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Friday, September 11, 2009

Bad penny

Of the dozens of interesting stories we've covered on this blog over the years, one of our favorites is the "Welches" con man. This is a fellow named David -- I think it's David Wilson -- who stops people on the street in Portland and dupes them into giving him cash with sob stories about how his truck has been stolen (or he's run out of gas) and he needs car fare back to Welches. David used to live in Welches, and so he's ready with the details in case anybody asks questions. But it's all a fraud. He's more or less a street guy now, with personal problems, and giving him money just makes those worse.

We wrote about him a couple of summers ago, in a series of posts that merited a category of its own, after we foolishly fell for his con. As a result, he was featured on KGW News, and Margie Boule of the O wrote him up a couple of times. We created the warning poster you see over on the right and ran it on this blog for quite a while. But then we got tired of looking at him, and we took it down -- exactly two years ago yesterday.

Fast forward to today, when lo and behold, Betsy Richter of OurPDX writes about her recent encounter with David, on familiar turf, NE Grand. Same old con, but Betsy called him by his name and let him know that he wasn't fooling anyone in that party. And so it was on his next prospective victim.

No one in local government is willing to do a thing to get this cockroach off the streets and out of the faces of the unsuspecting, even though he is committing crimes that in the aggregate, swindle people out of thousands of dollars. And so he's doubtlessly getting by on what he can defraud. He's been doing it for at least six years.

He's still out there -- no doubt working outside the bars tonight -- and so you may see him soon at an inner Portland site near you. He's also been reported in other parts of town, and even in Beaverton. If you're approached, take a cell phone photo of David and send it our way. We understand that he's shaved off some of his facial hair, and it would be nice to have the updated look on file.

Call him by his name. Tell him he should get himself off the streets and get a real life before it's too late. Waste his time. But whatever you do, don't give him any money.

For our part, reluctantly, we'll have to get the warning poster back up in our left sidebar. Maybe we'll take down our Portland Beavers attend-ometer, now that minor league baseball season is over. Merritt Paulson and David the Welches Con Man -- two peas from the same pod.

Another thought is that maybe we ought to try to get David designated a tourist attraction. Get him in every guidebook and travel brochure about Portland. Let him give his spiel to the tourists, and see if they'll throw a few bucks his way in gratitude for his dramatic performance -- but knowingly so.

Just leaving him out there to steal people's hard-earned money and then kill himself with it doesn't seem like the right answer. But alas, it's the Portland answer.

Comments (22)

Dude could pick up one of those multi-gallon size buckets of Voodoo Doughnuts to sell to people for a slight mark up.

In college, a woman in a wheelchair would frequently "tour" the student union cafeteria / commons with a similar story about needing bus fare / taxi money for a ride to a doctor's appointment. I watched numerous seemingly intelligent people give her money - one gentleman even gave her $20+

I don't give $ to strangers / beggars. I assume they are lying and if not, handing $ out is not the way to help.

So far, who do you think is ahead in the count here -- Merritt Paulson the Third, or David?

Trouble! Right here in River City!

Another thought is that maybe we ought to try to get David designated a tourist attraction.

You can bet that one of the city's consultants is working this weekend on a report. By Monday, Sam Adams will extol his own efforts to bring visitors to Portland: "We're building a convention center hotel!"

The presser will have Sam standing next to David handing him a crisp $5 bill. As David accepts the money, Sam will turn to the audience, wink, and say, "Remember, it's just a loan."

David's too old for him.

But David gives texture to the fabric that makes PDX weird.

Does anybody remember the eldery well dressed woman who used to stand outside of Nordstrom's and panhandle? That was in the late 1990s...

I think I recently saw her, but now she's in a motorized wheelchair.. She was outside of the Trader Joes store in the Hollywood district and still panhandling... That's tax free money.. I've heard some of these panhandlers make a decent living.. too bad we all have to pay taxes on our earnings and they don't..

I think David accosted me in the Hawthorne Fred's parking lot a few days ago. Is he kind of short (around 5'8")? He started giving me a story about the hostel down the street being full and the Salvation Army turning away people and his wife on the phone "over there" and his truck broken down at Mall 205 and his dad coming in from somewhere tomorrow and by then, it didn't make enough sense to me, so I just told him there's a scam going on every day in this parking lot and he seemed to be the scam du jour.

