Thursday, September 22, 2011

Desperate Job Seekers Taken For A Ride? ...Stranded

A woman is left stranded in Vancouver when she refuses to solicit coupons door-to-door, after being told to leave her cellphone at the office.

Desperate job seekers taken for a ride?

Oregon City woman cries foul after a Tigard solicitation firm dumps her 30 miles from home

Pamplin Media Group, May 5, 2008

Why would the Tigard branch of a solicitation company that touts itself to prospective employees as a Fortune 500 marketing firm strand a 20-year-old Oregon City woman 30 miles from home?

That’s what Ashton Nicole Lugar wants to know.

It’s also a question at the edge of a legislative concept being kicked around in Salem that focuses on the culture of solicitation firms, which frequently operate at the fringe of business communities and use questionable tactics to rope in vulnerable workers to hustle door-to-door sales.

The Landers Group contacted Lugar at her Oregon City home shortly after she posted her resume on the Hot Jobs Web site. She had just returned to Oregon from active duty in the U.S. Navy, working as the coxswain on a patrol craft at the Mayport Naval Shipyard, near Jacksonville, Fla.

She needed a job — something that would pay her more than the $18,000 annual salary she earned in the service. She has law enforcement aspirations but is also considering office work if the pay is right.

Based in Los Angeles, Calif., The Landers Group, according to its Web site, is a premiere sports marketing outfit, managing accounts for marquee clubs such as the Los Angeles Kings, the Seattle Sonics and, yes, the Portland Trailblazers. A spokesperson for the Trailblazers said the franchise used 

The Landers Group a couple of years ago in a campaign, but hasn’t used the company since then.
Lugar said it was the promise, however, of working with big, notable organizations that attracted her to the job.

“They called me for the first time and talked about the group and how they work with high-end business people,” Lugar said.

But only after getting deep into the recruitment process did she learn the company’s real business: door-to-door sales solicitations, specializing primarily in coupon peddling.

Lugar’s first meeting at the company’s office at 7000 S.W. Hampton St., Suite 200 — a nondescript office front tucked inside a nondescript business park — went relatively well.

In retrospect, however, Lugar said she should have seen the red flags waving.

There is no outward sign that The Landers Group inhabits the office location. A receptionist greets incoming calls to the company by announcing it as a generic “marketing firm.” Other than the Web site and the contacts made with prospective workers, there are few signs that the company even exists.

Tonja Marcovic, who manages the Tigard office, seemed impressed with Lugar and suggested a second interview a week later, Lugar said. At that point, Lugar said she was led to believe she would meet higher-ups in the company who would determine her fitness to work for The Landers Group.
“They set it up right then, and they told me what day to be there,” Lugar said.

When Lugar returned, she was asked to sign a waiver stating that she was a prospective employee, agreeing to spend a full day getting an education in the field of marketing without pay.

“That was plausible,” she said.

She was also asked to leave her cell phone behind — a possible distraction during the meetings — as she and three other prospects settled into a 1990s-model Nissan that was used to carry them up I-5 and into Vancouver, Wash.

For Lugar, the whisper of alarm grew louder and louder.

“We were driving up to Vancouver, and the guy who is driving starts handing me these coupons, and he says, ‘Do you see these?’” Lugar said. The other passengers were dropped off at a separate location leaving Lugar alone with the driver.

That’s about the time the truth of her situation hit her.

“So he dropped these people off, and I was like, wait a minute, are you a solicitor?” Lugar asked. “I was like, I don’t want to do this at all, I’m not going to work for you for free.”

Lugar said the driver gave her two options: hang out with him for the eight-hour shift or find her own way home. She opted for the latter.

“They dropped me off in Vancouver with no phone and no money in my pocket,” she said.

The driver did allow Lugar to use his cell phone to call her father, who had to leave work early to pick her up.

In a report filed with the Tigard Police Department, Lugar and her father questioned whether the The Landers Group’s actions were akin to kidnapping. Because there was no evidence of illegal activity, however, the responding officer took the complaint for informational purposes only.

Finding paperwork on The Landers Group in Oregon is not easy.

As with any outfit doing business in the city of Tigard, The Landers Group is required to take out a business license.

So far, it hasn’t done so, at least not under that name.

Instead, the company is operating under a newly formed title, BMF Global Inc., which did register at the state level in January.

