A New Jersey woman faces four years in state prison for defrauding GoFundMe donors of more than $400,000, claiming to be raising money for a homeless man in Philadelphia.
1. A story that started well
Katelyn McClure, 29, pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree robbery on Monday in Burlington County, New Jersey.
In the 2017 viral story that made the front page of the national newspapers, McClure, a New Jersey resident, ran out of gas and got stuck on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia. Homeless Johnny Bobbitt Jr. would have seen her and given her his last $20 for gas.
2. A false good deed
McClure and her then boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, talked about the “good deed” on social media, adding a picture of her with Bobbitt on a highway ramp. They also launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the homeless, saying they wanted to give it to the Good Samaritan and get him off the street.
Bobbitt pleaded guilty locally to one count of conspiracy to commit robbery by deception last Friday. He faces a five-year special probationary period that requires him to enroll in the State Superior Court’s drug treatment program, where he is expected to find employment and participate in a structured regime of treatment and recovery services. Joel Bewley, a spokesperson for the Burlington County Attorney’s Office, said that any offence could result in a five-year prison sentence.
CNN contacted Bobbitt’s lawyer for his comments, but did not receive a response.
3. Who is wrong?
Bobbitt and McClure have agreed to testify against D’Amico, who has not yet pleaded in Burlington County Court, for robbery by deception and conspiracy to commit robbery by deception in the second degree. His case is expected to be presented next month to a Burlington County grand jury for possible indictment.
McClure and Bobbitt also pleaded guilty to federal charges in early March.
Mr. D’Amico is not currently charged by the federal government. McClure’s lawyer said that she tried to stop the GoFundMe page and that D’Amico wouldn’t let her do it. “We have indicated throughout my presentation that Mr. D’Amico is the real agent provocateur in this case. Kate’s role from the beginning was to help Mr. Bobbitt,” said McClure’s lawyer Jim Gerrow. “Kate was strong. She is devastated and has been, but we are looking to federal and state court convictions and we hope to find enough evidence to convince both judges of her role and the fact that, throughout this period, she started with a harmless motive, her hope to help Johnny Bobbitt and not to enrich herself or anyone else,” Gerrow said.
4. Enjoying other people’s money
The couple transferred the funds to their bank account and bought a BMW, expensive handbags and went to casinos in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Nevada, according to court documents.
Ms. McClure transferred $25,000 from her bank account to Mr. Bobbitt’s in December 2017, federal prosecutors said. According to Burlington County Attorney Scott Coffina, he received a total of $75,000 during the campaign. Since then, GoFundMe has repaid thousands of people who have made donations thinking they were being given to Bobbitt. Both Bobbitt and McClure are required to repay the money in compensation, in accordance with their plea agreements in state courts.
5. The truth is still coming out
The story began to collapse after Bobbitt sued McClure and D’Amico, accusing them of withholding money collected on his behalf. “In fact, McClure never ran out of gas and Bobbitt never spent his last $20 for her,” according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “D’Amico and McClure would have conspired to create the fake story to get money from donors.”
Federal cases have not been resolved. Ms. McClure could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit electronic fraud. She will be sentenced on June 19.
Bobbitt could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the federal charge after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He will be sentenced at a later date.