Local lawyer rescues teen caught up in traveling magazine sales - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

Local lawyer rescues teen caught up in traveling magazine sales crew

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Christopher Seawright Christopher Seawright
TAMPA, FL (WFLA) - Tampa lawyer George Hunter says he first met 18-year-old Christopher Seawright by chance last month when the teenager and another youth showed up at Hunter's door with a self-improvement sales pitch.

"After about 20 minutes of conversation and me learning about all these great things they were trying to do with their lives.  I said what are you trying to sell me," Hunter said.

That's when Hunter found out the teens were trying to sell him magazine subscriptions. Hunter says Seawright quietly hung back that day and let the other teen do all of the talking.

"He seemed to be a bright young man but certainly naive to the world in this situation," Hunter said. "So, in my view he was a victim as much as anything else."

Hunter said he didn't buy any magazine subscriptions that day because they were outrageously overpriced, but he did give Seawright his business card.

Within days, the recent high school graduate from South Carolina called Hunter to say he'd quit the magazine sales business, was broke and staying at the Salvation Army.

"I realized Christopher was essentially homeless here in Florida and stuck down here with no means to get home," Hunter said.

Experts who've studied the practice of door-to-door sales by traveling youth crews across the nation say Seawright's experience is fairly typical. Groups that frequent Florida often recruit teens from other states and employ them as 'independent contractors" who sell magazines and other goods. Typically, the youths tell consumers they're working on a point system designed to earn scholarship money or free trips.

They are essentially peddling themselves and their personal hopes for a better future with memorized sales pitches like the one Seawright repeated for Eight On Your Side.  "It's a job designed to teach young adults like myself areas of responsibility, discipline and personal growth," Seawright said.

But Seawright says the experience he had seemed to be more about making quick money for the crew boss than self-improvement. "He would tell us to hop in the van or keep selling. If we hopped in the van he'd take us to another territory to go door to door selling magazines."

He referred to his crew boss and co-workers as "grownups" and said he wasn't use to their coarse behavior and language. He wasn't raised that way.

"To me they were strangers and I did not feel comfortable around them,"Seawright said.

Seawright told Eight On Your Side he joined the traveling magazine sales crew in early January based on a job flier his stepfather brought home back in Columbia, South Carolina. 

Because Seawright was unemployed, couldn't afford college and had no other job prospects, he called right away.

"The man on the phone said 'would you like to come down and make some quick money, and I said "yes sir" Seawright said. Seawright said his stepfather also wanted to join but was told he couldn't work on the same crew.

The next day Seawright was bound for Florida on a Greyhound bus after the man on the phone arranged for a one way ticket to Tampa.

Seawright said he spent the next week in training before hitting the bricks for his first day of door-to-door sales with a more seasoned sales partner.

"I really didn't know what I was getting into," said Seawright.

He described work days that began with a wakeup call around 5:30 or 6am and ended with a 10:30pm sales meeting, six days a week. He says he didn't find out until he reached Florida that he had to sign an employment contract which said he wouldn't get any pay unless he worked at least 45 days.

He worked one day of door-to-door sales before telling his crew boss the high pressure and lifestyle of magazine sales wasn't for him.

"He said pack your stuff and get home," Seawright said.

That lead to Seawright walking all night from an economy motel on Columbus Drive in Tampa to the Tampa Greyhound station and eventually the downtown Salvation Army Shelter.

"I just wanted to go home," Seawright said.

Seawright used the business card Hunter had given him days earlier to contact him. "I need your help," Hunter recalled Seawright saying.

"He said he was very intimidated and very scared and didn't know what he was going to do which is why he reached out to me."

That's when the lawyer contacted Seawright's parents, found out they had no money to buy the teenager a bus ticket home and decided to dig into his own pocket to pay the bus fare.

"Being the father of three boys I kept asking myself what would I want someone to do for my sons if they were confronted with this," Hunter said.

Hunter says he took the time to show Seawright around Tampa and bought him lunch before putting him on a bus heading back to Seawright's home in South Carolina, far away from the high pressure lifestyle of door-to-door magazine sales.

"He was able to escape because he had the wherewithall to reach out to me," Hunter said. 

"I really think this is a learning experience for me,"  Seawright said. "Not really, I know it is."

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