By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU — Two Wausau women who organized fundraising efforts for a man injured while riding his bike in Wausau say they are is devastated after learning the man allegedly misrepresented his living situation.
Courtney Cox said her heart went out to Antone “Tony” Lenz and his dog, Yogi, after the man was struck by a vehicle on Grand Avenue Friday afternoon in Wausau. After seeing comments on Facebook stating the man is homeless and had lost his only means of transportation in the crash, Cox knew she wanted to help. When she spotted the man Sunday on a west-side street corner, she immediately recognized him and didn’t hesitate to approach him.
“He told me he was homeless and lost his only means of transportation,” said Cox, who struggling financially herself after an injury sidelined her from work. “I gave him all the change in my car which was around $10-15. I still felt bad because that wasn’t much.”
Cox posted a plea on Facebook asking for help for the man. Friends and strangers responded instantly, and within five minutes more than 100 offers of help poured in. Nikki Huettl saw the post and created a GoFundMe page to gather donations for Lenz. By Monday afternoon, Huettl had raised more than $1,000 for Tony and Yogi, and Cox was flooded with dog supplies and other donations to deliver.
“People were stopping giving him cash, food, dog supplies and much more,” Cox said. “I had people messaging me and calling me to reach him. I drove around town all day meeting people that donated items for him.”
But soon, people started contacting Cox telling her she might have been duped.
“People started messaging me, saying he isn’t homeless, someone else posted that he was in key west Florida last year on a corner asking for money,” Cox said. “Last week he was in Stevens point on a corner. A man in a mini van drives him to different locations, drops him off in a secluded place, and he rode his bike to busy street corners. This is what he does for a living.”
Cox said she then called the cell phone number the man left for her so she could deliver donations to him as they came in. When she called, the man’s wife answered and confirmed to Cox that the two lived together but didn’t report their living situation because of income restrictions for government programs.
Cox and Huettl have been communicating since they both learned about what they now see as a scam. On Monday, Cox tracked the man down on the same west-side corner he had been standing on when they first talked. In a recorded conversation, which Wausau Pilot and Review has viewed, “Tony” asks about how to get the money from the GoFundMe effort and is seen offering Cox money while asking Cox to “cool it on social media” because “if Social Security finds out, I’m done.”
The GoFundMe campaign, which “Tony” shared on his own Facebook page, is no longer accepting donations, and Huettl is left wondering what to do with the funds she raised for a cause she now knows was misrepresented. Huettl is working with GoFundMe to determine the best next steps in refunding individual donations.
Both women say they are outraged and will be contacting police with their discoveries including the recording and screen shots of conversations.
“I am beyond upset,” Huettl said. “We acted with the right intentions and were attempting to help someone who was in a less than fortunate situation. But his job appears to be panhandling others for their hard earned money and misrepresenting his situation for his own benefit.”
Cox said she thought she, too, was doing the right thing.
“This is not okay at all. And people need to be aware of this,” Cox said. “He’s scamming people out of a lot of money when there are people that actually need the help.”
Here is his wife’s name. Wasn’t hard to find on his FB profile.
Since she admitted to committing welfare fraud, let’s call her into the welfare fraud line and have her punished for lying about her income to get free gov’t housing.
I used to live in a large……very large city and can confidently say that many of the street peddlers are in fact hoaxes. One that sticks out to me was this woman who was constantly, yes……constantly “pregnant” and would move to street corners in various parts of this large city and have a sign that read something like “pregnant and homeless. need your help, please”. The entire 4 yrs. I lived in this city, this woman was “pregnant” and moved her little schtick to different locations every couple of weeks. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in this area who aren’t very street smart and gullible to scams like that. Of course we want to believe everyone is sincere, etc, but in this day and age, you’re simply a fool to buy into everything you see. If there’s no way of returning donations, I’d suggest donating the money to a food pantry or something similar. At least there’s a better chance the money will be used for something legitimate.
Sad to repeat it. Years ago I worked with an accountant who stated to me, “Women have houses and men live with women.”
People who misrepresent make it harder for everyone else.
People who do this are sick! Its just like that girl from, where was it… Merrill I think? She claimed she had cancer and even shaved her whole head cause she claimed her hair was falling out from the chemo.. then started a gofundme page and got thousands in donations and never even had cancer.
Doesn’t bother me. I figure if this is how someone ‘makes a living,’ then there are certainly worse things he could do. It isn’t like he is stealing thousands from people’s retirements or anything. Interesting how we judge who is ‘needy’ or not.
Plus, serious style points for the dog.
No they are stealing. Just because they are doing it through a con doesn’t make it any less stealing.
Misrepresenting yourself to obtain money is called fraud. Fraud is illegal.
I guess my point of view is that there are plenty of people who make tons of money off the plight of others — Payday Cash places, the makers of Oxycodone, internet scammers, alcohol producers and distributors, most of the town of Las Vegas, dishonest investment bankers, and people in nearly every walk of life. It is surprising to me the vitriol expressed for a guy who clearly is living a fairly meager existence. He isn’t making money off the hardships of others — although he is playing on sympathy. But really, is that the worst thing? I guess in my moral playbook, there are far worse things.
