In 2014 many of the passersby who saw this pregnant woman standing outside a shopping center in San Diego, California, no doubt delved deep into their pockets to help her out. They didn’t know, however, that she was harboring an awful secret.
Melissa Smith had often noticed this panhandler at the Eastlake Plaza center. After all, the unidentified woman was with her child and carried a cardboard sign pleading for help. “I felt bad, there’s a pregnant lady with a little boy and is down on her luck,” Smith told Oklahoma news channel KFOR-TV in 2014. “The dad comes out on the weekends and stands with them.”
Sadly, such sights are not uncommon across the United States. And contrary to some misconceptions, the majority of panhandlers obtain no more than $25 per day, according to a 2013 survey. The same study also revealed that 94 percent of panhandlers spent donated cash on food despite the fact that as many as three out of ten are blighted by drug or alcohol addictions.
However, some panhandlers have reportedly earned a far higher amount. In 2014, for example, a Sacramento couple were found by police to have made more than $350 in just two hours. In 2012, too, an Oklahoma panhandler reportedly told a police officer that he raked in as much as $60,000 over the course of a year.
But a 2001 study found that seven out of ten panhandlers in the city of Toronto would still prefer to do minimum-wage work over begging on the street. Researchers concluded that it was very rare for panhandlers to earn a huge amount and that the median income from panhandling was $300 per month.
So it’s easy to imagine Melissa Smith’s surprise when, as she was putting gas into her car, she spotted the pregnant panhandler and her partner getting into a Mercedes-Benz. “I thought, ‘Wow, a Mercedes-Benz?’” she said.
Adding to Smith’s astonishment, the couple were laughing and counting their cash, she claimed. “Lo and behold, they were in front of us, and here they are counting money, laughing. Their little boy is not in a car seat or seat belt. He’s all the way in the front seat with them,” she added.
Smith then saw the pair driving to another location, parking up their Mercedes and resuming panhandling on the street. “She sits there with the sign. He goes and parks the Mercedes. And they put up the sign and in five minutes, here she is getting money from all these people,” Smith said. But what happened next shocked her even more.
Smith decided to take some photographs of the woman. However, the panhandler noticed her and saw what she was up to. “Next thing I know, she picks up this big boulder… goes over her head, I don’t know if pregnant people can do that, but it was pretty big over her head and coming at me with this rock,” she said.
Police were called, but the woman had already fled the scene. “She grabs her little boy and takes off through the middle of the parking lot,” Smith said. However, KGTV news reporter Emily Valdez subsequently received a tip that the woman had been spotted at a different location in San Diego.
The tip came from San Diego resident, Rebecca Smith, who recognized the woman from the TV report on Melissa Smith’s encounter. This time, as well as being accompanied by her male companion, the panhandler was holding a baby in her arms. “They didn’t say very much. He was holding the sign,” Rebecca Smith told KGTV.
Valdez approached the woman and asked her if she was in the photograph supplied by Melissa Smith. “Is this you begging on the street?” asked Valdez, showing her the photograph. “No speak English,” the woman replied.
The reporter then went on to question the woman’s partner in Spanish about the Mercedes car. However, the man denied any knowledge of the vehicle. The couple then spoke to each other in another language and fled the scene.
When Valdez caught up with the pair again, they sped off in a black minivan. The Mercedes was nowhere to be seen on this occasion, and the children were not put into car seats for the trip. “I just find it sad,” Rebecca Smith commented. “Sad that people would go to this extreme.”
KGTV later commissioned an expert in facial recognition. He found an 80 percent match between the earlier photographs of the Mercedes-driving panhandlers and the couple tracked down by Valdez.
Since the incidents, the clip of the panhandlers in their alleged Mercedes has been viewed more than six million times on YouTube, generating many angry responses. “That just gives the people who are actually in need of money a bad rep,” wrote one viewer. “That makes it so hard for people who truly need it. Scumbags,” another added.
In a further intriguing twist, it emerged that the license-plate number on the Mercedes was registered to a woman with an address at a nearby apartment complex. Monthly rents at the building were in the region of around $2,500. However, neighbors told reporters that the couple had moved.
The trail has since gone cold, and the phony panhandlers seem to have escaped having to answer for their actions. Sadly, cases such as these create problems for those who are genuinely forced into panhandling. In early 2016, for instance, a nationwide snapshot of homelessness in the United States found that almost 550,000 people were on the streets across the country. Almost 200,000 of those were in families, while more than 35,000 were unaccompanied youngsters.
Shockingly, almost 40,000 army veterans were also found to be sleeping rough. And while overall homelessness has declined by around 15 percent since 2007, it’s still sad that there seem to be unscrupulous people out there who are willing to exploit the desperate situation of others for the sake of a few bucks.
