Imagine living in New Jersey (I know, such a thought sent shivers down my spine as well). So after spending a day listening to wannabe The Sopranos accents while trying to avoid both Philadelphia and the Jersey Shore, seeing a heart-melting story on GoFundMe over a homeless man’s good deed might make you more keen to donate. However, in this case, the entire story was nothing but a scam. Now, prosecutors are inching closer to fully slamming the cell door on all of those involved.
According to the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office, 43-year-old Mark D’Amico of Florence, New Jersey was finally sentenced to five years in state prison Sunday as part of the plea deal he originally signed with prosecutors in late 2019. This is in addition to the 27 months in federal prison he was sentenced to back in April, which New Jersey prosecutors said will run concurrently.
D’Amico and his then-girlfriend Katelyn McClure, alongside the homeless man Johnny Bobbitt, were all part of a feel-good scam they posted to GoFundMe back in 2017. In that original campaign titled “Paying it Forward,” they claimed McClure got stranded on an I-95 off-ramp in New Jersey, and that a man who was homeless walked down the road to fill up a gas can with his last $20. The couple wanted to raise $10,000 for Bobbitt, but came into a windfall of $402,706.
They first claimed they were going to help rent Johnny a home and get him a reliable vehicle. They said they would also set up a bank account for his everyday needs, while using some excess funds for charity. Then the narrative quickly began to unravel, first when local reports showed D’Amico and McClure only handed over $75,000 from the campaign and supplied Bobbitt with an SUV that eventually broke down and a used camper as a home. Bobbitt brought in lawyers to help his supposed case, but then later that year—claimed the couple had effectively skedaddled with all the remaining GoFundMe funds.
Law enforcement said that nearly all the campaign’s funds were spent in the first few months after it ended, which was when Bobbitt started taking legal action against the other two conspirators.
Police raided the former couple’s home, who eventually turned themselves in to the police. The twist? Prosecutors said Bobbitt was in cahoots with D’Amico and McClure to scam bleeding hearted internet users of their money. Police said the three conspired to the made-up story, which was all backed up by an audio recording obtained by police which McClure claimed she had recorded in secret, all pointing to this wildly successful campaign as a sham. GoFundMe later issued refunds to all the donors involved.
“People genuinely wanted to believe it was true,” said LaChia Bradshaw, the Burlington County prosecutor in the release.
Gizmodo reached out to Mark G. Davis, who’s listed as D’Amico’s attorney, but we have yet to hear back Monday morning.
McClure, of Bordentown, New Jersey, and Bobbitt, of Philadelphia, were also charged back in 2018. All three were from the area surrounding Philadelphia, which I have heard on good authority from a native New Jerseyan is “the worst part of New Jersey.” The whole adventure sounds like an episode ripped straight out of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
This latest conviction means prosecutors are inches from closing the book on this strange, strange internet scam. The homeless man at the center of the scheme was sentenced in 2019 to five years of probation as part of a substance abuse program. McClure has also pleaded guilty, and is scheduled for sentencing September 9.
GoFundMe says that lying about your relationship to the fund’s recipients could result in a campaign being taken down. The company has said it responds to allegations of fraud based on user complaints. The company has also mentioned some measures for verifying fundraisers during crisis situations.