Updated November 15, 2018, at 3:11 p.m.
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MOUNT HOLLY, N.J. (AP) — A feel-good tale of a homeless man using his last $20 to help a stranded New Jersey woman buy gas was actually a complete lie, manufactured to get strangers to donate more than $400,000 to help the down-and-out good Samaritan, a prosecutor said Thursday.
Burlington County prosecutor Scott Coffina announced criminal charges against the couple who told the story to newspapers and television stations along with the homeless man who conspired with them to tell the story. He said the money, donated to the homeless man, Johnny Bobbitt, will be refunded to people who saw the story and contributed to him through a GoFundMe page set up by the couple, Mark D’Amico and Katelyn McClure.
“The entire campaign was predicated on a lie,” Coffina said. “It was fictitious and illegal and there are consequences.” Bobbitt was arrested Wednesday night by U.S. marshals in Philadelphia and remained in custody Thursday on probation detainers and a $50,000 bond. A message was left with a previous attorney of Bobbitt’s.
D’Amico and McClure surrendered to authorities Wednesday night and were released. Their attorney said they have no comment. All were charged with theft by deception. Investigators searched the Florence, New Jersey, home of D’Amico and McClure in September after questions arose about what happened to the money they raised for Bobbitt. The couple claimed he helped McClure get gas after she became stranded on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia last year.
McClure said that in an attempt to thank Bobbitt for his help, she set up the fundraising page, which brought in more than $400,000 and landed them in the national news. Coffina said almost no part of the tale was true. McClure didn’t run out of gas. Bobbitt didn’t spot her in trouble and give her money. Less than an hour after the couple set up the page to solicit donations, McClure sent a text message to a friend acknowledging the story was “completely made up.” Prosecutors began investigating after Bobbitt claimed he wasn’t getting the money that had been raised on his behalf. He later sued the couple.
It’s not exactly clear what happened with the money, though Bobbitt’s attorney has said it’s all gone.
The original story was published on August 31, 2018, at 10:22 a.m. It continues below.
MOUNT HOLLY, N.J. (AP) — A couple who raised more than $400,000 for a homeless man after he used his last $20 to fill up the gas tank of a stranded motorist in Philadelphia must now turn over what’s left of the cash. A New Jersey judge issued the order Thursday during a hearing on the lawsuit brought by Johnny Bobbitt, who worries Mark D’Amico and Katie McClure have mismanaged a large part of the donations raised for him on GoFundMe.The couple deny those claims, saying they’re wary of giving Bobbitt large sums because they fear he will buy drugs.
The judge ordered the couple to transfer the money into an escrow account by the end of business Friday and hire a forensic accountant to review the financial records within 10 days. The money will be transferred to an account controlled by Bobbitt’s lawyers but can’t be used until the judge determines how it will be managed. The judge didn’t appoint a guardian to oversee the fund, but one could be appointed later.
McClure set up the online fundraiser page as a way to give back to Bobbitt, who came to her aid when she ran out of gas on an Interstate 95 exit ramp late one night. It raised more than $400,000 in funds donated by more than 14,000 people. Bobbitt walked a few blocks to buy McClure gas. She didn’t have money to repay him at the time, but sought him out days later to give him the money, and visited him a few more times to bring food and water. They later appeared on shows like “Good Morning America” and were interviewed by the BBC.
But the relationship has gone sour. McClure and D’Amico have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing or misusing any of the money. D’Amico has said Bobbitt spent $25,000 in less than two weeks in December on drugs, in addition to paying overdue legal bills and sending money to his family.
The couple also bought Bobbitt a camper with some of the funds and parked it on land McClure’s family owns in Florence. But Bobbitt became homeless again after D’Amico told him in June that he had to leave the property. During an appearance Monday on NBC’s “Megyn Kelly Today” show, D’Amico told Kelly there was well over $150,000 left of the donations.