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Magazine seller arrested in attack on San Fernando Valley woman

December 18, 2009 |  2:51 pm

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

Gerald Vidal, 23, was arrested Thursday on suspicion of home-invasion robbery and attempted rape and is being held on $5.6 million bail, Det. Darcie Cobos said. More charges are likely. The Texas native will be arraigned on Monday.

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

Senior lead officer Dennis Cunningham set forth these allegations: At around 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 outside. But when she returned and told him she had changed her mind, he forced his way into her home, hit her repeatedly on the head, removed his clothes, tried to remove her clothing and tried to rape her in the entryway to her home. The victim fought back by choking him and scratching him.

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

Cunningham, who responded to the call, had stopped two subscription sellers the previous day in West Hills, and knew there was a magazine-selling crew staying at a motel at Winnetka Avenue and Ventura Boulevard. He went there, where a man from the crew identified Vidal and told him his location. Police arrested Vidal at 3:30, and the victim briefly left the hospital to identity him.

The woman suffered severe head injuries and is hospitalized in stable condition.

Cunningham said he had already been investigating the subscription-selling crews, which typically are taken to 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 them 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