Total lie: Homeless vet sob story scammed America out of $402K, cops say
MOUNT HOLLY — The story of a good deed by a homeless vet in Philadelphia that led to $402,706 in donations via a GoFundMe Page was all a lie from the start, prosecutors say.
Now they could face five to 10 years in prison if found guilty.
Homeless man Johnny Bobbitt Jr., 35, Mark D'Amico, 39, and his girlfriend Katelyn McClure, 28, concocted the entire story last November, according to Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina.
"This entire campaign was predicated on a lie. Kate McClure did not run out of gas on an I-95 off-ramp, and Johnny Bobbitt didn't spend his last $20 to help her," investigators charged in a criminal complaint this week accusing the three of second-degree theft by deception.
"Rather, D,Amico, McClure and Bobbitt conspired to invent and/or promulgate this story in order to deceive potential donors to the 'Paying it Forward' campaign by toying with their emotions to encourage them to contribute to a homeless veteran who purportedly had done a good deed."
Investigators say the scam began with D'Amico taking this photo of McClure with Bobbitt, which she posted on the GoFundMe site, claiming it was after Bobbitt had helped her get gas after she broke down on the side of Interstate 95 in Philadelphia.
McClure, a state employee who earns $49,000 as a secretarial assistant at the Department of Transportation, and D'Amico, who owns a construction company, knew Bobbitt for a month before the page was created and had met him during visits to a casino.
Coffina said Thursday that within an hour after the GoFundMe page went live, McClure texted a friend that the story was "completely made up."
“The gas part is completely made up but the guy isn’t," the text said. "I have to make something up to make people feel bad.”
The total donated to the fund was $402,706, which will all be refunded to donors, according to Coffina. GoFundMe spokesman Bobby Whithorne said the company is working with investigators "to recover every dollar withdrawn by McClure and D'Amico."
The money was nearly all gone within "a few months" and only $10,000 was left by March, according to one of the 60,000 texts that were confiscated as part of the investigation, prosecutors said. D'Amico was confident that the money from a book deal would bring in more than the money donated. D'Amico's proposed title for the book was "No Good Deed."
The donations were spent on a BMW, a New Year's trip to Las Vegas and high-end hand bags. Prosecutors said $85,363 was withdrawn at or near casinos in Atlantic City, Philadelphia and Las Vegas.
Bobbitt was in the dark about how the money was spent, according to Coffina, and took civil action claiming he only received $75,000 of the donations which included an $18,350 trailer. The lawsuit was put on hold pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.
When Bobbitt went public in August with his accusations, claiming the couple had kept the funds for themselves, that's when their story started to fall apart and prosecutors began snooping.
But Bobbitt's own involvement in scamming the public was revealed for the first time by investigators this week. Bobbitt was arrested in Philadelphia on Thursday morning.
Prosecutors said if Bobbitt had not filed his lawsuit, they probably would have gotten away with the scam.
McClure and D'Amico's previous statements — including declaration on NBC's "Megyn Kelly Today" — that they gave Bobbitt $200,000 proved not to be true based on financial documents, investigators said.
From Nov. 30, 2017, through March 26, 2018, $189,375 was transferred from McClure's primary bank account into McClure's accounts.
It's not clear which one of the three came up with the scheme. But Coffina said that Bobbitt in 2012 “posted a remarkably similar story on his Facebook page" about helping a woman in North Carolina who had run out of gas and had a flat tire.
Bobbitt said he "spent his supper money to get her on her way and fixed her flat tire," Coffina said. "I don’t think that’s a coincidence."
D'Amico and McClure, both residents of Florence, surrendered on Wednesday night and were processed and released. Bobbitt, who was living in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, was still in custody pending and extradition hearing.
New Jersey 101.5 did not know Thursday whether the three had attorneys who could speak on their behalves. Bobbitt's attorney in the civil case did not return a request for comment.
Sergio Bichao contributed to this report.