A heartwarming story about a homeless man’s kindness garnered $400,000 in donations from around the world in mere days—and was nothing more than a scam, prosecutors revealed Thursday.
In a shocking twist, the New Jersey couple and homeless man who became famous after their crowdfunding campaign went viral now face charges for allegedly concocting the bogus story in order to raise money for themselves, authorities said.
Mark D’Amico, Kate McClure, and Johnny Bobbitt Jr. were all charged Thursday with conspiracy to commit theft and theft by deception for fabricating the story that made them almost $400,000 on GoFundMe, Burlington County prosecutor Scott Coffina said at a press conference Thursday.
“The paying it forward story was too good to be true,” Coffina said. “Unfortunately, it was. The entire thing was a lie.”
In 2017, the couple claimed that Bobbitt, a homeless Marine veteran, used his last $20 to help 28-year-old McClure buy gas after her car got stuck on a Philadelphia interstate.
But in reality, the “trio knew each other for about a month before the campaign went live,” Coffina said, adding that the couple met Bobbitt during “frequent trips to a local gambling casino.”
Claiming they wanted to “pay it forward” and get Bobbitt back on his feet, McClure and her boyfriend, 39-year-old D’Amico, launched the GoFundMe campaign. It instantly went viral, and all three went on a media blitz to tell the story.
“Johnny did not ask me for a dollar, and I couldn’t repay him at that moment because I didn’t have any cash, but I have been stopping by his spot for the past few weeks,” McClure wrote on the crowdfunding website. “I wish that I could do more for this selfless man, who went out of his way just to help me that day. He is such a great guy, and talking to him each time I see him makes me want to help him more and more.”
However, authorities later learned that McClure told a friend the story was “completely made up” in a text message sent less than an hour after the campaign went live.
“She did not run out of gas on an I-95 off-ramp, and he did not spend his last $20 to help her. Rather, D’Amico, McClure and Bobbit conspired to fabricate and promote a feel-good story that would compel donors to contribute to their cause,” Coffina said.
The couple’s lawyer, Ernest Badway, did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
Their devious plan began to devolve when Bobbitt publicly accused the couple of using the funds as a “personal piggy bank” to fund a lifestyle they couldn’t afford, authorities said. In August, the veteran filed a suit against the couple, alleging they had used the money for themselves and had failed to pay him more than $300,000.
“There’s a good chance they might have gotten away with it if the three hadn’t started fighting about the money,” Coffina said.
Hitting back at Bobbitt, McClure and D’Amico went on TV to deny any wrongdoing, even accusing the vet of spending $25,000 in less than two weeks on drugs, overdue legal bills, and gifts for family members.
After reviewing more than 60,000 text messages, investigators learned that instead of giving the money to Bobbitt, as they had claimed, the couple put it towards a new BMW, a New Year’s trip to Las Vegas, and luxury bags, among other items, Coffina said Thursday.
“Within a few months of the campaign’s creation, all the money had been spent,” the press release said.
In another text-message exchange, McClure told a friend that the couple had less than $10,000 remaining, Coffina said.
“But D’Amico wasn’t worried. He was certain there would be a payday from the book deal they were pursuing that would dwarf the money generated by the GoFundMe campaign,” Coffina said.
In September, police raided the couple’s New Jersey home. Later that month, GoFundMe announced it would pay Bobbitt the rest of the money owed to him, though it’s unclear if the company ever did so.
Coffina said GoFundMe will give refunds to all of the 14,000 donors who contributed nearly $403,000 to the campaign.
“All donors who contributed to this GoFundMe campaign will receive a full refund,” said Bobby Whitmorne, the company’s Director of North America Communications, in a statement on Thursday.
McClure and D’Amico surrendered to authorities Wednesday night and have a court hearing scheduled for December, Coffina said. Bobbitt was arrested Thursday in Philadelphia, where he is being held until he is extradited to New Jersey.