What Mainstream Publishers Don't Want You to Know: Sales Force

Encounters with magazine subscription agents can be dangerous

Vinnie Pitts is the president of the National Field Selling Association and the owner of Sunshine Subscription Agency, based in Coral Springs, Florida.

The 54-year-old Pitts got his start in Pilot Point, Texas, and migrated to Florida in the late 1990s. In 2000, while the NFSA was fighting the Traveling Sales Crew Protection Act, Pitts was dealing with trouble that affected his company — then called Palmetto Marketing — even more.

On May 24, 2000, an 18-year-old member of one of Pitts's crews, Matthew Maxson, was having trouble making quota. A high-school dropout, Maxson had previously been fired from other jobs for theft. He was a heavy drinker and drug user. He had burned through the $20 advance from his manager and needed to make some sales. So, while working a neighborhood in upstate New York, he talked his way into the home of Diane Cooper, saying he needed to use the bathroom.

When Cooper checked on Maxson and found him rifling through her jewelry, Maxson panicked. He grabbed the nearest weapon, a glass jar, and smashed it into Cooper's head, then stabbed her to death with one of the broken shards.

When the media in Cooper's hometown confronted Pitts, he proceeded with the usual, and fruitless, semantic parsing. Denying that Maxson worked for him, he said from his Florida office: "The only people who work for us are the people who work right here in this building."

He said Maxson worked for a company called DeGeorge Sales, adding: "Our company has an agreement to process their magazine and subscription sales."

Of course, DeGeorge Sales shared the same address as Pitts's Palmetto Marketing. It was a decidedly lame defense; Cooper's family sued Pitts for negligent hiring and wrongful death, eventually settling for $1 million.

In 2005, crew managers working under Pitts hired 20-year-old Brandon Green, on probation out of Minnesota for felony burglary. He wasn't supposed to leave the state.

On July 1, 2005, Green raped a woman in Wisconsin after smoking weed laced with cocaine. He bound her wrists with a fishing stringer and punched her repeatedly in the face.

Green was ultimately convicted of ­second-degree sexual assault involving force and sentenced to 21 years in prison. That's when Pitts changed the name of his company from Palmetto to Sunshine Subscription Agency. Green's victim subsequently sued him, his company and Green's crew managers in a Wisconsin circuit court. The suit is still pending.

The suit revealed the convoluted structure of Pitts's organization. At the time of the rape, Green worked under a company called Gemini Subscriptions. The company was owned by Tina Cecil, who also traveled with her husband's company, Pitts Sales. Both Gemini and Pitts Sales cleared subscriptions through Vinnie Pitts's Palmetto Marketing. Pitts moved to dismiss the suit, arguing that Wisconsin courts had no jurisdiction over his Florida-based company, and that Green, Gemini and Pitts Sales were independent contractors, absolving him of any liability.The court didn't agree, stating, "Gemini Subscriptions, Inc., and Pitts Sales, Inc., exercised sufficient control over Brandon Green's actions to hold them liable for his conduct..."

A former agent who had worked under Pitts described him as a generous man who went so far as to buy houses for some of his managers and agents. Like some other ex-agents, she was concerned that this story would only dwell on the negative.

 
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