Online crowdfunding sites are all the rage to help raise money for a litany of causes. GoFundMe is the granddaddy of all the sites. While most users that raise money on the site are honest with their stories, there is a pocket of users that use the site for fraudulent purposes. A viral campaign to help a homeless veteran raked in more than $400,000.00. However, yesterday prosecutors in New Jersey said the campaign to rescue the vet was built on a lie. Authorities arrested Johnny Bobbit, Mark D’Amico, and Katelyn McClure for their massive theft from more than 14,000 donors.
In November 2017, McClure and D’Amico created a campaign on GoFundMe. The campaign titled “Paying it Forward” told a compelling story about a homeless veteran.
In the now removed campaign, the campaign told donors that McClure ran out of gas on an off-ramp. After running out of gas, the campaign said that Bobbit gave McClure his last $20 to fill up her gas tank.
“I never ran out of gas before, and my heart was beating out of my chest. I pulled over as far as I could, and got out of the car to head to the nearest gas station,” she wrote.
“That’s when I met Johnny. … He told me to get back in the car and lock the doors. A few minutes later, he comes back with a red gas can. Using his last 20 dollars to make sure I could get home safe.”
To thank him for his good deed, McClure said she wanted to raise money to help Bobbit get back on his feet.
The money raised in the campaign was supposed to help Bobbit secure housing. Initially, donors flocked to the campaign, and by mid-December 2017, the campaign raised more than $400,000.00 to help Bobbit.
As the campaign continued to raise money, Bobbit, D’Amico, and McClure made appearances on multiple media outlets. They appeared on Good Morning America and Ellen.
Media outlets around the world picked up the story. The couple was praised for their efforts in helping Bobbit. Bobbit became a media hero for assisting McClure in her time of need.
By Summer 2018, the relationship soured between the couple and Bobbit. Bobbit sued the couple for stealing campaign money. The couple appeared on the Today show to deny Bobbit’s allegations of theft. D’Amico and McClure started to look like greedy swindlers. The media portrayed Bobbit as a victim.
As summer of 2018 wrapped up, the couple and Bobbit took their fight into the courtroom. In court proceedings, the couple admitted there was no money left for Bobbit.
Based on this in court admission, authorities began investigating the theft allegation against D’Amico and McClure. Authorities executed a search warrant on their property in September. Police raided their home and removed a 2015 BMW, jewelry, cash, and the couple’s personal and business financial statements.
Police seized the couple’s phones and got access to more than 60,000 text messages. As a result, investigators uncovered the fraud committed by the couple and Bobbit.
Only hours after McClure uploaded the campaign to GoFundMe, she text messaged a friend. The message read:
“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 part.”
Additional messages between D’Amico and McClure revealed the two met Bobbit more than a month before she launched the GoFundMe campaign. The couple initially met Bobbit panhandling off the interstate in October 2017. The New York Post shared excerpts from their conversation:
“[I don’t know] why but that homeless guy by sugarhouse [sic] just keeps popping in my damn head today,” McClure, 28, text messaged her boyfriend on Oct. 16, 2017.
“Dude I just thought about him!!” replied D’Amico, 39, as the conversation turned to ways to help out the 35-year-old former Marine: Food, clothes, a Nintendo Switch, even a job, and a house.
According to prosecutors, the couple decided to go back to off-ramp where they first met Bobbit. The couple found Bobbit, took the photo and conspired with Bobbit to create the campaign. The entire story about McClure running out of gas was a lie.
Initially, authorities believed Bobbit played no part in the conspiracy to defraud donors. However, they uncovered a 2012 tweet by Bobbit that spun a very similar tale.
“So this girl runs out of gas and has a flat tire at the same time in front of Wal-Mart and is blocking traffic,” he wrote. “So I run to the gas station and then change her tire. I spent the only cash I had for supper, but at least she can get her little children home safe.”Authorities were unable to determine if the 2012 incident occurred. Investigators are unsure if the story was real and used to inspire the 2017 campaign. However, authorities did say they do not believe it’s a coincidence.
Additional texts between the couple admitted their role in spending the money raised for Bobbit. They admitted to purchasing a car, taking multiple trips, and buying expensive handbags with the money.
D’Amico seemed confident that even if they ran out of money from the campaign, he and McClure could secure a book deal. Unfortunately, what unraveled the fraud appears to be the greed of McClure and D’Amico.
New Jersey prosecutor Scott Coffina told the media in a press conference how the scam ultimately fell apart.
“[McClure] did not run out of gas on an I-95 off-ramp, and [Bobbitt] did not spend his last $20 to help her,” Coffina said. “Rather, D’Amico, McClure and Bobbitt conspired to fabricate and promote a feel-good story that would compel donors to contribute to their cause.”
He explained that Bobbit’s lawsuit against the couple unraveled the story. If McClure and D’Amico had given Bobbit a more substantial chunk of the proceeds from the campaign, authorities might have never uncovered their fraud.
In the press conference, Coffina said that McClure and D’Amico had been arrested for their role in the fraud. The couple had been processed and released pending a court date in December.
Bobbit was taken into custody in Pennsylvania. Coffina said they are awaiting extradition of Bobbit to charge him for his role in the crime.
Coffina stressed that Bobbit does deserve respect for his service, but reiterated that Bobbit is not innocent in the scheme.
“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 that he’s experienced, as well as his publicized struggle with addiction,” Coffina added.
“But it is imperative to keep in mind that he was fully complicit in the scheme to defraud contributors.”
GoFundMe promised to refund the more than 14,000 contributors to the campaign. McClure’s attorney issued a statement placing the blame solely on the shoulders of Bobbit and D’Amico:
“I’m confident that in the end, the evidence will reveal that Kate had only the best intentions,” Gerrow said. “She was used by Mr. D’Amico and Mr. Bobbitt, and she thought throughout that this money was going to a homeless veteran. She was unaware that they had concocted this scheme. It wasn’t until September when meeting with prosecutors that she came to realize that she had been used by both of them.”
The couple and Bobbit are scheduled to appear in court in December. If convicted on the charges, the trio will face up to a decade in prison.
When something sounds too good to be true, there is a likelihood that the story is not real. It appears this story falls in that category.
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