An unexpected phone call from the Secret Service is usually an unwanted phone call.
Are agents calling about that $100 bill you spent that turned out to be phony? Was there something in your snide remark about presidential politics that someone somehow terribly misinterpreted?
It turned out that when the Secret Service phoned Lesa Glucroft, they were calling about hand lotion.
Officials wanted to know if the Calabasas businesswoman was interested in sticking the U.S. presidential seal on her lotions and powders and selling them as "America's Legacy" at the White House gift shop.
At first she thought it was a hoax.
"I certainly didn't think it was a serious call," said Glucroft, a registered Democrat.
But the inquiry, from a licensing agent for the U.S. Secret Service Uniformed Division Benefit Fund, was genuine. And now a line of toiletries bearing the presidential insignia is about to hit the gift shop's shelves.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday December 21, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 122 words Type of Material: Correction
Presidential insignia licensing: An article in the Dec. 1 California section on licensing of the presidential insignia on a line of toiletries stated that the initial inquiry to a Calabasas businesswoman was made by a licensing agent for the U.S. Secret Service Uniformed Division Benefit Fund. The initial phone call was made by the licensing agent's partner, marketing consultant Neal Sperling. Also, the name "America's Legacy" was not part of the early discussions of the licensing but came up later as possible names were being discussed. The article also identified Thomas Muldoon as president of the Secret Service benefit fund. He is president and chief operating officer of the White House Gift Shop, which is owned and operated by the benefit fund.
The antibacterial hand wash, glycerin soap, after-shave and other products come in bottles embossed with the distinctive presidential seal: a vigilant eagle holding an olive branch and arrows in its talons and encircled by stars and the words "The President of the United States."
Use of the seal is strictly regulated. Title 18 of the Federal Code prohibits its commercial use without authorization from the president himself.
Even with such approval, the manufactured item bearing the seal must be considered being sold "for the official use of the government."
Violators can face fines or imprisonment. Last year the government even demanded that the satirical Onion newspaper stop using the insignia on its website to illustrate a parody of the president's weekly radio address.
But the Secret Service is allowed to use the seal in conjunction with its charitable benefit fund. It was created after the 1950 shooting death of a White House police officer and the wounding of two others during an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate President Truman at Blair House, the official state guest house for the president of the United States. Truman and his family were staying there during renovations to the White House.
The fund is supported through the sale of commemorative items at the gift shop, which in the past was open only to White House guests and Secret Service agents themselves. Seven years ago, the shop was moved to the National Press Club and opened to the public.
Glucroft's six-year licensing agreement calls for her to turn over 15% of each sale to the Secret Service fund. The toiletry line, which she has dubbed 1600 for Men in a nod to the White House's 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. address, includes 18 items. They range from $10.95 bars of soap to a $29.95 shaving lotion gift set.
The 39-year-old launched her skin care business, Tulip Boutique Inc., five years ago after losing her job as an entertainment attorney in the post-9/11 recession. Her husband, Rob, quit his job as a catering and events planner and is her business partner.
The Secret Service's licensing agent learned of Glucroft's business in a community newspaper, the Valley Vantage. The story noted that Glucroft had been named Emerging Woman Business Owner of the Year by the National Assn. of Women Business Owners of Ventura County and was being honored at a May 2005 ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Simi Valley.
Danny Simon, whose Los Angeles-based Licensing Group Ltd. represents the Secret Service fund, said Glucroft's products are the first of several lines planned. Another will be called Homeland Preservation and feature a homeland security theme.
At the White House gift shop, Thomas Muldoon, president of the Secret Service Uniformed Division Benefit Fund, said proceeds from Glucroft's products will go to local and nationwide charities such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation as well as families of Secret Service personnel.
"We obtain permission to use the seal from every administration that comes in," said Muldoon, a retired White House officer who has helped protect several presidents.
Although the government has authorized Glucroft's products to bear the presidential insignia, not all Secret Service agents have gotten the word.
When Glucroft tried to get a friend to present a gift basket of the first batch of presidential lotions to former President Clinton when he appeared at a Beverly Hills political fundraiser this fall, Secret Service agents who guard him confiscated it.
"They said liquids were prohibited" in the vicinity of the former chief executive, Glucroft said. "I know, it's kind of ironic, isn't it?"
Maybe, joked her husband, "someone in the Secret Service has nice soft hands now."
And sticky fingers.