She was waiting motionless, stunned. She wracked her brain to come up with something, anything — a reason for it. She had been fooled for so long! As she looked ahead and saw the beggar hop inside a car, she knew. She had to follow this woman and uncover her secret. As the mystery unfolded, she could never have known that she would be caught in such a web of lies.
Melissa Smith from San Diego, California, was on her usual errand routine when she spotted the panhandler again. On this day, in particular, something felt off, and Melissa, following her intuition decided to investigate a little further. As she stood by her car, she noticed the beggar and her little boy begin to leave. What she saw next had her scrambling for her phone.
East Lake Village Center
The center where the beggar reserved her spot was at a shopping plaza – East Lake Village Center. This center had stores ranging from restaurants, goodwill, hair stylists, dentists, and even retail. The pregnant woman knew this place would be crawling with people willing to spare some extra cash. But she had one faulty part in her plan. She could never have suspected Smith to be on the lookout.
California is no stranger to beggars and homeless people, but still, people have to be aware that some of these are imposters. Smith felt uneasy about this woman in particular, but immediately dismissed the idea when she kept seeing her every weekend. “I felt bad. There’s a pregnant lady with a little boy who is down on her luck,” Smith said. Little did she know her intuition might have been right.
The beggar would be out in the scorching sunshine for quite some time. But not always was she on her own with her son. Smith recalls seeing the little boy’s dad stand with them on some days. They had become pretty well known in the area, as it’s not every day you see a pregnant beggar. This pulled more than a couple of heartstrings, and soon enough people would give more than usual for this unusual situation. But what was this beggar hiding that made Smith so curious?
Woman In Question
Smith hadn’t questioned the beggar’s motives until that day. She had seen the pregnant woman in the same spot for over two months. She must have been in dire need of the money – Smith thought. Putting yourself out there for hours on end while being pregnant would have been excruciating, and more so, in the summer heat. But then, something happened, and Smith knew she had to prove her point.
The pregnant woman in question seemed to have mastered the art of begging. She knew she had to be pitied by consumers driving or walking out of the shopping center. She made up a plan; a pregnant beggar and by her side a little boy. She also held a piece of cardboard with “Please Help” written on it. Of course, people who passed felt terrible for the young woman and immediately took out their wallets. Soon, she would be discovered, or at least that’s what Smith thought. Little did she know that she would eventually expose something much bigger than what she had initially thought.
Smith lived close to the shopping center, but she had never been there on that particular time. Her errands would usually involve an hour at mid-morning, but as she was going back home, she realized her car was running low on gas. She immediately spotted a gas station opposite the East Lake Village Center. Smith pulled over and began filling her tank. Then, something odd caught her eye, and this started the whole investigation.
As Smith was pumping gas into her car, she noticed that the pregnant beggar was beginning to move. This wasn’t at all odd, as she had been there for hours she must need to rest. As Smith continued to watch on, she noticed how a car had swung around and headed into the pregnant beggar’s direction. Now, Smith was even more interested, so with a cautious eye and a lot of curiosity she started to stare, and what she saw next proved that she was right all along.
Smith couldn’t fathom what she was witnessing. But to her surprise when she got a better look, she saw that the driver was the little boy’s dad. And not only that, the car was a Mercedes Benz – a well-known luxury brand that cost a lot of money. What were beggars doing with such an expensive car? Smith jumped into action and what she did next made headlines.
“They were leaving, and I noticed they went into a Mercedes Benz. I thought, ‘Wow, a Mercedes Benz?'” said Smith, who also revealed that the car appeared to be new. Smith immediately jumped into her car and followed the couple. As she documented the whole process with her phone, her car rolled up just opposite of the Mercedes. “Lo and behold, they were in front of us. Here they are counting money, laughing. Their little boy is not in a car seat or a seat belt. He’s all the way in the front seat with them,” Smith said. She couldn’t have felt more betrayed and knew she needed to get to the bottom of this and inform everyone. But she could never have known how deep this case really went.
Caught Red Handed
Smith followed the car to another shopping center not far from the initial one. It seemed like this couple had everything planned out. As the vehicle came to a halt, the pregnant beggar got out and started to fool everyone again. “She sits there with the sign. He goes (and) parks the Mercedes. They put up the sign and not less than five minutes; here she is getting money from all these people,” Smith said. Now, she had caught her, but she couldn’t have known that the authorities would soon be involved and that she was scratching dangerously at the surface of something much more sinister.
Enraged With Fury
As Smith got closer to the woman and her little boy, she started taking pictures. But when the pregnant beggar spotted, her she instantly turned furious; she started yelling and even got hold of a huge rock that was holding up her sign. “Next thing I know, she picked up this big boulder,” Smith said, “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.” A witness saw everything and decided to call the cops, but when the beggar knew what was happening, she grabbed her little boy and took off.
Smith called a news station and posted everything on social media. She wanted everyone to know how they had been deceived, and to warn everyone in the area not to fall for this master beggars’ plan. The news station was intrigued by the story and decided to run the plates from the car Smith had taken a picture of. To their surprise, it stated that the car was in a woman’s name and also, there was an address that was undisclosed. She had no idea that others had their eyes on this particular panhandler, too.
