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The Albuquerque Journal

Salesmen Accused Of Kidnapping Man

Albuquerque Journal (NM) January 18, 2006
Detective: Victim Tried To Leave Crew
Author: JEREMY PAWLOSKI Journal Staff Writer

Burt Dials was trying to flee his door-to-door magazine sales crew in Los Angeles on New Year's Day when he was kidnapped at gunpoint from a city bus by members of the crew who tried to stop him, according to court records and a Los Angeles County sheriff's detective.

One of the men charged with Dials' kidnapping, Dewell Keith Lafleur, 32, was initially charged with murder in Santa Fe in connection with Benjamin Suazo's October beating death at the hands of the group of out-of-state magazine salesmen at the Silva Lanes bowling alley parking lot.

But Lafleur, the leader of the Santa Fe sales crew, saw those charges dropped after a preliminary hearing in November, when eyewitnesses from the bowling alley homicide said Lafleur acted as a peacemaker the night that Suazo was beaten, and then run over, by the other members, according to court records.

Four other young men who list out-of-state addresses and were members of Lafleur's crew in Santa Fe still face second-degree murder and other charges connected to Suazo's death.

During a phone interview on Tuesday, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Detective Jeanine Lum painted a disturbing picture of the magazine sales crew that Lafleur headed in Santa Fe and California. She said Lafleur's victim in Los Angeles was trying to leave the sales crew because he was "tired of ripping people off" and felt guilty about selling magazine subscriptions that they would never receive to old women.

"They hustle people for money," Lum said. "They normally prey after the elderly because they're easy victims."

Members of Lafleur's sales crew are typically paid only $20 a day for working 12-hour shifts, well under the minimum wage, Lum said. She added that sales crew leaders justify the low wages by saying that they pay for members' room and board as they travel the country.

Lum said most of the members of Lafleur's crew have lengthy criminal records. Lafleur himself has a criminal record, she said.

Members of Lafleur's sales crew tell prospective clients they are trying to raise money for college, or for college trips to Europe, but they are lying, Lum said.

"These kids have their speeches down," she said.

Lum said that going door to door to sell magazines is a perfect way for salesmen to "case" neighborhoods where they can break into homes or cars.

During the incident in Los Angeles County on New Year's Day, Dials was on a city bus around 7:15 p.m. but did not know that another member of the sales crew, Chassidy Tolliver, had spotted him and told Lafleur and other members of the group that Dials was trying to escape, Lum said.

"This employee was trying to break out of this ring," Lum said. Lafleur, Tolliver, 22, and another member of the group, Robert David Richie, 38, are all charged with kidnapping for ransom and assault with a deadly weapon, to wit, a handgun, according to their felony complaints. Richie is additionally charged with being a felon in possession of a handgun, according to his felony complaint. According to court records, Richie is the person who wielded a handgun during the kidnapping. The vehicle that Lafleur was driving during the commission of the alleged kidnapping was the same make and model as the Cadillac Escalade sport-utility vehicle that he was arrested in during the early morning hours of Oct. 20, 2005, in Santa Fe, according to court records. Lum said Lafleur, Tolliver and Richie were arrested in the Los Angeles area on Jan. 3, after an alert police officer learned that Lafleur's Escalade had the same license plate as the vehicle used in the Jan. 1 kidnapping. When Di! als was located by police several days later, he had "numerous visible injuries" to his face, Lum said. "He probably should have gone to the hospital," Lum said. The founder of a New Yorkbased clearinghouse on child

and youth labor issues has said that door-to-door magazine sales organizations are a nationwide problem, recruiting young people into situations in which they are exploited or can become victims or violence. "This is a nationwide problem, and it has been for many years," said Earlene Williams, founder of Parent Watch, in October. Parent Watch tries to help youngsters and young adults who join traveling groups that sell magazines.

"The great majority of these kids are innocent kids who are lured into these sales crews because they want to travel and make lots of money, but criminals also jump on board, who are running from the law, Williams has said. "They are a danger to both kids on the crews and people in their homes."

On Tuesday, Williams said she was not surprised by the alleged kidnapping in Los Angeles County.

"It happens often," Williams said. "Believe it or not, this is not the first case that I have heard of. They really don't like to lose one of their top salespeople. I don't know if that is the case in this situation, but it has happened in other cases that I've handled."


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