- The viral story of a woman who raised $US400,000 on GoFundMe for a homeless veteran who gave her his last $US20 was all a scam, prosecutors say.
- Johnny Bobbitt, Kate McClure, and her boyfriend Mark D’Amico were all arrested in connection with the alleged plot.
- Burlington County prosecutors say she texted a friend less than an hour after the GoFundMe story was posted suggesting it was fake.
- “OK so wait the gas part is completely made up, but the guy isn’t. I had to make something up to make people feel bad,” she said in one text message.
- GoFundMe says it’s refunding everyone who donated to the campaign.
The feel-good story about a couple who raised $US400,000 for a homeless veteran seems to have fallen apart, as New Jersey prosecutors charged the trio with an elaborate plot to make up a viral story and steal the money they raised from it.
“The paying-it-forward story that drove this fundraiser might seem too good to be true,” New Jersey’s Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said at a press conference Thursday. “Unfortunately, it was. The entire campaign was predicated on a lie.”
The story first went viral in November of 2017. According to the story posted on GoFundMe, Johnny Bobbitt, a homeless United States marine veteran, gave his last $US20 to Kate McClure for gas after her car broke down near a Philadelphia overpass he lived under. McClure and her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, helped Bobbitt get back on his feet. They posted the story on GoFundMe and ultimately raised $US400,000 for him.
But new developments emerged in August, when Bobbitt sued the couple, claiming they withheld the money from him and that they used it for their own vacations and luxury goods. It led to a series of court hearings, a police raid, and an investigation that ultimately lead authorities to conclude that they had fabricated the story.
Bobbitt, D’Amico, and McClure were all taken into police custody and charged with second-degree theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by deception this week. And Coffina said authorities may have never even found out about the alleged scheme if the couple didn’t fight with Bobbitt over the money in the first place.
The evidence Coffina’s office reviewed partially hinges on 67,000 text messages from McClure’s phone. Less than an hour after the GoFundMe page was posted, McClure told a friend that part of the story was made up, according to prosecutors.
“OK so wait the gas part is completely made up, but the guy isn’t. I had to make something up to make people feel bad,” she said in one text message.
Prosecutors also said that Bobbitt posted a similar story on Facebook in 2012, where he said he gave the last of his money to a woman whose car broke down in a Walmart parking lot in North Carolina. They speculated it may have partially inspired the plot.
“I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” Coffina said.
GoFundMe previously intervened when Bobbitt sued the couple for withholding the $US400,000 raised for him. It gave Bobbitt $US20,000, and said it may give him the rest of the money pending an investigation.
Now, GoFundMe has pledged to refund the money to everyone who donated to the campaign.
“All donors who contributed to this GoFundMe campaign will receive a full refund. GoFundMe always fully protects donors, which is why we have a comprehensive refund policy in place,”the company said in a statement to People. “GoFundMe will process all refunds in the coming days. While this type of behaviour by an individual is extremely rare, it’s unacceptable and clearly it has consequences. … We are fully cooperating and assisting law enforcement officials to recover every dollar withdrawn by Ms. McClure and Mr. D’Amico.”