And if that story wasn’t enough to enrage you, this one will be sure to leave you seeing red. It all started when two men from Richmond, Virginia, approached a homeless woman. They thought she’d become too aggressive in her panhandling. But after deciding to confront her, they exposed the shocking truth about her life.
Micha Leigh Dominguez was a figure well known to many people in Richmond. Indeed, she could often be seen panhandling on the median in the road at various intersections in the city. And her attitude had become infamous – even more so after, one day, she was caught on camera.
Even though we know Dominguez is about 40 years old, other details about her life remain a mystery. Thanks to the viral video taken of her, though, her behavior towards others is now well documented. In the clip, she is shown begging for change from passing cars. As they stop at the light, Dominguez subsequently approaches them while shaking a large envelope.
And this routine might have continued for months, or even years, without anyone thinking any ill of Dominguez. That is, if it hadn’t have been for her aggressive tactics. Indeed, Dominguez had garnered a reputation for angry exchanges with people who wouldn’t cough up any money.
Furthermore, the viral video wasn’t the first time that she had been caught on film behaving badly. Earlier footage shot by a woman waiting at the light, for instance, shows Dominguez being very hostile. While wearing a large parka jacket, Dominguez is seen seemingly enraged at being filmed while begging, before swearing and making offensive gestures at the camera.
Perhaps with this previous footage and Dominguez’s reputation in mind, two Richmond men decided that they’d had enough of this strange woman. As a result, they filmed her as she begged on the median, walking up and down while cars waited. And, to start with, her behavior already seemed highly suspicious.
They subsequently followed Dominguez in their car as she left the spot, and the second part of their video begins after they tracked her to a fast food outlet’s parking lot. This was the point, moreover, when the terrible truth about the panhandler was apparently revealed.
In the video, Dominguez is seen sorting through her things on the hood of a 2014 Fiat SUV. It turned out that this was her car, leading the men to believe that she wasn’t actually homeless. What’s more, it seemed as if she might not even be that poor.
Meanwhile, during the video shot by the two men, Dominguez subsequently notices the camera and is clearly suspicious at being filmed. However, the men wait until they’ve got a clear shot of her face before accusing her of being a fraud. She reacts to that assertion by threatening to call the police.
That accusation may have seemed mean on the surface; after all, homeless people live incredibly hard lives. What’s more, many are only homeless in the first place because of bad luck, bankruptcy or mental health issues. They are often then trapped in a spiral of destitution and therefore beg only as a last resort.
On the other hand, Dominguez may not really be homeless at all. Although few firm details have been revealed so far, her accusers deduced that she probably had some other source of income. And that’s a fair assumption, some might say, given the apparent age and cost of her vehicle.
After being called out in the video, though, Dominguez seems to panic and then tries to draw staff from the restaurant into the confrontation. She also appears to pretend that she doesn’t understand the accusations that are being leveled at her and, again and again, threatens to call the police.
At any point, Dominguez could have gotten in her car and driven away. Perhaps she chose not to because it might incriminate her, although there is some evidence that suggests the car doesn’t belong to her. According to Curt Autry of NBC12, the car may in fact be a rental.
But when the authorities eventually became involved, it wasn’t because Dominguez had finally been caught in her lie. Instead, it was because she actually called them herself. In other words, things seemingly didn’t go the way she had planned.
After the video of her and her car had spread across Richmond, local people were understandably angry. Dominguez was even being accosted by people who saw her on the median. Plus, someone allegedly stood next to her one day with a sign reading, “This woman is not homeless.”
At some point after the video went viral, moreover, Dominguez clearly lost her composure. She subsequently threw full bottles of Gatorade at a parked car and then called the police to complain about harassment. And, considering her attitude in the original video, it’s perhaps not all that surprising that she’d eventually lashed out.
However, instead of protecting Dominguez from the angry locals, the police arrested her. After all, she had been throwing Gatorade “missiles” at a car. Inadvertently, though, that course of action may have allowed Dominguez to escape the criticism of residents in the area – if only temporarily, during the time that she was at the police station.
What’s more, her story even made the news across the United States. Nonetheless, the main questions remained unanswered – who was this person, and how did she get away with scamming people for so long? Well, a subsequent social media post from someone in Richmond may shed some light on the matter.
According to a Facebook post by Steve Hebblethwaite, she is part of a gypsy group who panhandle all over Virginia. Furthermore, he has asserted that the group has at least three cars, including Dominguez’s Fiat. But although these allegations may turn out to be true, at present they remain uncorroborated and therefore should be treated as rumor rather than fact.
Homeless people live a day-to-day struggle, chiefly relying on the kindness of strangers. By contrast, Micha Leigh Dominguez’s actions appear to be an insult to the hardships that they endure. Indeed, they could even result in members of the public becoming yet more suspicious of those who live on the streets.