Gary Thompson had supposedly fallen on hard times, which explains why he took to the streets of downtown Lexington, Ky., begging strangers for money. As he rolled around in his wheelchair, he slurred his words and wrung his hands as he asked passersby for contributions. Plenty of people felt sorry for Thompson, enough to net the man reportedly as much as $100,000 a year. But according to WLEX-TV, much of his act was a ruse.
Thompson apparently does rely on wheelchair, as he has difficulty walking, but his speech isn't slurred and his arms function fully, the NBC affiliate reports. After the Lexington station confronted the beggar, Thompson said he appreciated being caught. Laughing, he told the TV crew: "Yeah, I'm really good at it, really good. I clear about $100,000 a year doing this." Further, Thompson said, "I am normal, it just helps to be mentally handicapped."
Plenty of viewers have complained since seeing the TV reports that Thompson's begging is apparently bogus. "It's offensive"; "It's disturbing": "It's just plain sad"; were some of the comments from viewers who say they gave Thompson money, believing that he was indeed mentally disabled.
They include Judy McKinney who says Thompson once wheeled himself out in front her stopped car. "I don't make that much money, but I reached into my pocket, and gave him everything I had -- $6 at the time," WLEX quotes McKinney as saying.
As WLEX notes, however, the part about McKinney being in a motorcycle accident is true. Records show that Thompson's family was awarded $2.4 million in a lawsuit after he was injured in a motorcycle accident in 1993. Reportedly, Thompson said he blew the money and is no longer a millionaire.
That may be why, despite the TV expose and the fact that the story went viral, Thompson apparently has no plans to stop begging. The TV station caught him panhandling again, this time outside of police headquarters. He reacted by staring into the camera and telling his patrons to keep paying him. "Hey I love y'all!" he said. "I'll see you on the street!"
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