CAMDEN, N.J. — Four years ago, a GoFundMe campaign captured the hearts of Americans when a couple sought public donations after claiming a homeless veteran used his last $20 to buy gas for them after their car ran out of fuel in Philadelphia.
National and local media covered the campaign. In less than one month, it raised more than $400,000 in donations from 14,000 people.
But none of it was true — the story was fabricated by the couple, Katelyn McClure and Mark D’Amico, the federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement Monday.
“D’Amico and McClure conspired to create the false story to obtain money from donors,” it said.
On Monday, D’Amico, 42, formerly of Florence, New Jersey, was the last of three conspirators to plead guilty to a federal charge in connection with the scam, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey.
Authorities alleged D’Amico and his then-girlfriend, McClure, sought donations from the public after concocting the story. The “Pay it Forward” appeal claimed that donations would enable Johnny Babbitt Jr. to get a place and make a difference in his life.
They should be married instead spent most of the cash on personal expenses over the next three months, “including significant amounts by D’Amico for gambling, as well as for vacations, a BMW automobile, clothing, handbags and other personal items and expenses,” the federal prosecutor’s office said.
Bobbitt received $25,000 through donations. He learned about it after the campaign began, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
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The scheme fell apart when an attorney sued on Bobbitt’s behalf in August 2018, claiming the homeless man was owed nearly $200,000 in GoFundMe donations.
D’Amico on Monday admitted guilt in federal court to conspiring to commit wire fraud. McClure was convicted of the same crime as March. Bobbitt was convicted of conspiring to launder money.
D’Amico and McClure, as well as Bobbitt, have admitted to guilt on other state charges. D’Amico pleaded guilty in December 2019 to a state charge of misapplication of entrusted property.
McClure was convicted in April 2019 of theft by deception. According to Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office he received a recommendation sentence of four year imprisonment.
D’Amico and she await their sentencing for the state charges.
Bobbitt was convicted in March 2019 of conspiring to steal. The drug court program offers addiction treatment in-patients.
All three await sentencing on the federal charges.
Celina Tebor Contribute, USA TODAY