nothing new for sales crews
door-to-door illegal in city
By Lewis McCool
Herald Technology Editor
The approximate location of
Shiprock is visible through
Fifteen people were crammed into the 1992 Chevrolet Suburban
when it rolled over on a lonely stretch of U.S. Highway 666 about five miles
north of Shiprock, N.M., just before noon last Sept. 20. Two teenage girls were
Brandy Korba, 19, of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., and Alicia
Gerandt, 18, of Columbus, Ga., were ejected and pronounced dead at the scene.
The Suburban had seats for eight and seatbelts for six.
The New Mexico State Patrols accident report identified the
passengers as employees of a magazine sales company, Atlantic Circulation Inc.,
of Mountville, Penn. The employees were headed to Farmington after soliciting
magazine subscriptions in Cortez.
The Shiprock crash was not the first involving an Atlantic
Circulation sales crew. Less than a year earlier, on Sept. 28, 2001, a
20-year-old man was killed and seven others injured near Minneapolis when the
driver of their van apparently fell asleep and rear-ended a car at high speed
before rolling over several times, ejecting some passengers.
The magazine subscription sales industry has become one of the
deadliest for young people nationwide. A Milwaukee man whose daughter was killed
has tallied 53 deaths associated with traveling magazine sales crews. Most of
the deaths have been crew members, but a few were customers or others who
encountered violent crew members or were hit by a crew vehicle.
In addition, the father, Phil Ellenbecker, said there have been
numerous rapes, beatings and abandonments of workers. Reports of abominable
living conditions abound, he said, including crowded motel rooms with no
privacy, food being withheld for poor sales performance and intimidation.
"Traveling youth crews" is ranked among the worst five
jobs for teens, based on injuries and deaths, by the National Consumers League,
a 104-year-old organization that represents interests of consumers and workers.
A New York-based watchdog group Parent Watch is mounting
a nationwide campaign to call attention to what it alleges are deceptive
campaigns to recruit young people to work in an unregulated and dangerous
"The crime rate inside crews has skyrocketed," said
Earlene Williams, the director of Parent Watch. Williams tracks the operation of
the door-to-door industry and documents its labor abuses. "There are many
innocent kids caught up in this."
Most recently, a van carrying 11 Atlantic Circulation
salespeople flipped on an icy stretch of Interstate 15 near Butte, Mont., in
February. Several passengers sustained minor injuries. The 18-year-old driver
was cited for drunken driving, careless driving and driving without a license.
Williams blames Atlantic and others in the industry for
indiscriminate hiring and turning a blind eye to abuses.
Tom King, a lawyer in Wichita, Kan., represents the Gerandt
family and three surviving passengers in the Shiprock accident.
"These are fly-by-night operations. ... Atlantic
Circulation accepts no responsibility," King said in a phone interview.
Atlantic maintains that the victims in the Shiprock accident were not company
employees but worked for an independent contractor.
According to the accident report, the Suburban was registered to
Michelle R. Sanchez, of Atlantic Circulation.
Despite the information in the report, Laura Potter, a
spokeswoman for Atlantic Circulation, said the vehicle did not belong to the
"We dont own any vehicles," Potter said in a phone
conversation. She said the Suburban belonged to a distributor and that she had
forwarded the Heralds request for an interview to him.
"He should contact you," she said. She would not
identify the man, and he never called despite repeated requests through
Atlantic. Potter refused further comment on the Shiprock accident.
On its Web site, Atlantic Circulation describes itself as
"a processing center for direct sales orders of products including magazine
King said he plans to sue but is unsure a lawsuit will succeed.
"We are worried about suing them and their folding up their
tent and moving to another state," he said. "... We are researching
this to determine how best to proceed. ... There was not a lick of insurance on
Nor was there insurance on the workers.
Industry out of control
Parent Watch says problems with Atlantic are typical of an
industry out of control, rife with abuses.
Parent Watch was founded in 1983 by five families, all of whom,
Williams said, had a child fall prey to deceptive recruitment by traveling sales
"Today Parent Watch is still a service provided by families
and ex-sales people, and there are members in most states who are working to
bring this dangerous phenomenon to public attention," Williams said.
Her goal is to keep pressure on subscription companies.
"They just have to know that every time they turn around
they see you right behind them," she said. "We just try to help the
cases as they come up ... to help families and young people in trouble. We dont
look too much beyond that."
At any given time, Parent Watch estimates, as many as 15,000 to
30,000 young people are involved in door-to-door magazine subscription sales in
this country. In a years time, more than 100,000 youngsters are involved.
The business has increased in recent years. The economy is down,
no-call lists have curbed telemarketing, and magazine publishers are anxious to
gain subscribers because advertising rates are tied to circulation. Billions of
dollars are at stake.