After several back-and-forth exchanges to nail down a business license in Tigard, with Marcovic giving her assurance that the process had been completed, a city employee confirmed that BMF Global did take out a license on Wednesday — shortly after being contacted by The Times.

According to the license, the company employs only two people.
Marcovic, who comes across as polite and accommodating, paints a starkly different picture of the events that transpired with Lugar.

For one, she points out that Lugar did sign the waiver, agreeing to spend an eight-hour shift learning about the business.

“She signed the waiver, I have it, so it’s not like she was mistreated or anything,” Marcovic said. “It’s an interview. It’s not like she was employed here.”

“It’s all voluntary,” she said, adding that she even offered Lugar money to compensate her for the lost time and contacted Lugar later to offer assistance in finding her a different job.

Lugar refused the offers, instead interpreting them as bribes to keep her quiet about the experience.
Marcovic said her company has a three-stage interview process, a construct built on the understanding that door-to-door sales solicitation is not for everyone. Given the high drop-out rate, the question, then, is why prospective employees would be transported so far from the office, asked not to bring their cell phones and then not offered a ride back when the job doesn’t pan out.

At times Marcovic gave different time frames for how long the company has been in Tigard, anywhere from six weeks to three weeks. She uses expressions such as “business-to-business,” “grassroots sales,” “events,” and “direct sales” to describe the operation, buzzwords that mimic the The Landers Group’s Web site and gloss over the less-attractive mantle of door-to-door solicitation.

Peter Shepherd, the deputy attorney general in Oregon, said his agency is assembling a list of some of the legally questionable activities in the state that could potentially be resolved through legislative action.

One of those activities deals with a tactic used by solicitation firms to overstate the benefit of their products and whether that tactic infiltrates all levels of the industry, including employee recruitment.

“We tried to look at the question, why would it be that somebody going door-to-door would try to overstate the benefits of their product,” Shepherd said. “As we looked at those, sometimes it looked to us that, well, maybe sometimes what happens here is the crew… is under pressure from their employer to go out and make these sales.”

One problem, he said, is that there is very little in the way of complaints filed with the state Department of Justice from employees who have worked with solicitation companies, a fact the companies use to their benefit to promote their good standings in the business world.

Elizabeth Mazzara, the legislative and communication director for the Oregon Department of Labor and Industry, similarly said her agency sees few complaints, a fact she chocks up to the typically vulnerable groups — young, desperate, chronically unemployed — who fall into such work.

“The things is, I think we decided to get going on this legislative concept because these concerns have been raised, but there are no live bodies,” Mazzara said.

With a tumbling economy and the sporadic return of relatively young veterans from overseas service, the net cast by such companies could yield more would-be workers.

In Lugar’s case, because she was never officially an employee, Mazzara said the bureau has little leverage to get involved.

Though the state Bureau of Labor and Industries has regulations in place to protect minors who are employed with solicitation firms, including requiring those firms to register with the bureau, there is nothing that addresses adults in the trade, or trade practices. Nor is there likely to be anytime soon, Shepherd said.

“The problem is, when you go to the Legislature with an argument for change in the law, you have to be armed with the evidence of the harm that you’re trying to address,” he said. Right now, that evidence is scant.

Lugar, who has filed a complaint with the bureau, said she is now awaiting orders to ship out for a one-year tour in Afghanistan, though she would prefer Iraq.

“That’s why I moved all my stuff back to Oregon in the first place,” she said. “I need a job in the meantime.”

She also said she is considering a civil action against the company.


  1. Well if you forget your phone and aren't knowledgable in means of contacting people via another form of communication, then what's wrong with you ? I've seen the company's model and yet being questionable they are repuatble. I mean if they have been around this long, obviously with all the negativity they are still performing beyond expectations

  2. thedoze -

    You might want to read the article before commenting, because it was stated explicitly in there that she was asked to leave her phone behind by the place she was doing the interview at. I wouldn't put all the blame on her, the whole thing is a scam, but unfortunately you are right in that the company's model is solid - in that they cover all their bases to absolve themselves of any responsibility. Even if she were legitimately kidnapped by one of the independent contractors during her interview, they could play innocent and get away with it.

  3. Funny enough I got a call from a Trail Blazers Marketing and my friend had already gone on an all day interview where they made her do doing door to door sales. Of course she didn't take the job. Then we found more stuff on the guy Mike Malkovich that said he opens and closes businesses all over the country. This probably was one of them. It's ashame that this company can drag down a name like the Trail Blazers when you think you would be working for the team!