PHILADELPHIA (CNN) — A New Jersey couple and a homeless man are accused of making up a story which gained national attention and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through a GoFundMe page.
It’s a story that tugged at the heartstrings of people around the world in November 2017. A homeless man, Johnny Bobbitt Jr. gave his last $20 to a woman stranded on Interstate 95, in Philadelphia so she could put gas in her car.
That woman, Kate McClure, and her boyfriend started a GoFundMe page to pay it forward to Bobbitt. The story quickly gained traction raising more than $400,000.
Fast forward a year later.
“The entire campaign was predicated on a lie,” Scott Coffina, Burlington County prosecutor said. “She did not run out of gas on an I95 off-ramp and he did not spend his last $20 to help her. Rather D’Amico, McClure and Bobbitt conspired to pass off a fake feel-good story that would compel donors to contribute to their cause.”
Now prosecutors in New Jersey have filed charges against all three.
“My office has charged Mark D’Amico, Kate McClure and Johnny Bobbitt Jr. With second degree theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by deception,” Coffina said.
Bobbitt says he only saw $75,000 of the money raised. He sued the couple for fraud back in August. Authorities say the remainder of the money was “squandered away.”
“Among other things, they bought a car, took trips, purchased high-end handbags and hit the casinos hard,” Coffina said. “Our financial crimes unit and high-tech crimes unit reviewed more than 60,000 text messages during the investigation. Including thousands between McClure and D’Amico discussing the couple’s financial woes, inability to pay bills and mounting debts.”
Even so, officials say Bobbitt was a willing participant in the scam.
“He was fully complacent with this scheme to defraud contributors, promoting the campaign in multiple media appearances and posing with D’Amico and McClure for a Philadelphia Inquirer story in front of a gas station where he did not buy gas from,” Coffina said.
The second-degree crimes could carry a sentence of five to 10 years. GoFundMe says everyone who donated to the campaign will get a full refund.
D’Amico and McClure are now out of jail. They are due in court on December 24th. Bobbitt was taken into custody Wednesday in Philadelphia and is now awaiting extradition to New Jersey.