A New Jersey man has pleaded guilty in federal courts to his role in fooling thousands of people into donating $400,000 (about £300,000) by crafting an emotional story to help a veteran.
Mark D’Amico, 42, and his ex-girlfriend Kelly McClure created a GoFundMe page in 2017 to allegedly help Johnny Bobbitt Jr., who introduced himself as a homeless veteran.
The “Paying It Forward” fundraiser was created in time for the holidays to rehabilitate a homeless man who spent his last $20 helping a stranger, Ms. McClure, after running out of gasoline and being stranded on the highway . “He saw me pull up and knew something was wrong,” she said on the fundraiser page at the time. “He told me to get back in the car and lock the doors.”
No part of this story was true. Mr. D’Amico and Miss McClure met Mr. Bobbitt Jr. near a casino some time ago and wanted to help him. But he made up the story to garner sympathy.
The fundraiser aimed to raise $10,000 to help get Bobbit off the streets.
On Tuesday, Mr. D’Amico pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. His sentence has been fixed on March 28. He could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
His co-conspirators Ms. McClure and Mr. Bobbitt Jr pleaded guilty in 2019 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, respectively. They are also awaiting punishment.
The story made both local and national headlines at the time, and donations soon exceeded the initial goal of $10,000 to $400,000 after 14,000 donors came forward to help.
But the couple spent most of the cash on personal expenses over the next three months. According to the US Attorney’s Office, he spent the money on gambling, vacations, a BMW automobile, clothing, handbags and other personal items and expenses.
The couple deposited only $25,000 of proceeds into Mr. Bobbitt Jr.’s personal bank account.
The scandal came to light when Mr. Bobbitt Jr. claimed that the couple had withheld the money they had allegedly raised for them and were instead taking luxurious trips out of the country.
He initially vehemently denied the allegations, saying he only withheld a portion because he feared Mr. Bobbitt Jr. was spending money on drugs.
Credit: www.independent.co.uk / New Jersey