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 Friday.
Mark D’Amico pleaded guilty in December 2019 and admitted to making up the feel-good story in late 2017 about Johnny Bobbitt Jr. who was giving his last $20 to help D’Amico’s girlfriend, Katelyn McClure, when her car ran out of gas on Interstate 95. in Philadelphia.
Prosecutors said at the time that the three had met before and hatched the scheme to make money. They conducted newspaper and television interviews and solicited donations, ostensibly to help Bobbitt, through a GoFundMe campaign they called “Paying It Forward.”
The campaign raised more than $400,000 from about 14,000 donors in about a month, and at the time was the largest fraud committed through the crowdfunding platform, according to the Burlington County, New Jersey, district attorney’s office.
Authorities began investigating after Bobbitt sued the couple, accusing them of not giving him the money. They eventually determined that all of the money was spent by March 2018, with large chunks spent by McClure and D’Amico on a recreational vehicle, a BMW and trips to casinos in Las Vegas and New Jersey.
“People really wanted to believe it was true,” Burlington County District Attorney Lacia Bradshaw said in a statement Friday. “But it was all a lie and it was illegal. Our office is pleased to provide justice for the more than 14,000 kind-hearted people who thought they were helping someone who was living in a desperate situation.”
D’Amico and McClure have been ordered to make full restitution to GoFundMe.
D’Amico also pleaded guilty to separate federal charges and is currently in federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. His state sentence will run concurrently, and when his 27-month federal sentence ends he will serve the remainder of his state time, according to the district attorney’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 awaits federal sentencing. McClure was sentenced to one year on the federal charges and is awaiting sentencing on the state charges, where she is expected to receive additional time.