Fundraiser was created with false story about homeless veteran spending his last $20 to help stranger
A New Jersey man has pleaded guilty in federal courts for his role in fooling thousands of people into donating $400,000 (about £300,000) by fabricating an emotional story to help a veteran.
Mark D’Amico, 42, and his ex-girlfriend Katelyn McClure created a GoFundMe page in 2017 to allegedly help Johnny Bobbitt Jr, who posed as a homeless veteran.
The “Paying It Forward” fundraiser was created just in time for holidays to rehabilitate the homeless man, who had spent his last $20 to help a stranger, Ms McClure, after she ran out of gasoline and was stranded on a highway. “He saw me pull over and knew something was wrong,” she had said on the fundraiser page at the time. “He told me to get back in the car and lock the doors.”
No part of this story was true. Mr D’Amico and Ms McClure had met Mr Bobbitt Jr near a casino sometime earlier and did want to help him. But they concocted the story to garner sympathy.
The fundraiser aimed to raise $10,000 to help get Bobbitt off the streets.
On Tuesday, Mr D’Amico pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. His sentencing is scheduled for 28 March. He can face upto 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
His co-conspirators Ms McClure and Mr Bobbitt Jr pleaded guilty in 2019 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiring to commit money laundering, respectively. They are also awaiting sentencing.
The story created both local and national headlines at the time, and donations soon surpassed the initial goal of $10,000 to $400,000 after 14,000 donors came forward to help.
But the couple spent most of the cash on personal expenses over the next three months. According to the US Attorney’s Office, they spent the money on gambling, for vacations, a BMW automobile, clothes, handbags and other personal items and expenses.
The couple deposited only around $25,000 of the proceeds into Mr Bobbitt Jr’s personal bank account.
The scam came to light after Mr Bobbitt Jr claimed the couple was withholding funds they had allegedly raised for him and were instead taking luxurious trips out of the country.
They vehemently denied the allegations initially, saying they only withheld a portion because they feared Mr Bobbitt Jr was spending the money on drugs.