Journalists quickly followed the lead, and this began an exciting spiral. The apartment complex where the woman resided was called Encinitas Heights Apartments and residents said rent is $2,500 a month. After a couple of attempts, no one answered the door. But then, they received a phone call. The couple living in the apartment had just moved in, while the couple before them had just picked up and left.
Smith had documented everything. Social media and the news had become rather interested in the mysterious pregnant beggar and broadcasted the story for everyone to see. “I feel bad. Don’t give these people money. They don’t need it. They’re driving a Benz,” Smith said. But while the investigation was still infuriating people, one call made journalists spring into action.
Another witness had spotted the panhandler. Rebecca was doing her shopping when she thought she recognized a beggar at another shopping center. She called the broadcasters and were quickly informed. Minutes later, Emily Valdez arrived at the center.
Valdez was told that the beggar was still in the area, she quickly got to her feet and searched the center for the mystery woman. But when she found her, she was perplexed. Wasn’t this woman supposed to be pregnant? Only two days had passed since Melisa Smith had taken the pictures, but this lady in front of her was holding a baby.
“Is This You?”
The camera crew and Valdez approached the woman. “Is this you, begging?” Valdez asked the woman as she held up her phone with the picture of the pregnant beggar. The woman looked at the picture for some time and then said she didn’t speak English. Had they just caught her? The woman who was holding the baby was also with a little boy who looked exactly like the one in the picture, and then the father arrived.
He dismissed the camera crew and took his family through the parking lot. The camera crew documented them going inside a minivan with dealer plates. But they had another plan up their sleeve. They ran facial recognition on both women, and the results matched them at an 80%. But something made Valdez think that there was more to the whole situation.
He had first spoken in Spanish, but then briefly said something to the panhandler in a second language. Little did he know that this detail was about to blow the whole case wide open. Valdez replayed the recording and listened carefully when she heard the language, and immediately got on the phone to call in the experts.
Leslie Albright watched the video that had been taken by Valdez and her camera crew intently. She had retired recently from her post as a detective at the San Diego Police Department, where she had served as a specialist in underground crime rings for 25 years. But there was something about this case that had her nodding her head, and it suddenly hit her that this was no ordinary panhandler.
Under The Exterior
The woman whose actions had infuriated millions on social media was about to have her scam exposed, but there was more to the story. There was an indication that there was a growing problem in the community. Underneath California’s slick and hip exterior, there was a dark underbelly, growing bigger by the day. One Redditer was determined to expose what was really going on, at great risk.
Leslie had seen a lot of crime in her life, and when she heard the man speak, she suspected that something was up. She recognized the language that he had spoken in the recording taken by Valdez’s camera crew right away, and their modus operandi fitted many that she had seen before perfectly. But what else was the couple hiding?
According to Albright, the couple is tied to an organized crime ring in California. They and had entered the country illegally and commit crimes on a daily basis. They are known to reside in expensive apartment blocks and have numerous cars to enable them to pull their scams on their unsuspecting targets. It is likely that the couple is not a couple at all, and the panhandler’s “pregnancy” was used as a tactic to elicit sympathy from the kindhearted locals. But what other crimes is the ring heading? — there is more to the story than meets the eye.
The problem with this particular group is that they rarely stay in one place for long, and this makes it difficult for the authorities to pinpoint them. As soon as they get wind that someone is onto them, they pack up and move on. This is exactly what had happened with this particular pair of suspects. But one unnamed man was about to shine a light on the mysterious couple, and endanger himself in the process.
One man came forward after seeing the video of the panhandler on the news and revealed all the details on Reddit: “…I had a friend of a friend tell me that they knew them and that they’re just a hustling pair of Con Artists who’s families conned their way into the country.” He also went on to say that he knew the details of the woman’s dark past and that her life had not been a pleasant one. She had been forced to work within the crime ring from a young age. After he leaked the information, he removed himself from Reddit for fear of what would be done to him if the men who ran the crime ring ever found out his identity.
The Bottom Rung
It was also revealed that the woman seen in the footage often pretends to be pregnant with a foam prop hidden under her shirt, and this helps her to collect over $500 per day — and there are many other women like her. The inner workings of the organized crime ring are complex, with men who head the operation from the top. They promise food and shelter to the women who are dispatched all over the country each morning, and their illicit panhandling practices ensure that they have enough money to live lavish lives. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“They’ll use the babies, children, any way they can… the children will not go to school because their job and their future is the Family Business,” Albright said in an interview. These children grow up into a life of crime. The unnamed Redditer also wrote: “People should know, there’s PLENTY of service and organizations that exist to help people and ESPECIALLY for women with children. They’re taking advantage of them all as well as scamming people at the parking lot entrances. Neither of them are reporting the money they’re making from her begging and both are claiming poverty to get state and federal assistance.” Shortly afterward, the informant started to receive strange and threatening phone calls, but he had one more thing to add before he disappeared off Reddit.
“They might be up and trying this scam again or it might be another woman either way call the cops on them, making sure to tell the dispatch that they’re “the BMW scammers” so they’re identified and the state can start the proper deportation proceedings against them… don’t help any of them or give money to any of the panhandlers you might see.” — the unnamed Redditer cautions. Investigators are still trying to find the head of operations, and people have become more careful of the people they give their money to since the story went viral. Who knows what other crimes are tied to this Californian crime ring?