Department of Justice secured a judgment of $530,000 against Y.E.S. as part of a separate lawsuit for violating state child labor laws and other wage and labor standard laws. Subscriptions Plus and its owner were also ordered to pay forfeitures, and, as part of these prosecution efforts, Subscriptions Plus, Y.E.S. and their agents, employees and representatives were permanently restrained from operating in Wisconsin.
In addition to seeking vigorous prosecution of those responsible for breaking Wisconsin's laws, Attorney General Doyle sent letters to the publishers of 39 major magazines that were marketed by the sales crew in Wisconsin. Through this communication, the Attorney General expressed his concerns about the terrible treatment endured by the young people who were recruited for door-to-door sales and encouraged the magazines to stop using door-to-door sales crews that break Wisconsin laws.
The Attorney General's Office has also conducted five training conferences for local law enforcement leaders and officers throughout the state to provide information on how to enforce laws pertaining to traveling sales crews. The training focused on coordinating law enforcement efforts to share information immediately upon learning of traveling sales crews in an area. Through better communication and coordination, law enforcement can work to make sure Wisconsin's laws are being followed and any violations can be addressed swiftly and thoroughly to make sure that tragedies like the van crash near Janesville do not happen again.
Attorney General Doyle has also established a traveling sales crew response team in the Wisconsin Department of Justice to provide immediate response to inquiries about traveling sales crews. Special agents with the Department of Justice's Division of Criminal Investigation stand ready to handle calls from local law enforcement about the activities of traveling sales crews. The Wisconsin Department of Justice can immediately link to other state and federal agencies that can assist in making sure violations of Wisconsin law are investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Finally, parents and teens can help law enforcement efforts by making sure that they thoroughly question anyone who attempts to hire young people for one of these crews.
The Attorney General is committed to making sure that the Department of Justice will continue to be an important resource to help protect young people from abuse, neglect and child labor law violations.
Anyone with specific questions or concerns about traveling magazine sales crews in their area of Wisconsin should contact the Department of Justice's Office of Consumer Protection at 608-266-1852. Anyone who witnesses what might be criminal activity by one of these crews should first contact a local law enforcement agency to file a report.