People feel good when they give, and even if it turns out to not be a worthy cause, that is part of the reason they do it; it makes them feel good. I am not saying his way of making a living is admirable, but I have lived in larger cities where people make money all kinds of ways on the streets, from buskers to human statues to mimes, etc. Everyone knows that some of the stories are only partial truths — but people who give do so because it makes them feel like they are helping someone out. It is not a contract.
I liked seeing him and his cool dog around town; I hope he lands ok wherever he ends up.
Are you really comparing legit business with a con artist? With all of those people you know what you are getting. He lied about what those donated were getting. They thought they were helping someone involved in a crash and homeless. Granted they should have pointed him to the services in the community. How do we know he is needy? Maybe social security isn’t his only income. Once you lie like that then EVERY part of your story can be questioned. Do you follow the teachings of Ayn Rand by chance, since you think all social interaction is just a chance for one person to manipulated others. What a sad life you must lead.
There are organizations in the Wausau area that screen and work with clients that are homeless such as Salvation Army, Northcentral CAP, and Catholic Charities. These agencies could have screened this person; the application requires ID, income and such. Glad that you found out more info and took down the GoFund account.
How about using the go fund money on the fire victims in Weston?
You cannot collect money for one cause and then send it to another. That would be another case of fraud. Not much different than what this bum is doing. (The ladies in this case are not fraudsters of course but you get what I mean)
GoFundMe will refund anyone that logs in and requests it in this case.
GoFundMe has already started issuing refunds, from what donors have reported directly to me. The women who started this thought about donating the money elsewhere, but quickly realized that they can’t legally do that. (Some people feel pretty strongly about where their donation dollars go, too, so they might have faced some criticism that way, too.)
Are there “worse things he could do” to make a living? Well, sure. If he wants to panhandle and ask for money from people, okay. But don’t lie about it. People who could barely afford to give anything gave him money. In one situation, a woman (a reader, someone I know) whose husband is dying of cancer and likely won’t live long enough to get social security or disability donated $20 she could ill afford, especially since she exhausted her FMLA leave and is now without a job as she cares for her dying husband. Her heart went out to this guy because she thought he and his dog did not have a home and did not have any transportation and needed food and shelter and thought – okay, he needs it worse than we do. Finding out he misrepresented his situation was like a punch in the gut to her. It’s not right.
The funny thing is – I think that people would have donated to this guy if he HADN’T misrepresented himself. And they would have been okay with it.
No it wouldn’t if the people who gave knew why is was being sent to another cause or refunded.
This is why you should send people to the services available in the community.
Looks like the person who hit this guy with his car was trying to do us all a favor.
Do we even know THAT story is true
Wow. So you think someone deserves to get hit by a car for being what you think is dishonest? That’s a pretty horrible thing to say. He isn’t being fraudulent to anyone. He did in fact lose his bike and was involved in an accident. He never said he has a home either. He said he stays here and there. There is nothing illegal about accepting donations from willing people. He never asked for the go fund me to be set up either. No one did anything wrong by helping a person who was involved in an accident and has been getting rides since losing his bike. It’s not illegal to panhandle. Just leave him alone. I don’t see what the big deal is. Keep up the good work and the kind deeds, everyone who donated did a somethung kind for another, that shouldn’t be forgotten. As far as finding ways to make a poor person more miserable, I suggest finding other things to do to bring more positivity into the world.
Really? Sweetheart, GET A CLUE. NOBODY is saying anyone “deserves” to get hit by a car. First of all, was he hospitalized or even mildly injured? Is he disabled in some way and unable to WORK? From the pictures I’ve seen, it sure as hell doesn’t look that way. Maybe something more “positive” would be for people like him to not scam money from those who are trying to be kind hearted.
1911, there will always be enablers and excuse makers for the lazy and deceitful.
It’s good to call out scammers when you see them. Their actions take away from those that really do need our help, time and money. People overlook the actual needy because they remember lazy bums like this and that is the real shame.
The people who donated money are kind people trying to do good. The “victim” is scum. Also, how do we know that it was the driver of the auto was at fault and not the beggar? I see people on bikes disobey traffic signals on a regular basis. You do a risky activity often enough and sooner or later your luck runs out.
I really hope you get conned out of everything. We will remind you that you were just helping out a poor person.
Don’t worry your pretty little head about me buttercup. I have been on this planet long enough to know a scam when I see one. When you grow up you will also.
Dude, what makes you think my comment was directed at you. It was obviously directed at the person who thinks that what that guy and his wife did was okay.
“Don’t worry your pretty little head about me buttercup. I have been on this planet long enough to know a scam when I see one. When you grow up you will also.”
doesn’t that violate the rules for commenting… what argument is being made?
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