Yeah, a tourist attraction sounds about right. I remember walking down Bourbon Street in New Orleans decades ago and kids would run up to me at yell, "I bet you five dollars I know where you got those shoes." Fell for that scam the first time.

Gil, now Im curious, what's the punch line?

This guy approached me outside of the convention center, must have been 6-7 years ago. Exact same story - truck stolen, needed money to get back to welches. He had the frustrated act down and everything. I didnt buy it (I never give any of these guys the benefit of the doubt) but I could see how many would give in.

Sad to see he is still at it. He's obviously making enough money to make it worthwhile for him.

The punch line?

"You got your shoes on your feet."


"You got your shoes on your feet, on Bourbon Street, New Orleans, USA."

Yup. The second one is the line the guy gave me. Who's to argue? Had to give him the fiver.

And there's the rub. A lot of these characters, and every city has quite a few of them, may start out with honest intent, and then they discover that they can do a hell of a lot better panhandling than they can taking a job. Others milk it for everything they can: if you think the hipsters with the puppies out at Pioneer Plaza are bad, I remember one woman who used to camp out in front of the Dallas Galleria with her two kids and rake in cash during the Christmas season. (I lost any respect I had for her when I once shared a bus with her and had to listen to her brag about her take for the next thirty minutes.)

Otherwise, Jack, thank you for noting this guy, and I'll add one other tip that I found works incredibly well. I'm regularly accosted by sad-sack stories of the same sort by any number of grifters (I even had one walk into a barbecue restaurant and give me a story about he needed gas money to get home, while he was waiting for his take-out order), and the one really effective technique to get them to go away is just to go blank. Don't make eye contact. Don't say anything. Just go blank, let your face go slack, and just stand there. After about ten seconds, the bum will either cuss you out for not playing along or run like hell, but he'll never bother you again.

This is an old con trick and it used around Portland a ton. Don't know how many times I've heard some version or variation of this con It seems like hundreds. His version is not original or unique. Been taken by a similar con once for $20 but never again. Most of the people on the streets have some type of con going on. How many times have we all read the freeway on/off ramp cons' card board signs reading, "Homeless Vet, Anything helps, God Bless."

Might as well continue the bailout because by now David sounds like he's too big to fail.

Location: Hollywood TJ's
Date: Mid August
Line: Broke down/pregnant wife/don't have $20 for the Hostel.
My reply: It's a warm night.

This fella belongs in Portland, with all the other cons in public office.

Three weeks ago. On Hawthorne across from Apizza Scholls. He opened with "Do you know where Welches is". I kept walking.

The pizza was great.

Met a new con man who needs gas for his red car near N Williams. The story is that he just moved from Cali and needs some gas money. I asked him where his car was and that I would bring him gas in half an hour. Just to be sure I went to meet him on my nightly walk but no car. I'll snap a picture next time I see him.

Could be David. "I just moved here from California" was one of his lines when we worked me.

I try to evaluate whether someone really needs help before I give any money. Is it someone who has had dreadfuly bad luck in their life and genuinely needs a hand up? Or a lazy fool who has put themselves in a bad situation due to bad decisions and irresponsibility? At least I'm in control of the situation, when I see my hard earned money being involuntarily sapped away by CEO's, corporations, the government, et al. I can't get too excited about a few low level con people trying to scam a few buck with a routine that I can ignore.

However, I do get angry when I am sworn at or excessively harassed.

I remember when I was a kid in high school, I couldn't imagine doing anything like panhandling, I would have been embarrassed and ashamed. I only saw older men doing it when I was young, then in the 80's young kids, many who appeared to be suburban dilettantes, appeared asking for money, they unlike most of the older panhandlers were rude, aggressive and had entitled attitudes. I suspect some of these kids have matured into more sophisticated scam artists you see today.

I've just about gotten to the point where I just don't give anything as a general rule.

I was homeless and living in my car in January. I was tucked away in a dark corner of a parking lot where I could get wifi and stay under the radar. I was awakened one night at about 2am by a knock on my window. I was startled and woke up screaming, but this didn't deter the guy from his spiel. Normally I wouldn't do this, but he got an eyeful of Sig 229 and turned tail.

When I was homeless I felt like a piece of shit, but never once did I beg for anything. Sure, I camped out on some uninformed folk's wifi signal, but I used it to find work on Craigslist and kept myself clean and fed and kept the car gassed up. Some people have no shame, or pride.

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