EDITOR’S NOTE: This article first ran on these pages in January of last year. It appears timely and is reprinted by reader request:
Teams of organized, highly mobile and extremely aggressive salespeople descended on Moraga and Lafayette again Tuesday, inspiring the wrath of homeowners unused to their techniques and attracting the attention of police.
We’ve written regularly in this and other publications about the roaming bands of organized – and extremely marginal – “magazine salesmen” and women who spend the night in cheap hotels and who are then brought in to “rich” areas by van or bus to mine the area for bogus magazine subscriptions or cash “donations” while spinning carefully rehearsed tales of community ties and aspirations for a college education. They arrived again, in force, Tuesday evening.
“Once again, unpermitted solicitors descended on our Town and used the same high pressure sales techniques that generated several calls/complaints,” Moraga Police Chief Bob Priebe wrote NEWS24-680. “We cited several and found a few with out of state warrants and criminal histories.”
This latest group of “salespeople” said they were with the Unified Doers Management Group, based out of Washington DC. A quick search determined that the group is not known for its ethical door-to-door sales tactics.
“They sell magazines and seek donations, but they say other things to get the resident to talk to them,” said Priebe, who has experienced the high-pressure tactics of the group firsthand, once within earshot of their pre-sales “pump-up” at a local hotel.
Neighbors said they were approached and asked for money for everything from magazine subscriptions to donations to “local” schools. NEWS24-680 has learned the value of questioning these people as last night’s crew of “local” solicitors turned out to be from as far afield as Missouri, North Carolina, and Georgia. Warrants ranged from larceny to failure to appear on warrants in their home state.
They operate under a shifting cover of bitterly ironic names: Urban Development Solutions, Overachievers USA, Millennium Sales. Each spring and summer, hired crews of teenagers and young adults canvass neighborhoods inhabited by retirement-age homeowners, falsely claiming they’re selling magazines to raise scholarship money or collect for charity.
They are not only trained to dupe the unwitting into paying up to three times the usual price for magazines that may never actually arrive but they can also put you at physical risk. In recent years, hundreds of crimes — including murder, rape and most often burglary — have been committed by door-to-door magazine salespeople allowed into homes. In 2005, an “Overachiever” slipped into an elderly Lafayette woman’s home and “moved in,” raping and killing the woman and occupying her home for several hours before leaving. Richard Craig McNew, 34, (pictured) a convicted felon from St. Louis, was later caught, tried, and sentence to life in prison.
Local towns and cities have since taken steps to control the periodic invasions of solicitors, requiring permits and registration with police before sales efforts can commence. But these requirements are routinely skirted, police say, and the rewards remain so great (up to $4,500 for a typical worker in a typical 14-hour canvass) that the vans and carloads of solicitors continue to arrive.
“Please (his emphasis) tell your readers to ask for a Town of Moraga solicitor’s permit and call MPD when they fail to provide one and to stop buying things from them,” Priebe said. “As long as the company feels there’s a market, they will keep bringing the vanloads of them in…”
Please share this story with any friends who may not know about these groups. Our emphasis.