Published in the September 8, 2015 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — Police in Wakefield, Reading and North Reading are investigating a pattern of burglaries and larcenies that appear to be connected to employees of the same door-to-door solicitation company.
Employees for a Willis, Texas-based company, Urban Nation, are allegedly responsible for the break-ins, which began late last week. The company reportedly has flown as many as 100 people from out-of-state into the Boston area. Those individuals are assigned to sell magazine subscriptions door to door.
But according to investigators in the three communities, some of the solicitors have been knocking on front doors for a sales call and then breaking in, usually through a rear door, if no one appears to be home.
Wakefield Police have been called to different neighborhoods over the past several weeks after receiving multiple calls about door-to-door solicitors operating in the neighborhoods. In each instance, the individuals were advised of the requirement to check-in with the Police Department before engaging in door-to-door sales.
Last Thursday, Police Detective Sgt. Richard DiNanno observed a man walking around the outside of Town Hall. The man told DiNanno that he was doing some door-to-door selling. DiNanno informed the man of the requirement to register with the police Department before engaging in door-to-door sales.
A short time later, DiNanno returned to the scene after police received a report that a man on Lafayette Street may have taken something out of a delivered package left on a doorstep of a home on that street. Because the homeowner was away, police could not verify whether anything was missing. The suspect was released but police plan to summons the man to court if anything is determined to be missing from the delivered box.
On Friday, Reading Police Department arrested a man from Urban Nation after police, responding to calls about aggressive unregistered solicitors, allegedly found him with stolen merchandise from a home on Van Norden Road in Reading.
Laderius Alton Lowe, 22, of Detroit was charged with Breaking and Entering During the Daytime with the Intention to Commit a Felony and Receiving Stolen Property over $250.
Also on Friday, the North Reading Police received several calls for solicitors going door to door. Homeowners described the solicitors’ sales pitch as “aggressive.” Police later encountered another solicitor from Detroit who informed them he works for Urban Nation.
Police have determined that several of the Urban Nation solicitors have long criminal histories including burglary and larceny in other states.
“This is a disturbing situation in which a company is allegedly flagrantly violating the law by dropping off unlicensed solicitors who appear to be helping themselves to packages and items from homes in multiple communities,” Wakefield Police Chief Rick Smith said. “However, the teamwork and constant communication between municipal law enforcement agencies quickly identified this pattern of behavior and now we are alerting the public.”
Smith noted that the Wakefield bylaw requiring solicitors to register with the Police Department was designed to prevent precisely this type of problem. Reading and North Reading have similar requirements.
“When this bylaw was suggested the goal was to identify the solicitors, most of whom employ legitimate employees,” Smith said. “Some do not, as is the case here. Over the years we recognized the need for a bylaw of this type to prevent or reduce this type of activity while at the same time protecting our citizens.”
Smith said that citizens of the town can do a lot to help police and prevent this type of crime.
“The Wakefield Police Department takes prevention seriously,” Smith said. “The only way to reduce these types of crimes is to practice forward thinking prevention and target hardening. By making the target more difficult to access, the potential for crime is greatly reduced. Neighbors should watch out for neighbors, reporting anything suspicious in a timely manner. Each resident should always lock their homes, vehicles and outbuildings. By practicing these small items, we can greatly reduce the opportunity for criminal activity while at the same time the community is helping us help the community.”
The Better Business Bureau of Houston and South Texas reports on its website a total of 64 complaints about Texas-based Urban Nation over the last three years, most related to delivery issues with the magazines ordered from the solicitors.
The complaints posted on the BBB site state that the door-to-door solicitors from Urban Nation often claim that they are attempting to earn money for their education or to “better their lives.” The BBB of Houston and South Texas gave Urban Nation a grade of “F” on a scale of A+ to F.