By Elizabeth C.
WELL, THIS IS BUBBLE-BUSTING: THE homeless man gifted with a pair of $75 Sketchers by a New York Policeman might be a con artist preying on tourists. Officer Lawrence DePrimo won hearts after being photographed performing a random act of kindness in Times Square. After spotting a homeless man with blisters on his shoeless feet, the officer ducked inside a shoe store, bought a pair of shoes, and helped put them on the man.
Unbeknownst to him, his act of generosity was captured on camera by a tourist visiting from Arizona, and the photo’s release raised spirits of millions on the web and around the world. A surprised DePrimo was lauded in the press and received cufflinks from New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.
But the question remained: who was the homeless man? New York newspapers have identified the man as Jeffrey Hillman, a U.S. Army vet who’s lived on the streets of Manhattan for a decade. And when a reporter finally caught up with him — he was once again shoeless.
“Those shoes are hidden. They are worth a lot of money,” Mr. Hillman told the New York Times. “I could lose my life.”
In an interview, Hillman said he was grateful for DePrimo’s kindness: “I wish there were more people like him in the world.” But he also ambivalent about becoming the subject of worldwide interest and speculation.
“I was put on YouTube, I was put on everything without permission. What do I get? This went around the world, and I want a piece of the pie.”
Since the feel-good story hit the news, others have come forward to say they’ve also purchased Hillman shoes — both before and since DePrimo’s generous gesture, according to the Times. A police source told the Daily News last week that Hillman “is often seen strolling barefoot in the area and suspect it’s part of a scam to squeeze donations from tourists.”
A comment left on the Time’s website also encourages that line of thinking: “I will tell you that I met this exact same homeless man on Nov 19,” commented “Utah Volunteer.” “I was in NYC with the Red Cross. This man did not have the boots the officer gave him…What happened to these boots between the 14th and the 19th?”
It’s the same question that a passerby asked Hillman when he was being interviewed by a Times‘ reporter. If the allegations against him are true, it doesn’t make DePrimo a sap; it makes Hillman sadder.