If you’ve ever been walking around shopping centers in downtown Laguna Beach or Irvine within the past few years, you may have seen her: an elderly, wheelchair-bound, Asian woman usually parked outside Scandia Bakery, asking for help and spare change from people passing by.
But what you probably didn’t see is the man in the Prius who reportedly drops her off, leaves her to beg for a few hours, then picks her up and drives away.
The pair, a mother and son who reportedly live in Irvine, have also been seen doing this at the University Town Center near UC Irvine. In December, a YouTube user named Sam Wilson was curious about the woman, so he armed himself with a video camera and confronted the man as he loaded her into his car after a hard day of begging.
As you can see on the video we're posting here, an angry confrontation ensues, as the man whips out a camcorder of his own and begins accusing Wilson of working for Wells Fargo Bank, then threatens to sue him.
"Are you paid to do this?" the man yells. "Are you paid by Wells Fargo Bank? You're paid! You’re a paid stooge! You're stalking her! I want to make an arrest!"
According to Wilson’s post accompanying his video, the woman’s name is Cathy, and she claims to be homeless. Reports from witnesses on this Reddit page claim the two have been doing this for years.
In 2011, UC Irvine student Thanh Truong Le wrote this blog post about an encounter he had with Cathy and the man. In the post, Cathy claims the Mafia is trying to poison her. Le also describes witnessing another shouting match between some well-meaning Samaritans and her son. This time, he says his mother is the victim of mortgage fraud, explains they came from North Korea, and says "this country is even worse than North Korea! That’s why my mother needs to gather donations. Because the government—the banks—stole everything."
Sgt. Louise Callus of the Laguna Beach Police Department tells Patch authorities know about the situation and have “contacted Orange County Adult Protective Services several times. … There is no violation of the law for the panhandling and she does not believe she is being victimized.”
Michael Burns, a social worker with Orange County Adult Protective Services, tells Patch the agency is familiar with the case, and says it is “being actively investigated. We are aware, and we are pursuing it.” Confidentiality laws prevent the agency from releasing any other information, Burns says.
Have you seen or spoken with either Cathy or her son? What do you think? Tell us in the comments below ...
And if you suspect any cases of elder abuse in Orange County, contact Adult Protective Services at 800-451-5155.