US couple, homeless man charged in GoFundMe scam

US couple, homeless man charged in GoFundMe scam

woman raises funds for homeless man
Kate McClure with Johnny Bobbitt Jr. (Photo: Paying It Forward/GoFundMe)

NEW YORK: Last year, the seemingly heartwarming tale of a homeless good Samaritan who helped a woman driver in need sparked a crowdfunding campaign that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for him.

READ: Woman raises more than US$270,000 for homeless man who bought her petrol

Now, the story has ended up in court - and appears to have been a scam.

Three people were charged in a New Jersey courtroom on Thursday in connection with the allegedly fraudulent scheme, which allowed them to rake in more than US$400,000 on the GoFundMe site.

homeless man, us couple scam
This November 2018 combination of photos provided by the Burlington County Prosecutors office shows Johnny Bobbitt, from left, Katelyn McClure and Mark D'Amico. (Photo: Burlington County Prosecutors Office/AP)

In November 2017, Katelyn McClure and her boyfriend Mark D'Amico launched the crowdfunding page asking donors to "pay it forward" to a homeless military veteran, Johnny Bobbitt Jr.

The couple said Bobbitt had given McClure his last US$20 to buy gas for her car when he found her stuck along a highway outside Philadelphia, and they wanted to return the act of kindness.

The GoFundMe page announced a goal of US$10,000 to help Bobbitt rent an apartment, buy a used car and get back on his feet. But it quickly made that amount many times over.

The story made headlines and thousands donated to what seemed to be a good cause.

johnny bobbitt hr
Johnny Bobbitt Jr helped Kate McClure buy petrol using his last US$20, prompting McClure to help raise funds to get him off the streets. (Photo: Kate McClure/Facebook)

But the first twist came in August when Bobbitt sued McClure and D'Amico, saying he had only received a fraction of the money - about US$75,000 - and accusing the couple of pulling one over on donors.

Bobbitt claimed the couple had gone on fancy vacations and bought themselves a new BMW, which was seized at the couple's home in September.

Ultimately, the investigation revealed a second twist: Bobbitt was in cahoots with the couple all along.

"The entire campaign was predicated on a lie," Burlington County prosecutor Scott Coffina told a press conference Thursday.

"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 'completely made up'," he said.

"She did not run out of gas on an I-95 off-ramp, and he did not spend his last $20 to help her," the prosecutor added.

"D'Amico, McClure and Bobbitt conspired to fabricate and promote a feel-good story that would compel donors to contribute to their cause."

The three were charged with "theft by deception" and conspiracy to commit such a theft. A spokesman for the prosecutor's office said they would be seeking jail sentences "of some length."

GoFundMe plans to reimburse the 14,000 donors, who contributed US$403,000, the prosecutor said.

Source: AFP/aa