The supposedly heartwarming story of a couple raising money for a homeless veteran who assisted one of them in an emergency has turned out to be a scam, according to authorities. Now, new information reveals how their alleged deception fell apart.
Burlington County prosecutor Scott Coffina has brought criminal charges against Johnny Bobbitt, Mark D'Amico, and Katelyn McClure after it was determined that the $400,000 they raised through a GoFundMe page was obtained fraudulently. The page, which had gone live on Nov. 10 of 2017, had originally stated that Bobbit, a homeless veteran, had spent his last few dollars to pay for gas for the stranded McClure, who along with her boyfriend D'Amico wanted to return the favor. Publicity from the feel-good story led the group to embark on a media tour, even making appearances on "Good Morning America” and “The Ellen Show."
“The entire campaign was predicated on a lie,” Coffina said. "It was fictitious and illegal and there are consequences. ... [McClure] did not run out of gas on an I-95 off-ramp, and [Bobbitt] did not spend his last $20 to help her,” Coffina said. “Rather, D’Amico, McClure and Bobbitt conspired to fabricate and promote a feel-good story that would compel donors to contribute to their cause.”
The three alleged con artists had known each other for at least a month prior to the seeming random act of kindness that kicked off the fundraising effort, according to The New York Post. On Thursday, officials announced the group had spent the money on luxury items and a trip to Las Vegas.
Investigators scoured through over 60,000 text messages sent by McClure and D’Amico, according to The New York Times. These communications, some of which were sent only hours after the GoFundMe campaign went live, revealed that McClure invented much of the tale, according to authorities.
“The gas part is completely made up … but the guy isn’t,” she allegedly texted a friend who remains unnamed in reports. “I had to make something up to make people feel bad … So, shush about the made up part.”
Another text revealed that McClure had some fear of being caught.
“My mother just called me and said that people go to jail for scamming others out of money. So there’s that,” she texted her friend. “That’s what my own mother thinks of me.”
Amidst this concern, Bobbitt began arguing with D'Amico and McClure, who had kept the bulk of the GoFundMe money. Bobbitt said he walked away with only $75,000 of the $400,000. An unnamed friend of McClure's even cautioned her about the danger Bobbitt posed.
“You really need to get rid of [Bobbitt] and get the public off your back by donating,” McClure’s friend allegedly texted her in March. “He could out you.”
But McClure apparently had no interest in heeding the warning.
“I’ll be keeping the rest of the money, f--k you very much," she replied.
Texts also revealed that McClure and D'Amico blazed through the funds at an alarming rate.
“I can’t believe we have less than 10k left,” she texted D’Amico after the couple spent at least $85,000 on casinos. “I’m so upset.”
D'Amico wasn't as worried, believing a book idea he was shopping around on the whole charitable effort would provide another source of quick cash, according to the New York Post.
But the increasing tension over the money led the couple to bicker, the paper reported.
“Twenty thousand [dollars], BMW. Five thousand, Disney [World and Land trips]. Ten thousand in bags. We both went to Vegas, right?” D’Amico wrote. “Like you act like you didn’t spend a dollar.”
“I wish that you never updated the GoFundMe. Like we shoulda just let it go and not f–king kept people informed,” McClure wrote the next day.
In August of 2018, Bobbitt took McClure and D'Amico to court, alleging that they had denied Bobbitt access to the funds raised on his behalf and instead had deposited the money into their own accounts, according to Philly.com. The couple countered by saying that they were keeping the money from Bobbitt so as to prevent him from spending it on a resurfacing heroin habit and accused him of stealing. At that point, Bobbitt had been living on the street again.
"People trusted us to make sure this money went to something good and not him using it for drugs," D'Amico said at the time.
It was Bobbitt's suit that tipped off investigators about the fallacious nature of the original story: D'Amico and McClure had been ordered to turn over any of the remaining money to Bobbitt, which led to the revelation that none of it was left. The couple's lawyers added that they would invoke their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination should they be deposed. On the morning of Sept. 6, police raided the home of McClure and D'Amico in Florence Township, New Jersey, according to Philly.com, in the hopes of finding the missing money. The raid led to the seizure of the couple's luxury handbags and a BMW, allegedly obtained via the money raised through GoFundMe, which D'Amico claimed he had bought McClure as a gift. They also seized the couple's electronic communication, including the incriminating texts.
Police also discovered Bobbitt telling a story similar to that of McClure and D'Amico's on Twitter in 2012.
“So this girl runs out of gas and has a flat tire at the same time in front of Wal-Mart and is blocking traffic,” he wrote. “So I run to the gas station and hen change her tire. I spent the only cash I had for supper but at least she can get her little children home safe.”
Officials can not determine if Bobbitt's purported charity inspired the later scam or if that too was entirely invented.
Coffina stressed Bobbitt's heroic past as a veteran in his statements.
“[Bobbitt] deserves our appreciation for his willingness to serve our country as a United States Marine and he has our sympathy and concern for the homelessness that he’s experienced, as well as his publicized struggle with addiction,” Coffina added. “But it is imperative to keep in mind that he was fully complicit in the scheme to defraud contributors.”
McClure and D'amico were taken into police custody on Nov. 14 and released shortly thereafter. Bobbitt was arrested in Philadelphia and awaits extradition to New Jersey. All three face charges of theft by deception, and conspiracy to commit theft by deception. They potentially face between five and 10 years in prison.
GoFundMe said they plan on refunding any of the money donated to the trio's campaign.
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