Drivers raise concern about panhandler accused of running scheme

(Photo: WKRN)
(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Fed up motorists are speaking out against an alleged scheming panhandler they say is back at work.

Bill and Merri Johnson first met Paul Aniel near a Donelson Shoney’s restaurant.

“This teddy bear looking guy comes up and goes, ‘I’m really embarrassed to ask you guys, but I’m down on my luck,’” Bill explained. “Bought him a meal ticket at Shoney’s, we didn’t give him cash. But we invested 20 bucks in the guy, just in case he really needed some help.”

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Little did they know, Aniel had a past. He’s been arrested more than 100 times, most of them for panhandling related charges.

It appears Aniel might be back at work after countless people in the Donelson area took to Facebook with sightings from Lebanon Pike to Donelson Pike.

While panhandling is not illegal, doing it along a busy highway is, which is how Terilynn McQuiston met Aniel.

“There’s a guy that’s signaling to use a cell phone,” she said. “He was stranded, he just needed gas money and I found myself giving him money. And at that point he just lost interest, and I knew something was up.”

This year alone, Aniel has been arrested 10 times. The most recent arrest occurred earlier this month. One viewer snapped photos Friday afternoon, claiming they were of Aniel panhandling along the interstate again.

“There’s a lot of people out there that need help, and I think he’s taking advantage of that,” said McQuiston.

“He’s not hurting anybody,” Johnson told News 2. “But it’s definitely buyer beware, lender beware.”

Metro police say anyone who sees a panhandler acting aggressively or engaging in illegal behavior should contact authorities.