Prosecutors said a New Jersey couple and a homeless Philadelphia man devised an elaborate ruse to cheat GoFundMe donors out of more than $400,000.
Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said on Thursday, 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.
“The entire campaign was predicated on a lie,” Coffina said, according to The Associated Press. “It was fictitious and illegal and there are consequences.”
McClure, her boyfriend Mark D’Amico, and homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt are facing criminal charges of conspiracy and theft by deception, in an alleged get-rich-quick ploy that Coffina said “hoodwinked an awful lot of people.”
“I had to make something up to make people feel bad,” McClure allegedly said in another text to a friend.
The couple turned themselves in to police Wednesday night and were later released.
Bobbitt was arrested Wednesday night in Philadelphia and remained in custody Thursday on a $50,000 bond.
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 boyfriend D’Amico and homeless vet 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.”
‘Let’s Do Something Special’
The story claimed that Bobbitt, a former Marine and first responder, spent his last $20 to help McClure buy gas after her car broke down on the I-95 exit ramp near Philadelphia.
McClure posted the heartwarming rescue story on social media, directing people to a GoFundMe page set up to collect funds ostensibly to help Bobbitt get a leg up in life.
“Let’s do something special,” McClure wrote, as news of the homeless man’s alleged selfless act quickly went viral.
— Kate McClure (@getjohnnyahome) November 11, 2017
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.
Sweet Story Turned Sour
The feel-good tale suffered its first upset when Bobbitt claimed 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.
Now, all of the money raised through the crowdfunding website will be refunded to the donors, Coffina said.