A New Jersey woman was sentenced to three years in prison on Friday after she pleaded guilty to defrauding donors out of more than $400,000 through a bogus GoFundMe initiative.
Prosecutors said that Katelyn McClure, 32, and her then-boyfriend, Mark D'Amico, fabricated a story in 2017 about homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt Jr., who lived on the streets in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington.
In a GoFundMe initiative entitled "Paying it Forward," the pair claimed that Bobbitt gave his last $20 to McClure when her car ran out of gas on an interstate exit ramp in Philadelphia, according to the Associated Press. The post featured a photo of McClure and Bobbitt together at the ramp, while others showed them together at a gas station.
The campaign sought $10,000 to provide Bobbitt with rent for an apartment, six months of living expenses and a vehicle. All three conducted newspaper and television interviews soliciting donations to to help Bobbitt, ultimately raising more than $400,000.
Photo: Burlington County Prosecutor office/AP
But when he only received approximately $75,000 of the funds raised on his behalf, Bobbitt sued the couple.
Authorities then determined that the the incident in question never happened, and that the donations from more than 14,000 people were gone by March 2018, spent by McClure and D'Amico on a recreational vehicle, a BMW, a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon and casino trips in New Jersey and Las Vegas.
At the time, according to the Office of the Burlington County Prosecutor, the scam was the largest fraud perpetrated through GoFundMe.
After her arrest in 2018, McClure admitted that she took part in perpetuating the hoax but said that it was fabricated by D'Amico. She pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in federal court in March 2019 and to second-degree theft by deception in state court in April 2019.
McClure wasn't present for her Friday sentencing in Mount Holly because she is in Connecticut serving a 12-month federal prison term in the case. Her state prison sentence will run concurrently with her current time.
D'Amico, 43, pleaded guilty to second-degree misapplication of entrusted property in state court December 2019 and to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in federal court in November 2021. He was sentenced to 27 months behind bars in the federal case in April 2022 and five years in jail on the state charges in August. His state and federal sentences are running concurrently, but he will serve the remainder of his state sentence in New Jersey after he finishes his federal sentence.
Both were ordered to fully reimburse GoFundMe, which has already reimbursed donors duped by the scam.
Bobbitt was also charged in the case. He pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering in March 2019 and received 36 months of probation and an order to pay $25,000 in restitution in October. He also a pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit theft by deception in state court in April 2019 and received five years probation. At that time, he was admitted to the New Jersey Judiciary's Recovery Court program but, if he fails to adhere to the program's rigorous treatment and recovery services — including frequent drug testing — he could have to serve that prison sentence.
"This sentencing brings to a close a case that defrauded more than 14,000 people whose decency and compassion for others elicited a tremendously heartwarming response to assist someone they believed was truly in need," Prosecutor LaChia L.Bradshaw said in a press statement.