Wednesday night Just Before Six, NewsCenter 16 continued its three-part investigative series, “The True Payout to Panhandling."
On Tuesday, NewsCenter 16's Kevin Lewis went undercover as a beggar, earning $300 in just eight hours. That one-day payout is equal to a taxpayer making roughly $100,000 a year.
Like most any job, Kevin’s day as a beggar started early. Braving the frigid cold, he collected donations all day and worked well into the night.
"Thank you very much, I promise to put that to good use. Merry Christmas,” Kevin said to a donor driving by in her car.
Despite his lack of need, Kevin received an abundance of giving. That was until another panhandler arrived and strategically placed himself before Kevin in a line of traffic at Brick and Gumwood Road in Granger.
After approaching the man, Kevin learned the his name was Dennis. Dennis’ sign claimed he was a father of two little girls, it said he couldn’t find work and also mentioned that he was in desperate need of help. After a brief conversation, NewsCenter 16 learned not one of those statements was true.
Kevin: "What’s up man? How you doing?"
Dennis: "What does your sign say? What did you put on yours?
Kevin: "I kept it generic."
Dennis: "Try to make it bigger ya know, so they can see it from farther away."
Kevin: "You think that's too generic? Should I put the father of two you think or something along those lines?”
Dennis: "Try, ‘Have you ever been hungry,’ with a question mark man. You'll get tons of money man."
Kevin: "What do you get? I mean is it like..."
Dennis: "It's about $100 an hour."
Kevin: "That's just..."
Dennis: "It’s the sh** man, it's the sh**."
By this point in our interview it became very apparent; Dennis was by all accounts a con artist and thief.
Kevin: "Do you do it like once a week?”
Dennis: "Umm, just whenever man. Ya know, whenever I feel like I need money for partying and sh** ya know so.”
Kevin: "Ya, ya."
Dennis: "I really don't need money that bad ya know. I live with my mom, I got everything I want, I got a car, an old lady, everything.”
Just like the traffic, Dennis didn’t stop rattling along for a split second.
Kevin: "How long have you been doing it for?"
Dennis: "Three years. I get unemployment too, so you know..."
Kevin: "Double dipping then. That's awesome."
In November, NewsCenter 16 watched as Dennis begged at the same corner. Like clockwork, he walked-off the job after one hour, before his friend took-over using the exact same sign.
NewsCenter 16 followed the duo in their station wagon from Granger into South Bend where we lost them in traffic.
In search for answers, NewsCenter 16 brought Dennis' interview to St. Joseph County Police.
"He has no debts, he has a car, he has a girlfriend, he lives with his mother, he has lots of food, but yet he's out there asking people for money,” said Sgt. Matt Blank.
But as Kevin witnessed first hand while begging, police officers have little-to-no power when it comes to panhandling.
"We don't have any specific ordinances that address it. It's something that we do get complaints on quite frequently, but unless they're violating the state statute, there isn't a whole lot we can do about it,” Blank added.
Indiana’s statute on panhandling is split into two sections. The first describes what is panhandling. The second outlines arrestable offenses like using offensive language, touching potential solicitors and begging at night.
"He is a con artist. I mean he is feeding on the generosity of people who are trying to help and taking full advantage of them,” Blank said.
And beggars like Dennis find an advantage in the law as well, with no language restricting lying; meaning scams like his are perfectly legal.
Dennis: "I smoke weed too ya know. I'll buy weed, ya know cigarettes, ya know whatever I want ya know. It's better than fu***** going stealing and sh**."
Kevin: "Just looking ahead, do you feel like guilty?”
Dennis: "I do sometimes. Yeah sometimes guilt does get to ya man. That's one thing that gets to ya. Sometimes there are people that don't have no money and they give you money. Especially me, I ain't got no kids, but sometimes people come up and say, 'Can you give this to your kids,’ and it eats at you sometimes."
Despite those supposed “guilty feelings,” Dennis has continued to beg almost daily at the corner of Gumwood and Brick Roads.
Although NewsCenter 16 chose to digitize Dennis’ face, we can tell you he's a white man in his late twenties, with a goatee.
Police want to reiterate the public, do not donate to people begging on the side of the road because of stories like this one.
To read Indiana’s entire law on panhandling, just click on the link below.