By Madeline Holcombe, CNN
A New Jersey couple and a homeless man have been accused of making up a feel-good story that raised more than $400,000 for the homeless man through GoFundMe.
The couple, Kate McClure and Mark D’Amico, and the man, Johnny Bobbitt Jr., face charges of second-degree theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by deception, according to the Burlighton County Prosecutor Scott Coffina.
“The paying-it-forward story that drove this fundraiser might seem too good to be true,” Coffina said at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
“Unfortunately, it was. The entire campaign was predicated on a lie.”
After fees, the proceeds of the campaign netted about $367,000, all deposited into McClure’s accounts, Coffina said. Bobbitt received $75,000, and within months McClure and D’Amico had “squandered” their share to buy a car, high-end handbags and trips, Coffina said. They also used it at casinos, he said.
Investigators reviewed more than 67,000 text messages in the case, including one McClure sent to a friend that read, “Okay so wait the gas part is completely made up, but the guy isn’t. I had to make something up to make people feel bad.”
The couple had said they met Bobbitt when he gave his last $20 to McClure, who was stranded on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia, so she could put gas in her car.
In other texts, the couple discussed their inability to pay bills and their mountain of debts.
GoFundMe will provide a full refund to the campaign’s donors, Coffina said.
Last fall, social media was abuzz with the story of McClure and D’Amico’s seeming act of kindness.
McClure and D’Amico began a GoFundMe campaign so they could “do something special” for Bobbitt, they said. The campaign quickly raised a total of $402,706.
Video showed the couple revealing the sum to an overjoyed Bobbitt, promising him they would get him settled in a new home. The money, Bobbitt said, would change his life.
But questions about the money soon followed.
In August, Bobbitt’s lawyers sued the couple for fraud, claiming that the funds McClure and D’Amico raised were never used as promised.
Instead of giving Bobbitt money for a house, the couple bought him a camper without his consent and kept him in it on their property with “no access to money or food,” his lawyers alleged. They said Bobbitt only saw $75,000 of the nearly $400,000 he was owed.
The money was put into the couple’s personal accounts, his lawyers said.
The couple said they were being cautious about giving Bobbitt large sums of money until he had a job and was off of drugs.
But with questions looming about how much — if any — of the money was left for Bobbitt, a judge ordered that the couple appear before the court for a deposition.
The next day, Florence Township police in New Jersey executed a search warrant in the couple’s home. Police confirmed the warrant was related to Johnny Bobbitt Jr., but the couple was not charged with anything at the time.
Bobbitt’s lawyers then took the matter to GoFundMe, who agreed to foot the bill and ensure Bobbitt would receive the total he was promised. In September, the company gave Bobbitt $20,000 as part of the guarantee, with the rest of the $400,000 to be handed over pending an investigation.