The audacious New Jersey couple and homeless veteran behind a fraudulent GoFundMe campaign which raised $400,000 last year knew each other for a month before they dishonestly claimed to have met for the first time when the veteran used his last $20 to buy her gas, it has been revealed.
On Thursday, Kate McClure, 28, Mark D’Amico, 39, and Johnny Bobbitt Jr, 34, were all charged with second degree theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by deception in New Jersey.
They all now face between five and ten years behind bars.
McClure and D’Amico were released on bail after turning themselves in and will return to court on December 24. Bobbitt is still in custody in Philadelphia awaiting extradition to New Jersey.
The couple was not required to pay anything to post bail. Of the $400,000 they raised and $360,000 they netted after GoFundMe fees, there is not a single dollar left.
GoFundMe has vowed to reimburse the 14,000 people who contributed to the campaign.
In a bombshell press conference on Thursday, prosecutors said that the trio had actually met a month earlier than was claimed at a casino in Philadelphia which McClure and D’Amico frequented and where Bobbitt was known to hang around outside.
It is not clear whose idea the GoFundMe campaign was, but prosecutors found a 2012 Facebook post made by Bobbitt in which he claimed to have helped another woman in North Carolina by buying her gas after she too became stranded. There is no trace of it ever happening.
In November 2017, McClure created the GoFundMe campaign claiming to have just met Bobbitt and returned to repay him for saving her when she was stranded. An hour later, according to prosecutors, she texted a friend admitting it was a lie.
‘OK so wait, the gas part is completely made up but the guy isn’t.
‘I had to make something up so people would feel bad so shoosh about the made up stuff,’ she said in one of 60,000 text messages that were reviewed as part of the investigation.
The story began to fell apart in August this year after Bobbitt complained to a newspaper that the couple ‘stole’ the money and left him to return to the streets.
D’Amico and McClure hit back claiming that he could not be trusted with it because he was a drug addict.
But their conflicting statements about how much they had and when it was all spent raised red flags.
Prosecutors then reviewed transactions and found that not only had the couple blown all the money, as has been suspected for months, but their story was fraudulent from the beginning and Bobbitt, who had been seen as their victim, was complicit.
‘The paying it forward story that drove this fundraiser might seem too good to be true. Unfortunately it was. The entire campaign was predicated on a lie.
‘She did not run out of gas at an I-95 off ramp and he did not spend his last $20 to help her.
‘D’Amico, McClure and Bobbitt conspired to pass off a fake, feel good story that would compel donors to contribute to their cause and it worked in a very big way but it was fictitious and illegal and there are consequences,’ Scott Coffina, Burlington County Prosecutor, said at a press conference on Thursday.
He explained that they met a month earlier.
‘Johnny Bobbitt used to hang out near an underpass and this off ramp happens to be near a Sugarhouse casino and they frequented it and they ran into him on their trips there, befriended him, gave him $10, some coffee or some food,’ Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said.
Initially, they set out to raise $10,000 and claimed it would be used to get Bobbitt off the streets.
But the donations poured in as the three of them promoted it and soon the total was at $403,000.
‘This was an irresistibly heartwarming tale and the trio’s international media blitz to promote the campaign convinced more than 14,000 donors to contribute a total of $403,000 to help Johnny Bobbitt,’ Coffina said.
McClure and D’Amico were overcome with greed.
Rather than give Bobbitt even half of the money, they withheld it and spent it on themselves.
‘By his own estimate, Bobbitt received approximately $75,000 of the money.
‘But he wanted his fair share of the take and initiated legal action in August 2018 when his confederates refused to turn it over
‘By that point though, the money was long gone,’ Coffina said.
The couple squandered it mostly at casinos but also went on expensive trips, repaid family debt and bought expensive handbags and cars.
When Bobbitt complained about them in August this year, they insisted they had done no wrong.
They even went on Megyn Kelly Today, the now-cancelled NBC morning show, and insisted they were trying to do the right thing.
D’Amico stated unequivocally that they still had $150,000 of the money and that they had no, as was accused, spent it lavishly on themselves.
But in a March 2018 text message to her boyfriend, McClure ‘lamented that the pair had less than $10,000 remaining but D’Amico wasn’t worried,’ Coffina said.
‘He was certain that the payday from the book deal he was planning would dwarf the GoFundMe money,’ he added.
The book would be called No Good Deed.
Of the $400,000 that was donated, the couple was given $360,000 after GoFundMe’s fee.
They gave Bobbitt around $75,000 but blew the rest.
At least $9,000 was spent on repaying family debt. An astonishing $89,000 was attributed to cash withdrawals in or near casinos.An additional $20,000 was spent on cards in the casinos.
There were also Louis Vuitton handbags, a BMW and trips including one to to Las Vegas.
Prosecutors said on Thursday that while they were grateful to Bobbitt for his military service and sympathized with his plight as a homeless drug addict, he was complicit in the lie.
It is not yet known if they set up terms to dictate who would pocket what when they made up the story.
What is clear is that Bobbitt got less than he thought he was owed.
When he took action against the couple, he may not have known that all the money was gone, Coffina said.
He also did not understand that bringing their story back into the public eye would put them all at risk of being found out.
It was their dispute over the money which triggered the investigation, Coffina said.
Asked if they would have gotten away with it if they had not begun fighting, he said: ‘They very well might have.’
‘Johnny Bobbitt deserves our appreciation for his service to our country and our sympathy… but it is imperative to keep in mind that he was fully complicit.
‘He posed in front of a gas station for a photograph that he did not buy gas from,’ Coffina said.
He went on: ‘I can’t imagine what was in Johnny Bobbitt’s mind.
‘Maybe he just didn’t appreciate that even the lawsuit would bring out this, he may not have known that all the money was squandered when he brought the lawsuit.
‘All three of them had an interest in the story being fake not being revealed.’
Some of McClure’s friends and family pieced together that they had been dishonest, he said, but none are believed to have come forward despite some of them benefiting from it. They do not face charges
‘They became aware over time. It’s asking a lot of a mother to come forward and turn in her daughter.
‘When the initial distributions were made, D’Amico and McClure did repay some family members money that was owed to them,’ he said. The total was $9,000.
Even as their story started to fall apart earlier this year, McClure and D’Amico tried their luck.
‘Giving him all that money, it’s never going to happen. I’ll burn it in front of him,’ D’Amico said in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer in August.
During an interview with Megyn Kelly, they said they spent $200,000 on him in total and that $150,000 was left.
In that interview, D’Amico said GoFundMe took $50,000.
They insisted that they had done nothing wrong and had not spent a single dollar on themselves.
When asked for an exact figure of how much was left, they said they could not give one because the money was still being held in the account they used for themselves.
On Thursday, Coffina said he hoped the shocking story would not stop others from donating to genuine good causes in the future.
‘This type of case can damage the psyche of the public. It can make generous people skeptical and a little more hesitant to help someone else in need.
‘I urge you not to let this happen,’ he said.