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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A couple and homeless veteran have been arrested after being involved in a GoFundMe scam that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, officials said Thursday.
Katelyn McClure and Mark D’Amico were taken into custody surrendered to authorities on Wednesday and were released. Philadelphia Police said Thursday homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt was arrested in the city by members of the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force.
Bobbitt remains in Philadelphia pending an extradition hearing.
All three have been charged with theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by deception.
McClure and her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, started the fundraising campaign last year after claiming that Bobbitt gave McClure his last $20 to buy gas. The effort raised $400,000.
According to Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina, it was all a scam.
“The entire campaign was predicated on a lie,” said Coffina. “Less than an hour after the GoFundMe campaign went live, McClure, in a text exchange with a friend, stated that the story about Bobbitt assisting her was ‘completely made up.’ She did not run out of gas on an I-95 off-ramp, and he 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.”
According to authorities, D’Amico and McClure had known Bobbitt for at least a month before launching the GoFundMe in Novemeber 2017, and had become acquainted with Bobbitt during their frequent trips to a local gambling casino.
The fundraising campaign raised nearly $403,000 through over 14,000 donors. GoFundMe says all donors will receive a full refund.
“While this type of behavior by an individual is extremely rare, it’s unacceptable and clearly it has consequences. Committing fraud, whether it takes place on or offline is against the law. We are fully cooperating and assisting law enforcement officials to recover every dollar withdrawn by Ms. McClure and Mr. D’Amico,” GoFundMe said in a statement.
“I saw the story on Twitter, I felt so bad for the homeless guy, and proud of what he did giving her his last $20, I was in the same situation as he was not homeless but had little money, I believe in if u do something good, good things happen to u, kinda like karma,” said Art Garcia of Ontario, California, who made a donation. “I felt good contributing to this homeless man. Now I feel used and taken advanced of, can’t believe they would scam us like this.”
Officials say the investigation revealed that the couple spent the money raised through the GoFundMe on a BMW, a New Year’s trip to Las Vegas and high-end hand bags, among other items. The couple also allegedly withdrew over $85,000 in cash at casinos located in Atlantic City, Bensalem, Philadelphia and Las Vegas.
All the money had allegedly been spent within a few months of the campaign’s creation.
According to officials, Bobbitt took legal action against the couple when he learned that all the money had been squandered. He claims he received $75,000 of the funds, including an over $18,000 trailer purchased for him and parked at the couple’s Bordentown home.
“He deserves our appreciation for his willingness to serve our country as a United States Marine and he has our sympathy and concern for the homelessness he has experienced as well as his publicized struggle with his addiction, but it is imperative to keep in mind he was fully complicit in this scheme to defraud contributors,” said Coffina.
During Thursday’s press conference, Coffina revealed that Bobbitt shared a similar story of himself on Facebook in 2012 of helping a woman in North Carolina who ran out of gas and had a flat tire. In the post, Bobbitt said he spent his dinner money to fix her flat tire.
“I don’t think that is a coincidence,” said Coffina.
In September, a search warrant was executed at the couple’s home where investigators took evidence bags out of their home and authorities also towed away a black BMW.
Bobbitt, McClure, and D’Amico face up to 10 years in prison.