New Jersey Man Gets 5 Years in Prison in GoFundMe Fraud Case

Mark D’Amico and his girlfriend said they wanted to reward a homeless man who spent the last $20 helping her after she ran out of gas on a highway in Philadelphia in November 2017. The couple started a GoFundMe campaign looking for $10,000 to give. rent, a reliable car and some living expenses for the man.

The effort garnered widespread attention and raised over $400,000 from thousands of donors. But the story has been made up, state and federal governments say.

D’Amico, 43, was sentenced to five years in prison in New Jersey on Friday for his role in the fraud, the Burlington County prosecutor’s office said. Mr. D’Amico, of Florence, NJ, pleaded guilty in December 2019 to misuse of trust property.

“People really want to believe it’s true,” said LaChia L. Bradshaw, district attorney, said in a statement. “But it’s all a lie, and it’s illegal. Our office is excited to bring justice to over 14,000 kindhearted people who think they are helping someone living in desperate circumstances.”

Mark G. Davis, an attorney listed for Mr. D’Amico, did not immediately return phone messages and emails on Sunday.

D’Amico’s girlfriend at the time, Katelyn McClure, of Bordentown, NJ, and the homeless man, Johnny Bobbitt of Philadelphia, were also charged in 2018, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said in April 2019 Ms McClure pleaded guilty to theft by deception in exchange for a four-year prison sentence. She is scheduled to be sentenced in state Superior Court on September 9.

Mr Bobbitt pleaded guilty in March 2019 to conspiracy to commit theft by deception and was admitted to a program that provides treatment rather than detention for people with substance abuse problems. , prosecutors said. They added that he could face up to five years in state prison if he fails to meet the program’s requirements, which include being tested regularly for drug use.

State prosecutors have placed three cases on hold while federal prosecutors in New Jersey pursue their own charges, authorities said.

Mr. D’Amico was sentenced to 27 months in prison in April; His federal and state sentences are being applied concurrently. McClure was sentenced to a year in prison by a federal court last month, authorities said. Mr. Bobbitt will be sentenced on August 23 in federal court.

A federal judge ordered Mr. D’Amico and Ms. McClure to pay GoFundMe in full, state prosecutors said. The company did not immediately send an email back on Sunday but said in November 2018 that it would refund all donations to Mr Bobbitt, calling the scheme “extremely rare” and “impossibly unlikely” acceptable”.

GoFundMe allows anyone to suggest a worthy cause to donate. Thousands of causes vie for attention, so users often rely on emotional appeal to stand out. In November 2017, the couple’s campaign, titled “Paying It Forward”, quickly became a success.

Federal prosecutors say the couple spent most of their money on gambling, vacations, BMW rides, helicopter rides over the Grand Canyon and Louis Vuitton handbags. Authorities say the couple set up a bank account for Mr. Bobbitt in December 2017 and deposited only $25,000; The couple later said they wanted to keep him from spending all that money at once.

Mr. Bobbitt sue the couple in 2018. GoFundMe announced in 2018 that it will help cover the costs of ensuring that Mr. Bobbitt receives all amounts due.

This plan quickly fell apart. Federal authorities have read more than 60,000 text messages sent by Ms. McClure and Mr. D’Amico, including one that Ms. McClure sent to a friend an hour after the GoFundMe campaign began.

“Okay, wait, the gas part is completely formed but the guy is not,” Ms McClure said in the message. “I had to create something so people would feel bad.”

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