Homeless man and New Jersey woman admit concocting hoax that lead to $400,000 in donations
In November 2017, a viral story melted hearts around the world - the tale of a homeless veteran giving his last money to a stranded driver.
However, after $400,000 was raised for him by well-meaning people on social media, it was all revealed to be nothing but a scam.
Johnny Bobbitt, 36, pleaded guilty in a US district court in Camden, New Jersey this week to conspiracy to commit money laundering, while Katelyn McClure, 28, admitted to wire fraud, after more than 14,000 across the world donated money to their online fundraising page.
Prosecutors claim Bobbitt conspired with McClure and her then boyfriend Mark D’Amico to concoct a story about Bobbitt giving McClure his last $20 for gas when her car ran out of petrol on the highway.
After the alleged incident, she set up a GoFundMe campaign, claiming she wanted to thank him for his kindness. However their alleged fraud began to unravel after the three of them began appearing in the media to share the 'heartwarming' story.
McClure reportedly sent a text message to a friend acknowledging the story was "completely made up" and soon enough, officials were alleging that the couple spent the money raised on luxuries including a BMW, a New Year's trip to Las Vegas, visits to Disney theme parks and designer hand bags.
In addition, the pair allegedly withdrew over $85,000 at casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and a Philadelphia suburb.
Bobbitt, a homeless drug addict who the pair had met about a month before the hoax during their trips to a casino, later sued the couple, claiming he did not get a fair share of the donations. He said he was only given $75,000, including an $18,000 trailer bought for him and parked at the couple's home.
It’s still not known exactly where all the money went, but GoFundMe has reportedly stated that it refunded everyone who contributed to the campaign.
"The entire campaign was predicated on a lie,” said Burlington County, NJ, prosecutor Scott Coffina while announcing criminal charges against the three. "[McClure] did not run out of gas on an I-95 off-ramp, and [Bobbitt] did not spend his last $20 to help her. Rather, D’Amico, McClure and Bobbitt conspired to fabricate and promote a feel-good story that would compel donors to contribute to their cause."
Bobbitt's lawsuit spurred prosecutors to take a closer look at the case, and led to his arrest last November by US marshals in Philadelphia. D’Amico and McClure surrendered to authorities shortly after.
Criminal charges see McClure face 33 months in prison, while Bobbitt could be looking at a custodial term of between six and 30 months.
Bobbitt will learn his sentence later this week from a drug court, which allows addicts to receive rehabilitation rather than a criminal sentence.