4:00 PM EST, February 9, 2012
Almost 650,000 people are homeless each night in the United States. And while there are many worthwhile charities to help those in need, INSIDE EDITION found you may want to think twice before handing over your cash to street solicitors begging for handouts on behalf of the homeless.
It's hard to walk through Times Square without being solicited to ‘help the homeless' by panhandlers from an organization called Street Talk News. Wearing green aprons, an army of these organized panhandlers disperse across Manhattan every day to solicit passersby for cash to ‘feed the homeless.'
Wearing hidden cameras, INSIDE EDITION'S I-SQUAD spent weeks following the movements of these street solicitors to find out if the money they collect actually ends up helping to feed the homeless.
A number of different Street Talk News workers told I-SQUAD producers that the money goes directly to the homeless.
"What we do is provide hot meals for the homeless," explained one worker.
But is that really true?
Disclaimers on the flimsy two page pamphlets some of the workers pass out refer to Street Talk News as a "For profit social business." Another disclaimer at the bottom reads: "Does not run a soup kitchen, have a feeding or housing program."
In fact, money these street solicitors collect on the behalf of the homeless goes directly into their own pockets.
INSIDE EDITION followed one STN panhandler, who regularly sets up his Lucite collection box on a bustling corner near NYC's historic public library. Our cameras rolled as he told pedestrian after pedestrian their donations go to help the homeless. But after his shift ended one evening, we watched as he took wads of cash Good Samaritans had donated and brought it straight to the bank.
A few days later Inside Edition's Chief Investigative Correspondent Lisa Guerrero caught up with the man, who admitted he wasn't even homeless.
"No, I'm not homeless," said the man.
"But you're keeping the money," said Guererro.
"We get a percentage of the money for doing our job," he explained.
We found one STN worker getting pretty territorial. Our cameras caught a female STN employee hurling punches at another woman who was soliciting for a different organization nearby in Times Square.
Later we watched the same STN worker using money from the donations she collected to buy malt liquor.
Street Talk News is allegedly run by Stephen Riley, who apparently gets a cut of every STN panhandlers' daily earnings.
And INSIDE EDITION has learned, when it comes to collecting for charity, Riley has a checkered past. Two years ago, the New York Attorney General banned Riley from soliciting for any charity after he was sued for running a collection scam, where his workers used empty water jugs to collect money for the homeless. But according to court documents, tens of thousands of dollars in donations never reached the homeless. Instead, the Attorney General's complaint says Riley used thousands of dollars intended for the homeless to fund personal shopping sprees, vacations and to pay his bills.
But all that apparently hasn't stopped Riley from resorting to his old tricks.
An I-SQUAD producer was in attendance at a recent early Saturday morning meeting for Street Talk News apparently run by Riley.
Our hidden cameras caught Riley boasting during the meeting: "I'm not doing this for fun, I'm doing this for the money."
After leaving the meeting, Riley milled around with a team of panhandlers while they geared up in Times Square for another day of soliciting.
"These guys are scoundrels. They're thieves. It's just stunning that they would continue to do the very same thing. There's absolutely no remorse," said Ken Berger, President and CEO of the watchdog group Charity Navigator.
Riley was not happy to see INSIDE EDITION's Guerrero when she caught up with him on the street after he finished running another Street Talk News meeting.
"This money doesn't go to the homeless. It goes into your wallet," said Guerrero.
"First of all, I don't own an organization or a company," said Riley.
Even though we had Riley on video apparently running the deceptive operation, Riley denied having any affiliation with Street Talk News.
"You're taking money away from the homeless and you should be ashamed of yourself," said Guererro.
"You should be ashamed of yourself for harassing me because I told you I don't run a company," said Riley.
Riley then disappeared around the corner, but just an hour later we found STN workers back out asking tourists for more cash to ‘help the homeless.'
For tips on how to make sure you're charitable donations actually end up helping those truly in need, please visit: