LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — He sits in a wheelchair with a sign reading: “Could you spare a dollar for a homeless, disabled U.S. Navy vet?”
The dog tags around his neck and military salute make it look official.
And the scene of him sitting in the chair playing tricks with his cat certainly tugs at the heartstrings of passers-by who pony up money.
But would they have given if they saw the hidden camera video that saw him appearing to walk uninjured?
From CBS2’s undercover van in Burbank, we watched this man get off a MTA bus using a wheelchair ramp.
Almost every day, he’d maneuver his wheelchair down the sidewalk with his cat carrier on his lap, then set up shop outside either the 99 Cents store or in the Ralphs parking lot. He’d wave to some customers, salute others who passed him and show off his trained cat, who’s on a leash.
It seemed to pay off with people dropping money in the bucket.
He told our undercover producer his name was Troy Ridimann. The same name and photo match to this Facebook page.
And he has stories to tell of his service, which he says took place on Coronado Island from 1983 to 1993.
“I was a petty officer, first class, Navy diver and master diver,” he said.
Ridimann says he was injured diving for a missile that misfired into the Pacific Ocean.
“I went down 433 feet below the ocean surface and recovered it; 1,500 pounds-per-square-inch pressure compressed my cartilage in my ankles, my knees and my hips to the point where I don’t have any,” he said.
“I can still move. It just hurts. Mine’s bone on bone.”
And he ends his story with these words: “The only thing I can do is tell the truth. I don’t lie about anything.”
Keep those words in mind because when we followed him to another location, Ridimann got up out of his wheelchair, seemingly without any problem, and walked around.
Not just once. And sometimes not even slowly. It seemed Ridimann was moving freely. We saw him getting in, and then out, of a car numerous times, even though he said he had compressed cartilage in his ankles, knees and hips.
But that may not be the only story he’s telling. We checked with the Navy, which says it has no record of a Troy Ridimann ever serving.
We showed the video to Robert Kelly. The retired Navy petty officer, first class, is in a wheelchair, suffering from years worth of diving.
“It’s just terrible. It’s a slap in the face to veterans, and especially disabled veterans, that he would go this far to take money out of our pockets, out of people’s pockets, to tug at their heartstrings and defraud people that he’s a veteran,” Kelly said.
And it angers people who gave him money, like Charlene Flores of Burbank.
“It’s just not right,” Flores said.
When we caught up with Ridimann, he was wearing a Navy sweatshirt and walking just fine.
When asked about the discrepancy, he began limping as he walked away, insisting he served in the Navy and was in fact “hurting.”
He also insisted he was not scamming people for money.
He had nothing else to say and walked away briskly with no more war stories to tell.