The homeless man whose image went viral after an NYPD officer bought him a pair of shoes in Times Square last fall is neither homeless nor barefoot.
The Rev. John Graf, who pays Jeffery Hillman’s utility bills for his Bronx apartment, told the New York Post the U.S. Army veteran has been panhandling for more than 10 years, taking in $1,000 a day, and owns 30 pairs of shoes.
A New York Post reporter spotted 54-year-old Hillman panhandling in Midtown Manhattan with a sign that read “homeless” on Sixth Avenue without shoes on. Hillman told the Post he has an apartment and shoes but chooses to take them off when he begs.
“I choose not to wear the shoes. Is that a crime? No! My feet haven’t fallen off yet,” he told the paper.
When asked if his appearance was unfair and deceptive, Hillman said, “I’m not robbing anybody. It’s Wall Street. It’s the people in these buildings.”
An idea of how much Hillman makes was seen Sunday night when a separate New York Post reporter spotted him in the subway counting a large wad of cash.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told CBS that Officer Larry DePrimo might have been fooled into believing Hillman was genuinely homeless. The officer bought Hillman a pair of $100 all-weather boots, and the image of the exchange went viral.
“That’s life in New York in terms of people who try to scam us. We know that that happens,” Kelly told the news outlet.
But Hillman denies he scammed DePrimo. “I sure didn’t force him to do it, sir,” told CBS.
Story continues after photo
Graf hopes he’s not getting duped by financially supporting Hillman.
“I don’t want him conning me,” Graf told the Post. “He promised me that he wouldn’t do that.”
Hillman’s living situation was discovered in December. He has lived in Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing since 2011, USA Today reports.
"Just because he has an apartment doesn't mean our work is done with him," NYC Commissioner of Homeless Services Seth Diamond told the news outlet. "He is not dressed for the weather, he is not engaged in a healthy lifestyle, and he is not leading a productive life."