Homeless man sentenced in $400K hoax case
A homeless Philadelphia man who was found guilty of helping to scam GoFundMe donors out of nearly $400,000 was sentenced for conspiracy to commit theft by deception in New Jersey on Friday.
Johnny Bobbitt Jr. was sentenced to a five-year special probation period for participating in what turned out to be a viral hoax.
He pleaded guilty to the charge in March.
According to the story that was presented in 2017, New Jersey resident Kate McClure ran out of gas and was stranded on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia. A homeless man, Johnny Bobbitt Jr., supposedly saw her and gave her his last $20 for gas.
McClure and her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, posted about the “good deed” on social media, including a picture of her with Bobbitt on a highway ramp. They also started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the homeless man, saying they wanted to pay it forward to the good Samaritan and get him off the streets.
Their story made national headlines that brought attention to their crowd-funding, which raised nearly $400,000.
“In reality, McClure never ran out of gas and Bobbitt never spent his last $20 for her,” according to a US Attorney’s Office press release. “D’Amico and McClure allegedly conspired to create the false story to obtain money from donors.”
The couple transferred the funds to their bank account and bought a BMW, expensive handbags and went on trips, including to casinos in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Nevada, according to court documents.
McClure did transfer $25,000 from her bank account to Bobbitt’s in December 2017, federal prosecutors said. He received a total of $75,000 in the campaign, according to Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina.
Both McClure and Bobbitt also pleaded guilty to federal charges in early March.
McClure, 28, could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She will be sentenced on June 19.
Bobbitt, 36, could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He will be sentenced on the federal charge at a later date.
The probationary terms for Friday’s sentencing in Burlington County require him to enter the state Superior Court drug court program, in which he’ll be expected to get a job and adhere to a structured regimen of treatment and recovery services. Any infractions could bring him a five-year prison sentence, according to Burlington County Prosecutor spokesman Joel Bewley.
CNN reached out to Bobbitt’s attorney for comment, but has not heard back.
Feel-good story falls apart
The story began to fall apart after Bobbitt sued McClure and D’Amico, accusing them of withholding the money raised on his behalf.
That lawsuit invited a search warrant, a deposition and an investigation into their campaign, which uncovered the alleged conspiracy. GoFundMe has since made refunds to thousands of people who donated, thinking they were giving to Bobbitt.
In November, prosecutors alleged that it was a scam perpetrated by all three individuals.
Mark D’Amico, McClure’s then-boyfriend, is not facing federal charges. But McClure and D’Amico are facing local charges of second-degree theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by deception.
McClure is set to be in court in Burlington County on Monday April 15.
“The paying-it-forward story that drove this fundraiser might seem too good to be true,” Coffina said then. “Unfortunately, it was. The entire campaign was predicated on a lie.”
CNN’s Lauren del Valle and Alanne Orjoux contributed to this report