The Swindle: Group Facing Jail Time After Making $400K Off Fake GoFundMe Campaign
Thousands of GoFundMe campaigns are launched every year, with many focused on spreading kindness through the power of a dollar. As of late, several cases have questioned its nature including the case of New Jersey couple who reportedly teamed up with a Philadelphia homeless veteran in an elaborate scam to cash in on the nice gesture.
Couple Mark D'Amico, Kate McClure and homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt Jr. were arrested Wednesday evening and will face conspiracy and theft by deception charges, ABC News reports. Bobbit, who was previously on the run for the case, was also charged with being a fugitive from justice. He is currently being transferred from Philly to Burlington County.
The story behind the group's GoFundMe came to be in 2017 when McClure said she was stranded around midnight on the I-95 exit ramp near Philadelphia when she ran out of gas. Bobbit, who was resting under an overpass, came over and gave her his last $20.
The deed inspired McClure and her boyfriend D'Amico to create a GoFundMe in an effort to pay it forward. The story quickly went viral when they raised $402,706 from 14,347 individual contributors instead of the proposed $10,000. They went from talk show to talk show playing up their newfound friendship.
Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina released a statement about the case Thursday (Nov. 15), confirming the group decided to make up a heartwarming story to make money.
“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,’" the statement reads. "She did not run out of the gas on the I-95 off-ramp, and he did not spend his last $20 helping her. Rather, D’Amico, McClure and Bobbitt conspired to fabricate and promote a feel-good story that would compel donors to contribute to their cause.”
Before the swindle was exposed, the group of friends was already falling apart. In August, Bobbit told reporters he was only given $75,000 of the $400,000 raised. He also was given an RV to sleep in near the couple's home but was taken away from in June when he was kicked off the property.
The money also remained in the couple's bank account and the RV was also in their name. He sued the couple over mismanagement of funds. The couple retaliated, claiming Bobbit was given $200,000 and burned through $25,000 in less than two weeks on drugs and sending money to family.
The investigation into the couple's handling of the money revealed their elaborate spending habits. Several social posts from McClure showcased the couple taking trips to Las Vegas for New Year's Eve, helicopter rides, front row Broadway tickets and luxury shopping sprees. Police raided their home in September, seizing a BMW, jewelry and other items.
During the investigation, more clues suggested that the group were all in on the scam, which was to create a GoFundMe just to make money.
If convicted of the charges, all three will face up to 20 years in prison.