In Depth

Homeless man pleads guilty to GoFundMe viral hoax

US military veteran and New Jersey woman admit making up good samaritan story purely for profit

A homeless man and a New Jersey woman have admitted manufacturing a viral hoax that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through a crowdfunding website.

US military veteran Johnny Bobbitt, 36, pleaded guilty in court to conspiracy to commit money laundering while Katelyn McClure, 28, admitted wire fraud.

For the federal charges, McClure faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. She will be sentenced on 19 June, according to ABC News.

Bobbitt, who will be sentenced at a later date, could be sentenced to a maximum of ten years in prison.

The two also face state charges in New Jersey, as does Mark D’Amico, who was McClure’s boyfriend when the crimes were committed.

In 2017 the three “wove an irresistible yarn”, says The New York Times. They claimed Bobbitt gave McClure his last $20 when her car ran out of petrol near Philadelphia in November 2017. The couple posted to the crowdfunding website GoFundMe saying they wanted to raise $10,000 to thank him and get him off the streets.

The campaign, which quickly went viral, raised more than £310,000, which McClure and D’Amico said they would release to Bobbitt once he had completed a drug rehabilitation programme.

But instead, authorities say the trio “split the cash and blew it on lavish trips and designer goods”, says the New York Post.

Officials say the couple spent it on a BMW, a New Year’s trip to Las Vegas, visits to Disney theme parks and designer handbags.

The couple “allegedly withdrew over $85,000 at casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and a Philadelphia suburb”, says the BBC.

Bobbitt later sued the couple, saying he did not get his fair share of the donations. He said he “only received $75,000, including an $18,000 trailer bought for him and parked at the couple’s home”, adds the broadcaster.

This led New Jersey authorities to open an investigation into the fundraising page. This uncovered a text message McClure sent to a friend acknowledging the story was “completely made up”.

In November, prosecutors alleged that it was a scam perpetrated by all three individuals. “The paying-it-forward story that drove this fundraiser might seem too good to be true,” said Burlington County prosecutor Scott Coffina. “Unfortunately, it was. The entire campaign was predicated on a lie.”

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