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Salesman arrested in alleged sexual assault in the Valley

Gerald Vidal, who was selling magazine subscriptions in the Winnetka area, forced his way into a woman's home and attacked her, police say. She was hospitalized and is in stable condition.

December 19, 2009|By Seema Mehta

A 23-year-old man who was selling magazine subscriptions door to door in the Winnetka area has been arrested after brutally attacking and sexually assaulting a woman who changed her mind about buying a subscription, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Gerald Vidal was arrested Thursday on suspicion of home-invasion robbery and attempted rape and is being held on $5.6-million bail, said Det. Darcie Cobos. More charges are likely. The Texas native will be arraigned Monday.

Vidal was part of a subscription-selling crew from out of state. Such operations have been drawing increased police scrutiny.

About 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Vidal knocked on the woman's door and she agreed to buy magazines. While she went to get money, Vidal waited on the sidewalk, said Senior Lead Officer Dennis Cunningham. But when she returned and told him she had changed her mind, he forced his way into her home, hit her repeatedly in the head and tried to rape her in the entryway to her home. The victim fought back by scratching and choking him.

Vidal then dragged her from room to room, ransacking the home and demanding money. The woman, 30, continued to resist, and Vidal fled the home, Cunningham said.

Cunningham, who responded to the call, had stopped two subscription sellers the prior day in West Hills, and knew there was a magazine-selling crew from out of state staying at a nearby motel. He went there, where a man from the crew identified Vidal and told Cunningham of the suspect's whereabouts. Police arrested him at 3:30 p.m., and the victim briefly left the hospital to identity him.

The victim suffered massive head injuries and is hospitalized in stable condition.

Cunningham said he had already been investigating the subscription-selling crews, which are typically from out of state and go to various neighborhoods for a short period of time to sell subscriptions on commission.

"They present themselves as students trying to earn points for scholarships," he said. "In reality, they earn a commission for each sale."

Criminals are increasingly joining the crews so they can case neighborhoods, burglarize homes, or simply pocket the cash from subscription sales, he said.

Police declined to release a picture of Vidal, but urged anyone with information about the crime or similar attacks to call Cobos at (818) 756-4820 or the 24-hour tip line at (877) LAPD-24-7.

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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