By Christopher Berg and Sandy Malone
Florence Township, NJ – The attorney for a woman charged in a $400,000 GoFundMe scam says that her boyfriend orchestrated the whole thing and she was too naive to know what was going on.
Kate McClure and her boyfriend Mark D’Amico were charged along with homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt for making up a fake story to solicit GoFundMe donations.
“She is a wonderful person and the other side of that is that she’s a bit naive,” attorney James Gerrow said of McClure, according to WPVI.
“All along Kate had no idea that there had been a conspiracy really between D’Amico and Bobbitt to get money through GoFundMe,” he told the news station.
McClure claims that the entire time that she was raising money and spending the money on cars and lavish vacations, she thought she was helping a homeless veteran.
To explain her spending of the money, her attorney said it was a gift.
“And Bobbitt said to D’Amico, look you folks have done a lot for me, I wanna give you $250,000,” Gerrow said to WPVI.
Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina told reporters on Thursday afternoon that the Good Samaritan tale was “fictitious” and “formed the basis of a scam,” WPVI reported.
“The entire campaign was predicated on a lie,” Coffina said. “[It was] concocted to compel kind-hearted individuals to contribute to the cause.”
The prosecutor said that the suspects had conspired with each other to make up the false story about how the homeless man had given his last $20 to McClure on the side of the road when she ran out of gas, according to WPVI.
All three now face charges of second-degree theft by deception and second-degree conspiracy to commit theft by deception after their Good Samaritan charade, which garnered weeks of national media attention, filled their collective pockets to the tune of $403,000, WPVI reported.
D’Amico and McClure turned themselves in on Wednesday night, and have been processed and released.
Bobbitt was arrested in Philadelphia and was awaiting extradition to Burlington County, New Jersey, according to WPVI.
The incident began in November of 2017, when McClure and her boyfriend D’Amico set up a GoFundMe account to benefit a homeless man she claimed had gotten her out of a tight spot.
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.
“I wish that I could do more for this selfless man, who went out of his way just to help me that day,” McClure wrote in the GoFundMe campaign she set up with D’Amico. “He is such a great guy, and talking to him each time I see him makes me want to help him more and more.”
The story pulled at heartstrings and got an immense amount of media coverage – McClure and D’Amico even appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America with Bobbitt – and the fundraising campaign with an initial goal of $10,000 skyrocketed to almost $402,706 donated by 14,347 people who wanted to help the homeless veteran.
However, the whole Good Samaritan-being-repaid-for-his-kindness story went by the wayside when the vast majority of the money raised never made it to the intended recipient, NBC News reported.
Initially, McClure said their plan was to get Bobbitt a house and his dream truck, a 1999 Ford Ranger, and Bobbitt said he planned to give some of the money to groups who helped him when he was struggling with homelessness, the Independent reported.
“He will never have to worry about a roof over his head again!!” the couple posted on GoFundMe.
The couple promised donors that they would hire an attorney and a financial planner to help Bobbitt manage the money and invest for his future, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
But that rosy picture quickly changed when the home McClure and D’Amico bought for Bobbitt was a camper, which they registered in their own names and parked on property belonging to D’Amico’s family.
They also bought him a television, a laptop, two cellphones, food, clothing, and a used SUV that quickly broke down, according to the Independent.
McClure and D’Amico claimed they put the camper and the SUV in McClure’s name so that Bobbitt couldn’t sell them, but the couple later sold both of the vehicles out from under Bobbitt, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Bobbitt admitted that he continued to struggle with drugs, but said that he never met the lawyer they were supposed to hire for him and only met with a financial planner once, although he didn’t sign any paperwork for the trusts the couple was allegedly setting up for him.
Despite the grand plan they presented to donors, D’Amico told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he never set up any trust for Bobbitt and said the remaining $200,000 is in his own savings account that he will not dispense until Bobbitt gets a job and is drug free.
D’Amico said he controlled the money and has done nothing wrong.
“Giving him all that money, it’s never going to happen. I’ll burn it in front of him,” D’Amico said. He claimed giving the money to somebody with Bobbitt’s problems would be like “giving him a loaded gun.”
However, D’Amico had his own legal problems in the form of traffic tickets, a suspended driver’s license, and an arrest for failing to appear in municipal court, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
And there were lots of questions about what D’Amico and McClure may have done with most of the money donated to help Bobbitt.
D’Amico, a carpenter, and McClure, a receptionist for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, have taken vacations to California, Florida, and Las Vegas since November, and even did a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon.
McClure purchased a new BMW and D’Amico admitted he had used some of the money gambling, although he claimed he paid it back, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Bobbitt said he felt betrayed and questioned whether the couple could legally keep the funds that had been donated for him.
“I think it might have been good intentions in the beginning, but with that amount of money, I think it became greed,” Bobbitt told the Philadelphia Inquirer from his new home under a bridge where he lives with his younger brother Josh.
He said that while he was living in the camper near the couple’s house, he observed D’Amico spending more time gambling online or at casinos than working as a carpenter. He said the couple refused to discuss finances with him and would make large withdrawals but only give him a little bit of the money.
Homeless advocates put Bobbitt in touch with pro bono attorneys to help him figure out what happened to the money that was donated to him.
“I think he is just a genuine, sincere person who has been the victim of so many bad circumstances,” Jacqueline Promislo, of the law firm Cozen O’Connor, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Promislo and her colleague Chris Fallon signed on to represent Bobbitt last week.
“We want to make sure he has the opportunity to benefit from the incredible generosity of people,” Promislo said.
In August, after hearing of the controversy, GoFundMe began investigating what had happened to the money donated to Bobbitt through McClure and D’Amico’s campaign.
Then in September, GoFundMe announced it was donating $20,000 to Bobbitt to help cover the donations that the New Jersey couple allegedly stole.
The company said it was standing by its “GoFundMe Guarantee,” which was enacted to safeguard intended beneficiaries in the rare occasion that their donations were misused.
“We’re fulfilling that commitment today and we will continue to work with Johnny’s team to make sure he’s receiving all donated amounts,” GoFundMe said.
“We reached an agreement today with GoFundMe and they have agreed to make sure he will be made whole,” Fallon confirmed in a statement to CNN.
As the investigation into what happened to the money progressed, police executed a search warrant at McClure and D’Amico’s home on Sept. 6, just days after Bobbitt’s attorney made the shocking announcement that all of the donations made to the fund were gone.
At the time, Coffina said the raid was conducted as part of a criminal investigation into the actions of McClure and D’Amico, NBC News reported.
The details as to what evidence police were looking for in the search was unclear, but their recently-purchased BMW was towed away from the scene, ABC reporter Katherine Scott said in a tweet.
Police returned to the home on Sept. 10 and arrested D’Amico on an outstanding traffic warrant. Authorities said the arrest had nothing to do with the accusations of malfeasance with the GoFundMe account.
However, the couple’s attorney, Ernest Badway, announced on the same day D’Amico was arrested that he would no longer be representing them, and that he believed they would likely be indicted, WABC reported.
WPVI reported that GoFundMe was cooperating with authorities and would be refunding the almost $403,000 in contributions back to donors.