CAMDEN, N.J. — Four years ago, a GoFundMe campaign captured the hearts of Americans when a couple sought public donations after claiming a homeless veteran used his last $20 to buy gas for them after their car ran out of fuel in Philadelphia.
Local and national media publicized the campaign, which surged past its initial goal of $10,000 to raise more than $400,000 from 14,000 donors in less than a month.
But none of it was true — the story was fabricated by the couple, Katelyn McClure and Mark D’Amico, the federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement Monday.
“D’Amico and McClure conspired to create the false story to obtain money from donors,” it said.
On Monday, D’Amico, 42, formerly of Florence, New Jersey, was the last of three conspirators to plead guilty to a federal charge in connection with the scam, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey.
Authorities alleged D’Amico and his then-girlfriend, McClure, sought donations from the public after concocting the story. Their “Paying It Forward” appeal claimed contributions would help the good Samaritan, Johnny Babbitt Jr., to find a home and turn his life around.
Instead, the couple spent most of the cash on personal expenses over the next three months, “including significant amounts by D’Amico for gambling, as well as for vacations, a BMW automobile, clothing, handbags and other personal items and expenses,” the federal prosecutor’s office said.
Bobbitt, who learned of the campaign after it began, received $25,000 from the donations, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
USA TODAY Network: Two suspects involved in a $400K GoFundMe scam plead guilty in federal court
The scheme fell apart when an attorney sued on Bobbitt’s behalf in August 2018, claiming the homeless man was owed nearly $200,000 in GoFundMe donations.
D’Amico on Monday admitted guilt in federal court to conspiring to commit wire fraud. McClure pleaded guilty to the same crime in March, while Bobbitt admitted to conspiring to commit money laundering.
D’Amico, McClure and Bobbitt have admitted guilt to other charges in state court. D’Amico pleaded guilty in December 2019 to a state charge of misapplication of entrusted property.
McClure admitted guilt in April 2019 to a charge of theft by deception in exchange for a recommended sentence of four years in prison, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office.
She and D’Amico await sentencing on the state charges.
Bobbitt pleaded guilty in March 2019 to conspiring to commit theft. He was admitted to the drug court program, which offers in-patient treatment for addiction.
All three await sentencing on the federal charges.
Contributing: Celina Tebor, USA TODAY