The touching story of a New Jersey couple helping a drug-addicted homeless veteran, who had supposedly given up his last $20 to help the couple get gas for their car, turned out to be “predicated on a lie” as the three individuals designed the feel-good story for a get-rich-quick scheme that would dupe people into donating to a GoFundMe campaign.
The homeless man, Johnny Bobbitt, and the couple, Kate McClure and Mark D’Amico, allegedly conspired to create a story that would tug on people’s heartstrings, Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said at a news conference Thursday. Bobbit, McClure and D’Amico sought to get $10,000 from the GoFundMe account, but as the story triggered an “international media blitz,” quickly garnering the page $400,000.
The couple said that they had met Bobbit when he came to the rescue and gave his last $20 to McClure, who was stranded on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia, so she could get gas for her car, ABC News reports. The couple then created the GoFundMe account to thank Bobbit and to help get him off of the streets.
“The paying-it-forward story that drove this fundraiser might seem too good to be true,” Coffina said at a press conference. “Unfortunately, it was. The entire campaign 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 added.
Coffina read one of the text messages McClure allegedly sent to a friend, in which 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 feel bad. So, shush about the made up stuff.”
Investigators reviewed more than 67,000 text messages in the case, some of which the couple had discussed their mounting bills that they were unable to pay, CNN reports.
According to Coffina, the couple first met Bobbit at an off-ramp near a casino they frequented about a month prior to the GoFundMe campaign going live. They went back to that spot a month later, where D’Amico took a picture of McClure and Bobbit, which would later become the face of the GoFundMe campaign.
Coffina added that Bobbit had shared a “remarkably similar” on his Facebook page in 2012, writing that he had come across a woman who had run out of gas and had a flat tire at a Walmart in North Carolina and gave her the last of his money, CNN reports.
“I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” Coffina said.
The trio might have gotten away with the scam, however, had Bobbit not filed a lawsuit against the couple in August, accusing them of withholding the $400,000 raised for him. Bobbit’s lawyers sued the couple for fraud, writing that the couple had bought Bobbit a camper without his consent and placed it on their property with “no access to money or food.” Bobbit’s lawyers alleged that he had only seen $75,000 of the $400,000 raised for him.
The couple, at the time, said they were holding the money for Bobbit until he had a job and had stopped using drugs.
Despite Bobbit’s lawsuit and the controversy surrounding the GoFundMe page, D’Amico was still thinking of keeping the scam going, including landing a book deal about the whole story.
“He was certain the payday from the book deal they were pursuing would dwarf the money from the GoFundMe campaign,” Coffina said. “A few months later, when the dispute with Bobbitt became public D’Amico was not dissuaded. Instead, he pitched a title for the book that would encompass the controversy, ‘No Good Deed.’”
The Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation into the missing GoFundMe funds in September, and raided the couple’s home, seizing a BMW and other belongings.
The money is all gone, however, with McClure and D’Amico squandering most of it on luxury handbags and extravagant trips to Las Vegas. The couple also gave $9,000 to relatives they owed money to, and then “hit the casinos hard.” According to ABC News, bank records show that the couple withdrew over $85,000 at or near casinos in Atlantic City, Philadelphia and Las Vegas.
McClure, D’Amico and Bobbit were all charged with second-degree theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by deception. The trio voluntarily surrendered to authorities on Wednesday, but have all since been released. They are each facing five to 10 years in prison, according to prosecutors, and are expected to appear in court on December 24, ABC News reports.
A spokesperson for GoFundMe said in a statement that donors will receive a refund, and that the company is “fully cooperating” with law enforcement in the investigation.