On a warm June day, in the desert community of Mesa, Arizona a young woman prepared for a trip to Mexico. She had beachy brown hair, a glowing tan and a toothy grin. Excited for the trip ahead, she was packed and ready to leave the next morning.
But one problem was nagging at her. She hadn’t been able to reach her travel companion, Travis Alexander.
In fact, it had been Travis who invited Mimi Hall to Cancun on a trip he had earned through his affiliation with a network marketing company -- Prepaid Legal Services (PPL).
On a personal and religious quest for true love, Travis wanted to date Mimi. And although Mimi had made it clear she was only seeking friendship due to his reputation as a playboy in their Mormon community, she agreed to accompany him on the exclusive beach vacation with the Prepaid Legal crew.
But now, Travis wasn’t answering her calls. Something was amiss.
By this point, it should be a surprise to no one, what Mimi and her friends discovered as they rushed into Travis’s bedroom on June 9th, 2008 -- four days after he was murdered by his ex-lover and tormenter, Jodi Arias.
In the following article, we’ll examine the Jodi Arias case from a different perspective:
We’ll even uncover some network marketing takeaways. But first, let’s talk about the crime.
The Murder of Travis Alexander
The media couldn’t get enough of the sensational, sexually-charged trial that sent the Alexanders running out of the courtroom in tears as Travis’s personal indiscretions were raked over the steamy coals of Arias’s narrative.
The attractive sometimes-platinum blond, sometimes brunette, appeared deliberately librarian-chic when she took the stand to testify in her own defense. But the words that came rolling out of her mouth were anything but meek. She commanded the room, and the world, as she spun stories about sex, lies and audiotape.
In the end, Jodi’s defense didn’t hold up. To this day, there’s no evidence to suggest that Travis charged at Jodi on that fateful afternoon in June. Or that she acted in self defense, in anyway. In fact, the most compelling evidence suggests that Arias planned to kill Travis because she’s a jealous and possessive stalker who raged over his decision to take Mimi Hall to Mexico.
Jodi may have convinced herself she was victimized, believing that what she put into the relationship -- debasing, paraphilic secret sex and a conversion to Mormonism -- made her entitled to Travis as her serious, long-term life-partner.
At worst, she lied despicably about feeling like a victim to garner sympathy, mercy and win over the jury. Either way, she’s a perpetrator of the worst kind of domestic violence, that which results in death.
In the midst of all of this, It’s easy to forget that at the foundation of this toxic relationship timeline is a multi-level marketing company, PPL.
What We Know About Prepaid Legal
Reportedly, Prepaid Legal Services was an MLM started in the late 60s by a man named Harland Stonecipher. Here’s what we know about PPL, the company that unwittingly facilitated the environment where Travis and Jodi would fatefully meet:
Prepaid Legal Services, now the private company LegalShield, provides moderately rated legal insurance services to consumers, but at what cost to the distributors who appear largely unsuccessful at selling the service?
The Cult of MLMs
Most of what I’ve read suggests LegalShield costs around $100 to get started. But that may not be the total cost of doing business. It appears LegalShield still offers exclusive getaway vacations to successful sales associates, like they did under the name PPL when Travis was a top producer.
After all, big rewards are part of the allure of direct sales. Most experts would agree that the success of a direct sales organization is directly related to its culture, offering enticing rewards to top producers is one way direct sales organizations sustain a positive company culture.
When it comes to MLMs, you’re in the business of people more than products. As such direct sales organizations offer vacation packages, corporate trainings and team building opportunities that ensure everyone is drinking the kool-aid. You see what I did there?
Running With a Doomed Idea
Let me spell it out. “Drinking the kool-aid” is a phrase that stems from the Jonestown Massacre, and refers negatively to a group of people who run with a doomed idea. In many ways, MLMs are similar to cults.
An article by Al-Jazeera America, Your MLM Loves You, explores the nature of MLMs and how they appeal to “faith-based capitalists” by cherry-picking the best parts of scripture to create a sense of community, faith and indoctrination in members.
Dr. Claudia Gross told Al-Jazeera that while manipulation tactics are an unfortunate staple of most marketing, they are more impactful and pervasive in MLMs due to their unique structure and lack of regulation.
Direct sales organizations often draw people in with promises of a better, more luxurious life, and, once inside, there are no substantial unions or workforce organizations devoted to industry regulation and protection of distributors. That leaves those who signed up and invested in a distributorship particularly vulnerable to manipulation and mistreatment.
MLM-Sex-Cult of the Week
For a recent example, one only has to turn on the news about TV-star Allison Mack and her alleged involvement in an MLM-turned-sex-cult, NXIVM (obnoxiously pronounced Nexium). Reportedly, allegations against Mack include recruiting women to be sex slaves for the company’s founder, Keith Raniere, and even branding them with initials.
While that may be an extreme example, MLMs appeal skews heavily to women. In fact, 92% of in-home direct sales parties are thrown by women. An equally daunting statistic is 99% of independent MLM distributorships lose money. It certainly looks like women are vulnerable to aspects of network marketing that could cause them to go in the hole financially.
But at the top of these companies, often times is a founding man. Take doTERRA, Avon, Herbalife, Amway and even LegalShield -- all founded by men. One criticism of direct sales is its an industry largely driven by charismatic men who profit off the subjugation of impressionable women that want better for themselves and their families.
Travis was good at making money with PPL. He had a beautiful home, a nice car and was comfortable enough to travel. Travis’s success with Prepaid Legal is the kind of bootstraps story that most MLMs would be eager to capitalize on.
In the book, Exposed: The Secret Life of Jodi Arias, author Jane Velez-Mitchell says Travis was good at selling PPL because of his religion. She equates the Mormon mission, which includes door knocking for God in suburban neighborhoods, to his ability to connect with people and sell them on something he was passionate about.
Objectively, thinking that a network marketing organization sounds like your religion in any sense should send up some major red flags. But Mormonism isn’t the only religion that shares something in common with MLMs.
The Church of Scientology embodies a doctrine of religious beliefs that are widely-criticized for being “cult-like”. Among them are these attributes shared between Scientology and MLMs:
This list goes on. Not least of all, many of these organizations, like Scientology, end with a charismatic male at the top of the biggest pyramid.
At the beginning of the Travis Alexander and Jodi Arias saga is a chance meeting between the two. And at the end is a horrific murder that happened just days before Travis was scheduled to take a luxurious business trip.
Both waypoints on the timeline of this strange and sordid case have one thing in common: network marketing.
In all likelihood, joining an MLM will not lead down a path to murder. But the foundation of the direct sales industry, the very structure on which it relies, might be a “doomed idea”.
There are several things you should consider before you partner with an MLM:
Remember that MLMs attract vulnerable people who are looking for greatness no matter the cost. Also keep in mind, those who are very successful at direct selling often embody the traits of charismatic cult leaders.
There are lots of things that should give you pause about MLMs, and yet there’s still a small percentage of people who join and make legitimate money working from home. Whatever you decide to do, if you’re like me you’ll remain skeptical.
And so concludes the toxic tale of Jodi Arias, against the backdrop of an industry that supports a power differential between men and women, and promotes problematic, if not cult-like behavior.
Follow my blog for more fresh perspective, and remember -- don’t drink the kool-aid!