explainer

Homeless vet Johnny said his viral GoFundMe was a scam. But he was in on it the whole time. 

In November 2017, there wasn’t an ounce of a doubt that New Jersey couple Kate McClure and her boyfriend Mark D’Amico were good people.

Creating a GoFundMe campaign at the time to help a homeless veteran, McClure shared the touching and inspiring actions of John Bobbitt, who came to her need after she had ran out of fuel while travelling along the highway in Philadelphia. Today, the trio of scam artists are facing up to 10 years in jail for theft by deception, and conspiracy to commit theft by deception.

As the story goes, Bobbitt used his last $20 to buy McClure a can of petrol to ensure she would get home safe. McClure then wanted to simply ‘pay it forward,’ and asked the public for help.

And they did, to the tune of $400,000 USD ($545,600 AUD).

Rallying behind the cause, McClure’s GoFundMe went viral, with her, D’Amico and Bobbitt securing interviews on countless radio stations, as well as national programs like Good Morning America and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

“I believe that with a place to be able to clean up every night and get a good night’s rest, his life can get back to being normal,” she wrote on the campaign page.

“Please help this man get into a home.”

Keeping their sponsors up to date on her personal Twitter page and the original GoFundMe account, McClure said Bobbitt was able to buy a house with the funds, had received a job offer from Amazon, and was in the process of successfully battling his heroin addiction. McClure and D’Amico were also in the process of securing a book deal, the amount of which they were hoping would surpass the GoFundMe amount raised.

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Then, a swift 10 months later, the GoFundMe campaign was outed by Bobbitt as a scam. He claimed the couple only shared with him $102,300 AUD of the original funds and spent the rest themselves. They bought a luxury 2015 BMW, designer shoes, sunglasses and handbags, a New Year’s holiday to Las Vegas and a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon.

Bobbitt was again homeless, but the public continued to rally behind, with a pro-bono legal team filing a lawsuit against McClure and D’Amico on his behalf.

However, the story was only just beginning to unravel.

Now, as reported by the New York Post, the ‘pay it forward campaign’ was a scam from the start – not one against Bobbitt, but with the 34-year-old complicit in the crime.

According to Burlington County, New Jersey, prosecutor Scott Coffina said “the entire campaign was predicated on a lie”.

The story of McClure running out of gas never happened, with the couple reportedly meeting Bobbitt by an underpass during one of their frequent trips to Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino.

In a series of text records seized from McCure’s phone, a distinctively different story of events unfolds:

“The gas part is completely made up… but the guy isn’t,” she texted to an unnamed friend shortly after launching the GoFundMe campaign.

“I had to make something up to make people feel bad… So, shush about the made up part.”

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Authorities also realised Bobbitt had previously shared a Facebook post similar to the story McClure used for their GoFundMe page. In October of 2012, Bobbitt claimed he used the”only cash he had for supper” helping a girl who was blocking traffic after she got a flat tyre and “run out of gas” in front of Walmart. Back in November 2017, McClure used this as an example of Bobbitt’s selflessness, however, it now raises suspicions as to whether his earlier story served as the inspiration for the crime.

“I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” Coffina told the New York Post.

As of Wednesday McClure and D’Amico have been taken into custody while Bobbitt has been arrested in Philadelphia and is awaiting extradition to New Jersey where he will face trial. While Coffina has confirmed there is no money left from the original $545,600 AUD, GoFundMe has stated that everyone who donated to the campaign will get their money back.

Speaking through her lawyers on Friday, McClure’s told the public that she was “set up” by D’Amico and Bobbitt and has since separated from her partner, as reported by the New York Post.

“D’Amico knew that I was a very kind person and that I was a bit naive,” she said.

But given this year-long cautionary tail of internet altruism gone wrong, even if McClure was telling the truth, she’s not the only one with a whole lot of misplaced faith.

Have you been following the case of the viral GoFundme campaign gone wrong? What do you think of the case?

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