"Its big," said Ellenbecker, the Milwaukee father.
"Its a silent killer of teens and young adults ... sales by
exploitation. The recruiters are ruthless and are not in the business of child
Ellenbeckers daughter was killed, along with six others, in
the 1999 crash of a magazine sales crew van in Wisconsin. Four others suffered
The vans driver, whose license had been revoked, was
attempting to swap seats with a passenger while being pursued at high speed by
police. The replacement driver, not yet seated, lost control.
The Shiprock accident report said Jaime R. Miller, then 25, of
Clovis, N.M., was driving the full-size sports utility vehicle on bald tires
when he lost control after the blowout of a rear tire.
"The two deceased girls were still on the ground when I got
there," said the investigating officer, New Mexico State Police Patrolman
Paul Gonzales. One passenger, Steve Rouse, with a head injury, had been flown to
a Phoenix hospital before Gonzales arrived.
Gonzales said in his report that "all four tires on the
Suburban ... were lacking tread (bald) and had dry rot on the sidewalls."
He estimated that the Suburban was traveling at about 80 mph. The speed limit on
that stretch of road was 55 mph.
Miller was cited for careless driving (speed too fast for
conditions), having no insurance, and driving an unsafe vehicle. Alcohol was not
thought to be involved.
Magistrate Court records in Aztec indicate that Miller failed to
appear on the citations. He was fined $100. A warrant was issued for his arrest,
and his drivers license was suspended. The case remains open.
Gonzales said that during his investigation he talked by phone
with Terri Miller, of Dodge City, Kan., whom he identified as the sister-in-law
of the driver. She told Gonzales that a representative of Atlantic Circulation
had told the crew that they would have to earn new tires by selling more
subscriptions. That never happened.
"It seems to me that the company was responsible for at
least part of it," Gonzales said in a phone interview. "She (Sanchez)
was aware these tires were not in the best of shape."
Life on the road
The Herald obtained a statement by a young woman from
Montana who worked on a sales crew in 2000 and 2001. She asked to remain
anonymous. In the document, the transcript of an oral statement given to Parent
Watch, she detailed her life on the road.
"About 75 percent, easily, of the sales agents had bad
backgrounds," she said. "If you were an angel, you werent on crew.
There were always a few that were on probation at any given time, and they were
just kept with us. It wasnt even a big deal. ...
"Managers did drugs all the time. I personally saw all the
managers do pot, mushrooms, acid, Ecstasy. Kids could get in on it. A manager
would let anybody have stuff or drink with them if youd had a good (sales)
day. You didnt have to be 21. ...
"I left because I was pregnant. ... My manager was mad. He
had so many people trying to talk me into staying, but I know this manipulative
pitch I used to give it to people myself."
She said sex was a tool used to keep people on crew.
"Putting people over," it was called.
"On crews you dont look at this as prostitution; its
just your job. Its what you do."
Ellenbecker said efforts to reform the door-to-door industry
have fallen short. He, Williams and the parents they represent and support hope
the courts will re-examine the relationship of the field workers, the
distributors and the clearinghouses.
"This has been very well plotted over the years,"
Ellenbecker said. The clearinghouses "are using independent contractors
to protect themselves from legal liability against a customer or a member of the
sales crew. They say, We dont have anything to do with that. They dont
work for us. Weve heard that time and again."
He added, "The independent contractor concept has been a
thorn in everyones side for quite awhile. The courts are starting to see
Innocence, lives lost
Although Brandy Rose "Sweetpea" Korba was only 19, she
was no newcomer to traveling sales crews. She had been working on crews around
the country for five years. Among her survivors is her 2-year-old son, Bryce
Aaron Korba. Brandys mother, Monica, who declined to be interviewed, is
caring for the child.
Alicia Gerandt had earned her GED and had stopped smoking and
drinking. She wanted to go to college.
Her mother, Ruby Gerandt, said Alicia was "a very
intelligent little girl."
"She was the idol of my heart ... Gods gift to me,"
Mrs. Gerandt said in a telephone interview from Columbus, Ga.
Alicia started working with the Atlantic Circulation crew in
February 2002, looking for adventure and a chance to earn some money for
"She did great," Mrs. Gerandt said. "She coached
others who worked with them on how to get by."
She described the crowded, unsafe living conditions that Alicia
told her about and said she would have tried to talk her out of staying with the
crew if she had known of the risks sooner.
"She wanted to take care of herself on her own,"
Mrs. Gerandt said.
Mrs. Gerandt talked with her daughter less than two hours before
the accident. Four hours later, she was notified of her daughters death.
She is bitter.
"I am one hurt woman, and I am mad," she said. "Id
like to see them (traveling sales operations) closed down nationwide. Ill do
anything in my power to stop them. ... They hurt a lot of innocent kids."