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Magazine solicitors charged

of Pamplin Media Group

Police in Lake Oswego last Thursday arrested Amanda Wheatley, 19, and Tasha Mitchell, 18, on charges of theft by deception for their role in an alleged door-to-door donation scheme.

The investigation into a group of suspected magazine sales scammers widened last Thursday when police in Lake Oswego arrested two women for allegedly posing as local cheerleaders and soliciting donations for Doernbecher Children's Hospital, the University of Oregon and Lakeridge High School.

On April 3, police in West Linn arrested two men on suspicion of similar crimes, and investigators now say all four are part of a larger group of about 20 young people who were selling magazines for a company called Quality Sale Inc. based in Buford, Ga.

Mitchell, who is from Warsaw, Ind., and Wheatley, from Newark, Ohio, were arrested early last Thursday at the Ramada Portland Airport hotel and charged with theft by deception.

According to Lake Oswego Police, the pair went door-to-door in Lake Oswego neighborhoods selling magazine subscriptions and asking residents for donations. When the alleged scammers told one Lake Oswego woman they were collecting money for a local children's hospital, the woman asked if it was Oregon Health and Science University's Doernbecher Children's Hospital.

'Yes, that's the one,' they said,' said Lake Oswego Police Department Capt. Michael Hammons. 'Their demeanor made her suspicious, so she ran their names through Google.'

The search engine turned up multiple articles about the pair's previous arrests for suspected door-to-door scams in other states, including California. Having already written Mitchell and Wheatley $40 checks, the woman called Lake Oswego Police.

Fourteen other Lake Oswego residents also called police between April 2 and April 5, suspicious of the solicitors' stories. Some reported the women claimed to be cheerleaders from local schools, others said they identified themselves as local soccer players.

By the time investigators tracked the subscription sellers to the Ramada, Mitchell, Wheatley and most of the other members of the group were already headed to the Seattle area, police said.

'As it turns out, yesterday evening they were all sitting around watching the news,' Hammons said. When they saw that two members of their crew - Jeremiah Conner and Thomas Kintigh - had been picked up by West Linn cops, 'the manager came in and said, 'pack up - let's get out of here.''

But the group left behind a woman and her two-year-old child to assist Conner and Kintigh, police said. When Lake Oswego investigators showed up at her hotel room, they convinced the woman to get Mitchell and Wheatley, who were en route to Seattle, to turn around and come back to the hotel, where they were arrested.

The women told police illegal donation gathering is prohibited by their company and that sales agents are discouraged from falsely representing organizations.

A voicemail box at the phone number listed for Quality Sale did not identify the company, and a message was not returned.

Michael MacRae, a spokesman for Doernbecher Children's Hospital Foundation, said the hospital does have a fund-raising program involving the sale of magazine subscriptions. But the program is conducted entirely by telephone through DialAmerica Marketing.

'To the best of my knowledge, absolutely no recognized (Doernbecher) activities involve door-to-door solicitations or sales,' MacRae said.

Victoria Cox, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice charitable activities section, said Quality Sale Inc. is not registered as a legal fundraising organization in the state. If the four salespeople arrested in the Portland area last week solicited donations in the manner police allege, 'they are not by any means following Oregon law,' Cox said.

Spring is always a popular time for door-to-door magazine sales, and police say they have long been suspicious of the traveling groups. In March, the DOJ for the first time sent a letter to police chiefs across the state warning of scamming sales crews.

The groups are part of a largely unregulated industry that can be not only fraudulent but also dangerous. Industry watchers cite more than 275 known felony charges against door-to-door traveling magazine subscription sales agents, including dozens of sexual assaults against women who opened their doors to them.

'If people are soliciting at your door, I advise you not to donate,' Hammons said. 'Many of them are not who they claim to be.'