A New Jersey man who made up a story about a homeless veteran helping his then-girlfriend and used the story to solicit more than $400,000 in online donations was sentenced to five years in prison on Friday. ‘State.
Mark D’Amico had pleaded guilty in December 2019 and admitted to concocting the feel-good story in late 2017 about Johnny Bobbitt Jr. donating his last $20 to help D’Amico’s girlfriend Katelyn McClure when his car ran out of gas on Interstate 95. in Philadelphia.
Prosecutors said at the time that the three had previously met and concocted 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 was the largest fraud perpetrated through the crowdfunding platform at the time, according to the Burlington County District Attorney’s Office, in New Jersey.
Authorities began investigating after Bobbitt sued the couple, accusing them of not giving him the money. They ultimately determined that all the money was spent in March 2018, with large chunks spent by McClure and D’Amico on an RV, a BMW, and trips to casinos in Las Vegas and New Jersey.
“People really wanted to believe it was true,” Burlington County District Attorney LaChia Bradshaw said Friday. “But it was all a lie and it was illegal. Our office is happy to do justice to the more than 14,000 kind-hearted people who thought they were helping someone who was living in dire straits.
D’Amico and McClure were ordered to pay GoFundMe in full.
D’Amico had also pleaded guilty to separate federal charges and is currently being held in federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. His state sentence will run concurrently, and when he completes his 27-month federal sentence, he will serve the remainder of his state sentence, 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 deal and is awaiting federal sentencing. McClure was sentenced to a year on federal charges and is awaiting sentencing on state charges, where she is expected to receive an additional sentence.