ABC 6 Investigates: Needy... or, Greedy? Professional Beggars!
COLUMBUS (Tom Sussi) -- You see them standing at busy intersections across Central Ohio. Their stories scribbled on pieces of cardboard. But before you open up your hearts, and your wallets, you must see what The Investigators uncovered. Tom Sussi saw a woman panhandling near Lennox Town Center. But after watching for a few minutes, the woman and another guy looking for handouts walk off avoiding the camera and questions.
"What's going on here," asks Sussi. "What's going on?" Quickly, they drive off in a shiny red Cadillac. ABC 6 Investigators is taking you inside the world of panhandling like you've never seen. "It's easy money, it's all tax-free, and it pays better than a normal job," said one panhandler. His name is Jonathan Cwynar. ABC 6 Investigators first spotted him working outside a shopping center off Sawmill Road. He claims he's homeless with his dog. On one afternoon, Cwynar's companion was left behind in his car, about 150 yards away from where strangers were giving Cwynar money. Cwynar told Sussi they've been living in his car for about a year. Sussi says, I saw the car and it didn't look like anyone was living in it." "That's because I had all of my stuff in it and cleaned it out," Cwynar said.
"Where's your stuff at," Sussi asks. "I dropped some it off at my sister's house."
Later Cwynar says he's been staying with friends. "The last six months I was couch surfing." The 34-year-old Columbus man says he can't find a job because of his criminal record. "It's hard with the background," he says.
ABC 6 Investigators checked. No felonies, just a few misdemeanors for drug paraphernalia, public indecency, and pedestrian solicitation from a roadway.
In Columbus, panhandling is perfectly legal unless you obstruct pedestrians or vehicles. Or, aggressively beg. Pay close attention. This is where our investigation takes a few turns. ABC 6 Investigators spot a guy panhandling at the same intersection they spotted Cwynar. Like Cwynar, he too claims he's homeless. Our cameras caught several Good Samaritans handing him money. The man then walks across Sawmill Road to a parking lot. We videotape his sitting on the curb, counting his cash, which includes a $20 bill. He talks with people in a black Nissan, then a woman gets out and they both walk to a silver Honda, and drive off. Jonathan Cwynar is behind the wheel. The following week, we come across the same woman standing outside the same shopping center. She claims she's homeless, and pregnant. The Investigators watch and wait. Eventually, she walks toward a silver Honda but immediately switches directions when she see ours cameras. Once again, Jonathan Cwynar is behind the wheel. "Explain to me what's going on Jonathan," asks Sussi. "I don't know what to tell you," he says. "Tell me the truth," replies Sussi. Cwynar says, "Everybody needs money man." Sussi asks, "Why don't they get a job." "Because this pays better dude," he says. Cwynar says he knows the couple we spotted him driving around, but won't share any details like whether or not the woman's even pregnant. What he did say is very telling.
"It pays better than a normal job so you get addicted to it basically. It's easy money and it's all tax-free." Cwynar says he can easily pocket a few hundred bucks a week. More during the holidays. "Around like Christmas time people are real generous. I made like over $300.00." Just hours before our investigation aired, we received a tip from someone who claims they know Jonathan Cwynar. It led us to an apartment building on the westside of Columbus. Cwynar's car was parked out in front. Neighbor tell ABC 6 Investigators that he's been living there for about a year. The Investigators knocked on the door, but no one answered. Another panhandler who caught our eye held a sign that read, "Family in need." What they're not in need of is transportation. When the man was finished working the intersection, he walked over to a waiting pickup truck. T
he Investigators followed them to a house on the westside of Columbus, about 15 miles away. The man agreed to talk with me the following week if we didn't identity them. Sussi asks, "Are you homeless." "No, I live right here." "Here" is a house on the westside with his girlfriend. He says neither of them work. Sussi asks, "Could you work if you wanted to." "Oh, yeah." Why aren't you? I do, I try to keep as busy as I can but my driver's license is suspended." He says he's been panhandling off and on for about a year. "How much can you make in a given day," asks Sussi. "I've made a $100.00 in 15 minutes." Now back to where our investigation started. The woman panhandling in front of the Lennox Town Center. Shortly after Sussi arrived, she tucks a cardboard sign into her coat, and walks across the road to a running red Caddy. The car picks up another panhandler, and they drive off.