GoFundMe representatives said they have returned over $400,000 to donors who fell for a feel-good story about a homeless man spending his last $20 to help a stranded motorist, after the donation drive was exposed as a get-rich-quick scam.
“It was an irresistibly heartwarming tale,” said Scott Coffina, the Burlington County Prosecutor, in a November press conference, before alleging that the feel-good story was in fact a fraudulent ruse.
“The entire campaign was predicated on a lie,” Coffina said, according to The Associated Press. “It was fictitious and illegal and there are consequences.”
New Jersey couple Kate McClure and Mark D’Amico set up the GoFundMe campaign ostensibly to raise money for Johnny Bobbitt, a homeless veteran.
But prosecutors believe the three fabricated the story to tug at peoples’ heart-strings—and wallets.
Donors responded with extraordinary fervor to the good Samaritan tale, vastly exceeding the original funding goal of $10,000.
But all of the over $400,000 raised has now been refunded, including processing and administration fees, GoFundMe spokesperson Bobby Whithorne told CBS News on Dec. 24 in an email.
Meanwhile, the trio faces criminal charges of conspiracy and theft by deception, in what Coffina said was a get-rich-quick scheme that “hoodwinked an awful lot of people.”
The Heart-Warming Tale
The couple claimed the down-on-his-luck Bobbitt helped out the stranded McClure with some gas money.
McClure posted the heartwarming rescue story on social media, directing people to the GoFundMe donation page.
“Let’s do something special,” McClure wrote, as news of the homeless man’s supposedly selfless act quickly went viral.
The funding response was overwhelming. The goal was $10,000, but within nine months the amount collected reached $402,706—an extraordinary result that received broad media coverage.
“It has changed my entire outlook about people, my outlook about people has skyrocketed,” McClure said of the donations at the time.
Over 14,000 people were moved by the touching story and donated money.
The Story Unravels
Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said on Nov. 15 that that within hours of the GoFundMe campaign launch, Kate McClure texted a friend saying that the majority of the story was fabricated, according to NBC 10 Philadelphia.
“Ok, so wait. The gas part is completely made up. The guy isn’t,” McClure allegedly texted the friend after the campaign went live, according to the report. “So shush about the made up stuff,” she said, according to Coffina.
The three allegedly met more than a month before the launch of the campaign, authorities believe.
“I had to make something up to make people feel bad,” McClure allegedly said in another text to a friend.
McClure claims she had no knowledge of the scheme.
Speaking through attorney James Gerrow, she stated that she was unaware of the false story and claimed that D’Amico and Bobbit exploited her.
“I’m confident that in the end the evidence will reveal that Kate had only the best intentions,” Gerrow said. “She was used by Mr. D’Amico and Mr. Bobbitt and she thought throughout that this money was going to a homeless veteran. She was unaware that they had concocted this scheme. It wasn’t until September when meeting with prosecutors that she came to realize that she had been used by both of them.”
The feel-good tale suffered its first visible upset when Bobbitt claimed through lawyers that the couple used the GoFundMe money as a “personal piggy bank,” and sued the couple in August for mismanaging his funds.
Bobbitt’s attorney, Jacqueline Promislo, told The New York Post in September that the couple started to spend the money right after depositing it into their bank account.
“They went on shopping sprees,” Promislo told the paper. “[Bobbitt] tells me they had a Louis Vuitton bag and Chanel sunglasses, a new iPhone 10.”
Then the prosecutor’s office confirmed on Sept. 6 that a criminal investigation had been launched into the missing funds.
Joel Bewley, a public information officer for the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office, told CBS News in an email that the couple is expected to face a grand jury.
If convicted, McClure, D’Amico, and Bobbitt could face up to ten years in jail.