GO FUND ME HOAX
After a New Jersey couple make headlines with a crowdfunding campaign for a local homeless man they say helped them, authorities charge all three with inventing the story—for cash
It had all the makings of the feel-good story of the year.kate Mcclure said that in October 2017 she found herself stranded and out of gas while driving to Philadelphia. Stuck on the side of the interstate, she claimed she made it to safety with help from a homeless man named Johnny Bobbitt Jr., who spent his last $20 buying gas for her car. Mcclure and her boyfriend Mark D’amico were so moved by Bobbitt’s generosity that they set up a “Paying It Forward” campaign for him on Gofundme, the crowdfunding website. The campaign went viral, and within weeks 14,000 people—touched by Bobbitt’s apparent act of kindness—had donated more than $402,000.
If it all seemed too good to be true, that’s because, according to prosecutors, it was. In September troubling questions about where and how the Gofundme money had been spent prompted a police investigation that exposed the whole story as a hoax. Last week New Jersey authorities charged D’amico, Mcclure and Bobbitt with second-degree theft by deception and conspiracy, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. “The entire campaign was predicated on a lie,” prosecutor Scott Coffina told reporters. “They put out a story that hoodwinked an awful lot of people.” According to court documents, the trio cooked up the scheme after first meeting in the fall of 2017 near a Philadelphia casino where the 39-year-old D’amico, a Florence, N.j.-based contractor, and Mcclure, 28, a state employee, were regulars. (Bobbitt, a 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran who’d been struggling with drug addiction and living on the streets since 2016, was already on the couple’s radar
A Gofundme Scam? ‘THEY HOODWINKED AN AWFUL LOT OF PEOPLE’ —PROSECUTOR SCOTT COFFINA
and had once claimed to have helped a stranded motorist.) The trio concocted their story from there. By March roughly $367,000 had been transferred from Gofundme to Mcclure’s bank account— $75,000 of which Bobbitt said was paid to him in periodic amounts. D’amico and Mcclure allegedly burned through the rest on trips and luxury items, including a $20,700 Las Vegas vacation, a $24,400 BMW and $11,400 worth of designer handbags. The couple also spent money putting Bobbitt up in a hotel and buying him an RV camper. Within weeks after the funds transfer, Mcclure’s account was empty, and by August Bobbitt had spent all of his money too and was back living on the streets. Angry and desperate, Bobbitt sued D’amico and Mcclure for fraud, forcing them to admit in court that the cash was gone—and the jig was up. (People’s requests for comment were not returned.)
In the meantime Gofundme has pledged to fully refund every donor, calling the alleged fraud “unacceptable.” Added prosecutor Coffina: “A case like this can make generous people skeptical and . . . hesitant to help someone else in need; I urge [everyone] not to let that happen.”
Johnny Bobbitt Jr. Mark D’amico Katelyn Mcclure
In February the couple purchased a 2015 BMW with fund-raiser proceeds.