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Lawton Police: Book Solicitors Are Legitimate

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COMANCHE CO., Okla_ For the past week or so, women going door to door selling children's books have spawned panic throughout Comanche County.

Social media postings have accused the women of running a human trafficking ring and using the sale of books as a ploy to get inside you home to steal your children. Calls have poured into our newsroom and comments posted on our facebook page asking us to investigate. We did and found out local law enforcement has been swamped, too, as people who've encountered the women face-to-face shared their concerns.

What is real is a panicked public. They are so panicked, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and the City of Walters each posted statements to their facebook pages. They say while it is true there is a group of people selling books door to door, they are doing nothing illegal. The group is operating under city soliciting permits, even under one here in Lawton.  After conducting their own investigation, the OBN said they found no evidence of human trafficking or forced labor of any kind. They said the solicitors are college interns working for a publishing company recognized by the Better Business Bureau.

So, is it a facebook legend or a cause for concern? For Ashley Gordon, who lives with her husband and two small children near Walters, that answer is clear.

"My husband called me and immediately said, ‘Do you remember seeing those facebook posts about women trafficking children?'" Gordon said. "I said, ‘Yes.' He said, ‘They just came here.' I said, ‘No way!' He said, ‘Yeah!'"

At this point, Lawton Police Detective Nancy Lombardo said these stories of human trafficking and child snatching are unfounded. In fact, the only proof anyone has found of anything only verifies that the group people with foreign accents going door-to-door are operating legally.

"These are exchange students," Lombardo said. "They are from a different county. They are here on a visa. We ran background checks to the extent that we could on a visa. I worked with licensing and permits people, and we did deem it as a legitimate business."

Several people posted to our facebook wall, claiming the women specifically asked about their children. They said it made many of them leery.

Lombardo said it's easily explained.

"I think it's causing their alert to go up, because they are referring to children," Lombardo said. "They are legitimately trying to sell children's books, and I think that's why they are asking if there are children in the home. It's not realistic to sell children's books to adults." 

Gordon said she's seen the proof of licensing, but along with many others, she's still a little uneasy. She said while she no longer believes her children are in danger, the women's manner of business is still cause for concern. She said even after a woman visited her house once, she later came back while operating under what appeared to be bold pressure tactic.

"As soon as we pulled down our dirt road, she was there right behind us," Gordon said. "She was following us. My husband did not go home. She went to our house. That made us nervous, so we drove by. She continued to follow us, and we had to kind of get away from her."

Lombardo said that's where this group may be at fault.

"If you're not interested in their services, just tell them," Lombardo said. "If they aren't walking away politely, I want to know about that because that's not how we want them to conduct business."

Gordon said in rural areas, it's not uncommon for homeowners to answer the door with a gun when addressing strangers. A friend of hers did that leaving one solicitor speechless before turning around and walking away.

We did speak to the City of Lawton's licensing department. They said while they haven't determined a date, they do plan to hold an internal hearing regarding the status of the permits issued to this particular group. There they will determine whether or not there's enough proof of concern or violation to revoke their permits.

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