By Sandy Malone and Holly Matkin
Florence Township, NJ – The ringleader of one of the largest frauds ever perpetrated on the GoFundMe crowdfunding site was sentenced to five years on Friday for concocting a false story about helping a homeless veteran and then stealing the donations that came in.
Prosecutors said Mark D’Amico and his girlfriend, Kate McClure, raised $400,000 for on GoFundMe to help Johnny Bobbitt, WPVI reported.
The premise of the fundraiser was the couples’ desire to help a 35-year-old homeless man, Bobbitt, whom they said used his last $20 to help McClure when she ran out of gas on a freeway ramp in a bad neighborhood in Philadelphia.
The story the couple told was that Bobbitt advised 38-year-old McClure to lock her car doors, and then he hiked to a gas station himself and brought back gas to fill up her tank, according to the Independent.
Afterwards, they set up the GoFundMe for Bobbitt and told everyone they were raising the money so that the good Samaritan wouldn’t have to sleep under a bridge, and said he deserved a fresh start.
But it turned out that D’Amico, McClure and Bobbitt were in cahoots from the beginning.
The prosecutor said the three suspects conspired with each other to make up the false story to inspire kind-hearted people to donate money to the good Samaritan, according to WPVI.
“The entire campaign was predicated on a lie,” then-Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said when the scammers were first arrested. “[It was] concocted to compel kind-hearted individuals to contribute to the cause.”
The scam they creatively titled “Paying It Forward” worked, initially, and local news stations covered the good Samaritan’s homeless plight and struggle with drug addiction and encouraged well-meaning people to help if they could, FOX News reported.
The crowdfunding campaign raised more than $400,000 from 14,000 donors in a month.
At the time, it was the largest fraud ever committed using GoFundMe, FOX News reported.
McClure and D’Amico posted pictures with Bobbitt and said they were trying to help him with rent for an apartment, a reliable vehicle, and six months of living expenses.
The crowdfunding effort was wildly successful, and they might have gotten away with it if they hadn’t begun fighting amongst themselves.
Authorities launched an investigation after Bobbitt filed a civil lawsuit against the couple that alleged he only received $75,000 of the more than $400,000 raised, FOX News reported.
Investigators determined McClure and D’Amico spent most of the money donated to Bobbitt by March of 2018 on gambling, a BMW, a New Year’s trip to Las Vegas, a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon, Louis Vuitton handbags, and a list of other personal items.
McClure and Bobbitt both pleaded guilty to state and federal charges, FOX News reported.
Bobbitt is in a state court drug program awaiting sentencing on the federal charges.
McClure was sentenced in July to one year and one day in prison on federal charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, FOX News reported.
As part of her plea agreement on the state charges, she agreed to testify against her former boyfriend, D’Amico.
McClure is expected to receive additional time behind bars when she is sentenced on the state charges on Sept. 9, FOX News reported.
On Aug. 5, D’Amico was sentenced to five years in state prison for concocting the scheme that defrauded so many generous people.
He is already serving a 27-month federal prison sentence, FOX News reported.
“People genuinely wanted to believe it was true,” Burlington County Prosecutor LaChia Bradshaw said in a statement. “But it was all a lie, and it was illegal.”
“Our office is pleased to bring justice for the more than 14,000 kind-hearted people who thought they were helping someone who was living in a desperate situation,” Bradshaw added.
D’Amico and McClure have also been ordered to fully reimburse GoFundMe, FOX News reported.