A homeless man living in Philadelphia and a New Jersey couple have been charged for allegedly working together to concoct a scam that led to over $400,000 in GoFundMe donations.
Johnny Bobbitt, Kate McClure, 28, and her boyfriend Mark D’Amico, 39, have been officially charged by the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office, according to FOX29. All three are facing second-degree theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by deception.
McClure and D’Amico surrendered to police Wednesday but have since been released. Bobbit remains in custody in Philadelphia.
The prosecutor’s office announced the criminal charges against the trio during a news conference on Thursday, with county prosecutor Scott Coffina telling reporters that the entire story “was predicated on a lie.”
“Less than an hour after the GoFundMe campaign went live McClure, in a text exchange with a friend, stated that the story about Bobbitt assisting her was fake,” Coffina said.
“Specifically, she wrote, ‘Ok so wait the gas part is completely made up, but the guy isn’t. I had to make something up to make people fell bad, so shush about the made up stuff.’ “
Prosecutors allege that Bobbitt, McClure and D’Amico made up up a false story to secure thousands in GoFundMe donations. Authorities said the couple met Bobbitt at least one month near a casino before they launched their plan.
As the original story went, Bobbitt, a Raleigh, North Carolina, native, first met McClure last October, when her car ran out of gas on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia. Bobbitt allegedly spent his last $20 to buy gas for McClure. Moved by his kindness, she and D’Amico set up a GoFundMe page to help Bobbitt get back on his feet. More than 14,000 donated a total of $402,706 to the man.
What began as a feel-good story eventually turned into a criminal investigation after Bobbitt, a 35-year-old vet, accused McClure and D’Amico of spending the more than $400,000 they raised for him on GoFundMe on lavish vacations and a new BMW.
Bobbitt claimed he was homeless again after the couple took control of the money. His attorneys filed a civil suit on his behalf, leading to court hearings and a police search on the couple’s home.
Now, in the latest twist, it appears it was all a ploy for the trio to raise money for themselves. The news comes weeks after a Burlington County Superior Court judge granted Badway’s request to stay the civil suit, halting legal proceedings through Dec. 7 due to the prosecutors’ initial criminal investigation.
RELATED STORY: N.J. Couple Ordered to Hand Over GoFundMe Money to Homeless Vet After He Accused Them of Fraud
The couple has long denied Bobbitt’s allegations. And, during a September court appearance for an unrelated traffic warrant, D’Amico said everything would soon become “crystal clear” in his and McClure’s battle with Bobbitt.
Weeks ago, GoFundMe officials said they were working with authorities to give Bobbitt a portion of his money, even setting up an account with $20,000 with Bobbitt’s lawyers, according to Good Morning America.
Officials with the fundraising site announced in September that Bobbitt would receive the aforementioned portion of the donations as a result of their GoFundMe Guarantee program, a policy that ensures recipients receive their money, or those who have donated receive refunds in the event of “campaign misuse.”
In light of the new findings, Coffina said during the news conference that investigators are working with GoFundMe officials.
“GoFundMe has informed me that in light of the charges announced today, it will be providing a full refund to all donors of the ‘Pay It Forward’ campaign.
In a statement, GoFundMe officials said: “All donors who contributed to this GoFundMe campaign will receive a full refund. GoFundMe always fully protects donors, which is why we have a comprehensive refund policy in place. GoFundMe will process all refunds in the coming days. While this type of behavior by an individual is extremely rare, it’s unacceptable and clearly it has consequences. Committing fraud, whether it takes place on or offline is against the law. We are fully cooperating and assisting law enforcement officials to recover every dollar withdrawn by Ms. McClure and Mr. D’Amico.
“Finally, it’s important to understand that misuse is very rare on our platform. Campaigns with misuse make up less than one tenth of one percent of all campaigns. We have a zero tolerance policy for fraudulent behavior. If fraud occurs, donors get refunded and we work with law enforcement officials to recover the money. One fraudulent campaign is one too many, but when it does take place, we take action to protect donors.”
Coffina also praised Bobbitt’s military service in the United States Marine Corps but said he was “fully complicit” in the scam.
“He deserves our appreciation for his willingness to serve our country as a United States Marine and he has our sympathy and concern for the homelessness he has experienced as well as his publicized struggle with his addiction, but it is imperative to keep in mind he was fully complicit in this scheme to defraud contributors,” he said.
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