HUNTINGTON BEACH (CBSLA.com) — The viral video of a homeless man buying food for friends with $100 he had been given warmed the hearts of many of the more than 25 million people who clicked on it.
Donations came pouring in for the homeless man named Thomas. More than $130,000 donated from around the globe in about a week.
Josh Paler Lin, the YouTube personality who uploaded the nearly five-minute video, is telling everyone within earshot that the heartwarming viral video is real.
The homeless man’s brother, however, said that his brother is being scammed. Meanwhile, an eyewitness to the filming also believes the entire thing is a hoax.
The eyewitness told CBS2’s Stacey Butler that he saw Thomas in Lin’s car when Lin purported the man didn’t know he was being filmed. During the video, Lin can be heard telling his shooter, “Make sure he doesn’t see you.”
The homeless man’s brother also spoke to Butler.
In the video, the homeless man is tracked to a convenience store that sold liquor. He buys food for other homeless people with the $100 he was given by Lin.
Lin later confronts the man and gives him another $100 because he said he assumed he was going to buy alcohol with the money and he couldn’t believe he was so generous with his friends.
In another eight-minute video, Lin takes Thomas out for a couple of meals, including shabu-shabu on Christmas Eve, provides him with a hotel room and a surprise makeover. Lin insists none of the videos were staged or scripted.
With hits to his YouTube channel (he joined in 2009), it’s already estimated that Lin made $52,000, not counting the Indiegogo fundraising page he said he set up for Thomas. Lin’s channel also gained him nearly 15,000 new fans.
Critics have already pointed out that Thomas would have had to have walked for at least 34 minutes to the Liquor Mart, passing cheaper supermarkets along the way. They also point out that a homeless and begging Thomas had a rather blase reaction for someone who had just received $100 from a stranger.
The eyewitness to the filming told Butler he knew Lin from his many prankster videos and said he definitely saw Thomas in Lin’s vehicle during set-ups.
“I was there,” says Taugan Kadalim, “they didn’t ‘follow’ him. They drove him there [to the liquor store.]
Kadalim believes Thomas, 56, is really homeless but that the entire video was staged.
“I think the manner in how they portrayed the entire video is deceitful,” Kadalim says, “And dishonest.”
Thomas’ brother, Kevin Nickel, reached out to CBS2.
“This isn’t right,” he said.
“In a surprising twist,” Butler reported, “he says his brother’s real name is Kenny Nickel. He said his brother is an alcoholic and lived with their parents until both died last summer.”
He said his brother was arrested for public intoxication and put in jail. Butler was unable to confirm his arrest record.
His brother also says Kenny is actually not broke. He is due $150,000 from his parents’ estate.
“He’s sitting on money,” Kevin said, not sure if his brother is even aware of the Indiegogo money being collected on his behalf. “But this is a scam. This money needs to go to people who really need it.”
Kevin fears his brother is being manipulated and that if he does get the money he uses it to get help.