A New Jersey couple and a homeless man behind a viral GoFundMe campaign fabricated a heartwarming story in order to raise money for themselves, prosecutors said Thursday.
Mark D’Amico, Kate McClure and Johnny Bobbitt face charges including conspiracy and theft by deception after raising more than $400,000 in a GoFundMe campaign established in November 2017.
McClure and D’Amico ostensibly set up the GoFundMe last year for Bobbitt, a homeless veteran, after he gave McClure his last $20 when she ran out of gas while driving into Philadelphia. The campaign purported to raise money for Bobbitt to help him get rent money for an apartment, a vehicle and four-to-six months’ worth of expenses. McClure’s story went viral, bringing in donations from more than 14,000 people who were touched by his kind gesture.
But that story was fake, Burlington County Prosector Scott Coffina told reporters Thursday. McClure did not run out of gas and Bobbitt did not spend his last $20 on her behalf. Instead, all three worked together to come up with a “feel-good story” that would inspire donors to give money.
“The entire campaign was predicated on a lie,” Coffina said.
McClure and D’Amico were arrested Wednesday in Burlington County and released on bail, Coffina said. Bobbitt was arrested Wednesday in Philadelphia and is awaiting extradition back to New Jersey.
Coffina said that by March 2018, the couple spent the vast majority of the donated money on a car, vacations, a number of handbags and casino visits. He said authorities found more than 60,000 texts between McClure and D’Amico about their financial woes, discussing their inability to pay their bills and their increasing debts.
Thursday’s charges offer some clarity following months of legal skirmishes between the couple and Bobbitt. McClure and D’Amico have been under investigation since September, after Bobbitt accused them of using the money they raised for him on themselves. Bobbitt sued McClure and D’Amico in August, claiming he received only $75,000 of the $400,000 raised and saying they used the money for vacations and a new BMW. The couple, who initially said they were holding on to the money out of fear that Bobbitt would spend it on drugs, were ordered to put the remaining funds into an escrow account.
Coffina added the trio may have gotten away with the scheme had the dispute between Bobbitt and the couple not become public. McClure and D’Amico had met Bobbitt near a casino they frequented and had known him for about a month before the GoFundMe campaign went live, he said.
Police raided McClure and D’Amico’s New Jersey home in September, taking bags and boxes of items and the BMW the couple had purchased. They said they used their own money to buy the car. A judge temporarily halted the lawsuit filed by Bobbitt against the couple as the investigation unfolded. A lawyer for the couple said in September that Bobbitt received about $200,000 from the fundraiser.
GoFundMe, which gave Bobbitt $20,000 in September as financial assistance during the investigation of the case, said Thursday that it will fully refund all the money raised to donors.
“While this type of behavior by an individual is extremely rare, it’s unacceptable and clearly it has consequences,” GoFundMe said in a statement to TIME. “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.”
A lawyer for McClure and D’Amico declined to comment. Attorneys for Bobbitt did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.