Melissa Smith lives in San Diego, California. She went to the same grocery store all the time and knew most of the people who worked there. When she would go to the supermarket, she could always count on seeing the panhandler who often spent her days outside the supermarket. On one particular day, Melissa saw the panhandler and her little boy. When they got up, Melissa noticed something shocking. She was pregnant.
The beggar often set up right outside the East Lake Village Center. It was a shopping plaza that contained a grocery store, restaurants, vintage stores, a dentist office, a salon, clothing stores, a sweet shop, a florist, and a jewelry store. She knew that plenty of people frequented each of these businesses, and there was a good chance that she could make a lot of money in donations. During her time panhandling at the plaza, she never knew that Melissa was keeping tabs on her.
California is known for its homeless population because of the nice weather. It is much easier for a person to live on the streets in a place where the climate is warm, and it doesn’t rain too much. When Melissa sees the homeless people on the streets, she isn’t a fool. She knows that some are artists, and they aren’t homeless at all. When it came to the pregnant woman; however, Melissa was sure that she really was homeless, and that she and her son were down on their luck.
A Man and a New Addition
Each time Melissa went to the shopping center, she would see the woman wearing dirty clothes, standing in the hot sun with her little boy. She would be standing there when Melissa arrived, and she was still there hours later when she left. She often saw people bring her food and drinks. On more than one occasion, Melissa saw a man standing with the beggar. She assumed that it was the woman’s husband. Melissa felt horrible for the woman knowing that she was homeless and had a family to feed. Also, braving the summer, California heat must have been difficult for the woman because she was pregnant.
To Melissa, it seemed as though the beggar knew what she was doing. She knew standing out in the sun would make people feel pity, and having her son there and being pregnant would help her even more. She held a sign up right below her belly that read, “Please help.” Melissa was sure that the woman was genuine and needed help, but she wanted to make sure.
Melissa was running her errands one day and noticed that the beggar wasn’t in her usual spot. She started to worry and then noticed that she was almost out of gas. Fortunately, there was a gas station right across the street. When she went to get gas, she saw that the beggar was standing in the parking lot. She assumed that the woman was trying to get a few more dollars before leaving for the day when she saw a Mercedes Benz pull up on the side of the woman, and she got in. The man driving the car was her partner, and Melissa couldn’t figure out why they were in such an expensive car. She sees a pregnant beggar but then realizes something is off.
Melissa saw the beggar get into the car with her son, and they sat in the front seat while the man drove. She saw the beggar counting her money while the three of them laughed. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She was sure that this woman wasn’t homeless at all, and she, like many other panhandlers, was a beggar. Melissa followed the couple and captured it all on video. She wanted the public to know that this woman was a con. She continued to follow the couple, and they went to another shopping center. The woman got out of the car and started panhandling again. Melissa got out of the car and continued taking pictures. The woman saw this and quickly turned vicious. She picked up a huge rock and approached Melissa. Melissa was shocked that a woman so far into her pregnancy could lift such a large boulder. When someone came by and saw what was happening, they started to call the police. The woman saw this she grabbed the little boy’s hand and they ran. Even though the woman yelled at Melissa and threatened her, she kept trying to prove that this woman was a fraud.
Contacting the News
Melissa got in contact with the local news to let them know about the woman. She thought the public had a right to know that they were being duped. When Melissa gave the station the pictures of the car, they ran the license plate. It was registered to a woman, but the address that the car was registered to was undisclosed. When word spread, journalists became obsessed with the story. They traced the woman back to Encinitas Heights Apartments, where the rent was $2,500 per month. The media was knocking on the door daily, but nobody answered, came or left. They found out that a young couple had just moved in, and the couple who did live there packed up and left in the middle of the night without any notice.
A journalist name Emily Valdez got a lead on the woman, and she tracked her down. When she tried to get the woman to talk, the man spoke to her in a different language, and they took off. When a retired detective named Leslie Albright heard about the couple, she got involved. What they discovered was shocking.
It turned out that the woman may not have been a con artist at all. According to contact of Leslie’s, there is a crime ring that forces women and children to panhandle all day in exchange for food and shelter. The people at the top of the scheme keep the money to pay for their lavish lifestyles. The women who appear to be pregnant often aren’t. It is just foam that they use to make a fake belly. The children don’t go to school because they need to work all day to support the lifestyles of the crime ring leaders. The media thanked Melissa for following the woman and helping to uncover what was really going on.