DALLAS (CBS11) - A Consumer Justice investigation found the panhandlers standing on the corners aren't always what they seem.
A viewer tip led CBS11 to uncover a network of professional panhandlers in Dallas.
The group consists of eight to ten people targeting the intersection of the Dallas North Tollway and Northwest Highway in Dallas.
Len Critcher owns a nearby home. He said he has seen panhandlers on nearby corners for years before he realized they were working together. "Every day around 11 o'clock a car will stop -- car stops, lets out three or four people, they seem to go to their stations," Critcher explained, adding, "then I've also seen the car return and bring food and supplies."
Critcher said the panhandlers use his side yard as their rest area and restroom. "I actually drove by once and saw someone with their pants down using the restroom on a tree of mine." But he says that's not what bothers him the most. "What's behind all of this. If these were truly people that needed help, I would be all for it. Let's give and give and give. But when it's organized, when we don't know where the money's going, and it is not what it appears to be, that's what bothers me."
Doug Denton runs Homeward Bound, Inc. -- a non-profit agency that helps people overcome addiction. He said most panhandlers aren't homeless, and that giving them money is likely just enabling their addictions. "Just assume you're buying drugs for them," Denton said. He says in many cases there are people controlling the corners, adding, "The organizers of these rings are supplying the drugs and alcohol and reaping the profits."
CBS11 watched two cars repeatedly pick up and drop off several of the panhandlers. The driver of a black Lincoln dropped off two panhandlers, then later met two others at a nearby bus station. The car had an expired temporary tag, so there was no way to identify the driver.
Attempts to follow him and ask him questions were unsuccessful.
The license plate on another car, a grey Kia is registered to a 46-year-old man named Brent in Richardson. When Consumer Justice knocked on his door, his mother said he wasn't home. The next day he called Consumer Justice. Brent admitted he gives his "friends" rides but said, "I did not know they were panhandling." He said he met them through a mutual friend and that he was just "trying to be nice." Brent said it doesn't bother him that they panhandle, but that he may not give them rides any more.
That's when CBS11 approached the panhandlers. Michael's sign said he is a single father. Stacy's said she's a part-time student who needs food for her three children. The couple admitted they lost custody of their five children several years ago. Both said they are disabled and cannot get jobs. Stacy told CBS11 she can make $80 in a day while Michael said $160. First they said they work alone, then said they are part of a community. "We're part of the panhandling group, yeah," said Michael. "But we don't split our money with anyone."
When asked about his meeting with the driver of the black Lincoln days earlier, he said he didn't know the man. "No we said hi to them -- they had a little baby in the car and we wanted to see the baby. That's all."
Consumer Justice asked Michael and Stacy why they panhandle. Michael said, "To be honest, it's fast and easy." Both said they do not use the money for drugs, but a police report from August shows Michael told a DPS trooper that he is a heroin addict. Michael's been cited 61 times for panhandling in Dallas County.
Stacy pleaded guilty to drug possession in 2010 and has been cited 47 times for panhandling in Dallas County.
As for the woman with the cane, she did not want us to use her name but said, "I can come out here and work for two hours and make $75." When we asked her who dropped her off each day, she said the man was a friend whom she pays. At first she denied it was Brent, then said, "yeah, Brent's my friend."
The woman told CBS11 she panhandles to rent a room at a nearby hotel and pay for food and toiletries. She said she used to do drugs. Dallas County records show she pleaded guilty to a drug charge in 2013, and has been cited 40 times for panhandling.
"I think all panhandlers have their spot," she said. "This is my spot."
It's a spot Critcher believes they will never leave unless the city does something.
"There's so many wonderful ways to give in this city - but give to things that you know where your money's going. This is not what it appears to be," said Critcher.
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