People touched by tragedy warn about sales crews

Woman reports threatening phone calls demanding money

Four years after a measure aiming to stifle criminals within the door-to-door sales industry went into effect, some say the bad guys are coming back to Wisconsin to test the law.

Nicole McDougal, who suffered a traumatic brain injury from a 1999 van crash on the way to a sales assignment in Janesville, said she told a salesman to leave her front porch Tuesday after she got a bad feeling.

“Number one, don’t order nothing from them. Number two, ask for a permit, and if they don’t have a permit, make a police report,” McDougal advised during an interview at her home on Madison’s north side.

McDougal filed a police report with the help of Phil Ellenbecker of Verona. Ellenbecker is the father of Malinda Turvey, who died in the crash and for whom a 2009 state law aiming to clean up the door-to-door industry is named.

A police officer investigated Tuesday’s incident but wasn’t able to find the crew in McDougal’s neighborhood, said Joel DeSpain, a Madison police spokesman.

McDougal and Turvey were part of a 14-member crew driving to Janesville to sell magazines in 1999. The two had answered an ad because “it was a job,” McDougal said, and it was their first assignment.

The van rolled over and seven people, including Turvey, died.

Malinda’s law, which went into effect 10 years after the crash, requires traveling sales crews obtain a permit before doing business in a Wisconsin city.

People touched by tragedy warn about sales crews

To get the permit, businesses must consent to background checks. Crime in the door-to-door industry has dropped since the law went into effect, but Ellenbecker said criminals will start testing the law.

“Whatever you do, do not open your door and do not let these people into your home,” Ellenbecker said. “Immediately pick up your phone and call police.”

In April, the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection announced it had cited a Utah door-to-door company for failing to register. The company faced up to $55,000 in fines, state officials said.