A New Jersey man who made up a story about a homeless veteran helping out his then-girlfriend and used the tale to solicit more than $400,000 in online donations was sentenced to five years in state prison on Friday.
Mark D’Amico pleaded guilty in December 2019 and admitted to concocting the feel-good tale in late 2017 about Johnny Bobbitt Jr. giving his last $20 to help D’Amico's girlfriend, Katelyn McClure, when her car ran out of gas on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia.
Prosecutors said at the time that the three had met previously and cooked up the scheme to make money. They conducted newspaper and television interviews and solicited donations, ostensibly to help Bobbitt, through a GoFundMe campaign they named “Paying It Forward.”
The campaign raised more than $400,000 from about 14,000 donors in about a month and at the time was the largest fraud perpetrated through the crowdfunding platform, according to the prosecutor's office in Burlington County, New Jersey.
Authorities began investigating after Bobbitt sued the couple, accusing them of not giving him the money. They eventually determined that all of the money was spent by March 2018, with large chunks spent by McClure and D’Amico on a recreational vehicle, a BMW and trips to casinos in Las Vegas and New Jersey.
“People genuinely wanted to believe it was true,” Burlington County Prosecutor LaChia Bradshaw said in a statement Friday. “But it was all a lie, and it was illegal. Our office is pleased to bring justice for the more than 14,000 kind-hearted people who thought they were helping someone who was living in a desperate situation.”
D’Amico and McClure have been ordered to fully reimburse GoFundMe.
D’Amico had also pleaded guilty to separate federal charges and is currently in federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. His state sentence will run concurrently, and when he finishes his 27-month federal sentence he will serve the remainder of his state time, according to the prosecutor's office.
McClure and Bobbitt also pleaded guilty to state and federal charges. Bobbitt is in a state drug court program as part of his plea agreement and is awaiting federal sentencing. McClure was sentenced to one year on federal charges and is awaiting sentencing on state charges, where she is expected to receive additional time.