Undercover reporter David Goldstein spent weeks following and filming a “well-organized group” of panhandlers jumping in and out of rental cars, driving around California begging strangers for money.
“It’s a well-organized group, no question about it,” one local told Goldstein, a news producer for CBS2.
Goldstein filmed the panhandlers standing outside of population centers from the San Fernando Valley to the Santa Clarita Valley, holding up similarly-worded signs that read “Please help” and “I have 3 kids.”
At one point during the summer sting, a CBS2 undercover producer approached one of the women and a small child. The woman confessed to being a regular panhandler who’s homeless and out of work.
“I’m here three days in the week,” the woman said. She also said she didn’t have a car and uses public transportation to get around.
But soon after their encounter, the woman was seen getting into a car with a man.
CBS2 cameras caught the woman posted up outside another shopping center holding up her sign and begging pedestrians for money.
“We’ve seen these signs all over town. Are you guys part of some organized ring?” Goldstein asked.
“No, no, no” the woman replied.
“Are you really homeless? Are you really out of work?” Goldstein asked.
“Yes, I’m homeless,” she said before running away once again.
Goldstein’s cameras caught up to another group of panhandlers, this time a mother and son begging for money outside a Walmart. When they noticed the news crew, the pair darted off and hopped into an Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
“Is that right, really, to be out there asking for money? And you’re driving a rental car? I mean, you’re driving a 2016 new car and you’re out asking for money,” said Goldstein.
Goldstein asked LAPD detective Gil Escontrias to examine the undercover footage.
“It’s almost to the point of being called a ‘disorganized organization,’ if you will, where they probably sometimes, like any type of organized theft group, will coordinate with each other as to who’s going to take what position and what spot,” said Escontrias.
“For many people, this is their job,” said Escontrias, who was once part of the Bunco Forgery Division. “They wake up in the morning, this is what they’re going to do, and they have a goal, a certain amount of money to continue with their lifestyle.”
Escontrias added that for some people, panhandling “is their work.”
While it’s not illegal to ask people for money, law enforcement officers like Escontrias suggest people give to a charity group instead.