But since grabbing national headlines in 2017, that story has unraveled.
It instead became one about a fraudulent narrative used to fool thousands of donors into giving $400,000 to help Johnny Bobbitt Jr. get off the streets. It was “predicated on a lie,” Scott A. Coffina, the prosecutor of Burlington County, N.J., told reporters a year later.
In the latest development, D’Amico, 42, pleaded guilty Monday in federal court in Camden, N.J., to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. McClure previously pleaded guilty to the same charge, and Bobbitt — who had captivated hearts across the country — pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering. All three are awaiting sentencing, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office.
“The plea resulted from a cost-benefit analysis that Mark had to do given his circumstances,” Mark Davis, D’Amico’s attorney, told The Washington Post.
Davis said that although there was a false component to the story, “Johnny Bobbitt is real. Johnny Bobbitt had a real struggle. Johnny Bobbitt was a homeless veteran. And it was very real in terms of Mark and Kate wanting to help him.” But, he added, “somewhere along the line, things got blurred. Moneys were diverted and used to Kate and Mark’s benefit.”
In November 2017, D’Amico and McClure created a fundraising page called “Paying It Forward,” in which they said they were raising money to help rehabilitate a homeless veteran. The couple concocted a heartwarming story about how Bobbitt came to McClure’s rescue when she ran out of gas on the highway while driving from Philadelphia to her home in New Jersey.
“He saw me pull over and knew something was wrong,” McClure said at the time. “He told me to get back in the car and lock the doors.”
McClure said he walked to a gas station and returned with a can of gas.
News organizations across the country, including The Post, picked up the inspiring story — none of which was true.
And within a year, their sweet story had started to sour. D’Amico and McClure had raised nearly $403,000 to buy Bobbitt his own home and “dream” truck — a 1999 Ford Ranger. But in the months that followed, the couple had used the money to buy him a camper — in their own names — a TV, a laptop and two cellphones, as well as a used SUV that quickly broke down, according to local news reports at the time.
Authorities opened an investigation after Bobbitt filed a lawsuit, saying D’Amico and McClure had not given him all the money. He suspected that they had kept much of it for themselves, spending it on vacations, casinos and a luxury car. Bobbitt told the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time that McClure, a receptionist for the New Jersey Department of Transportation at the time, and D’Amico, a carpenter, were taking vacations to Florida and California and Las Vegas. He said he learned of a helicopter ride they had taken over the Grand Canyon. And McClure suddenly had a new BMW, according to the newspaper.
Bobbitt also told the Inquirer that D’Amico gambled away some of the donated money at a casino in Philadelphia. (D’Amico told the newspaper that he had used $500 from the bank account to gamble on a night when he forgot his SugarHouse Casino card but had “quickly repaid” the money with his winnings.)
D’Amico and McClure disputed other allegations, saying they were attempting to help Bobbitt manage the money because they worried he would spend it on drugs. D’Amico said he kept $200,000 — the amount that remained after buying Bobbitt the camper and the SUV, and paying expenses — in a savings account that he would gladly turn over to Bobbitt once he kicked an addiction to opioids and managed to hold down a job.
In August 2018, a judge ordered D’Amico and McClure to give Bobbitt whatever was left of the donations. But a day after the court-imposed deadline, an attorney for Bobbitt said there was no money left to surrender.
It devolved into a bitter back-and-forth between the couple and Bobbitt, with conflicting reports about how the money was used and whether Bobbitt was a participant or a victim. Soon, the scheme fell apart.
Federal and local prosecutors said an investigation showed that the good-Samaritan story was made up — McClure had never run out of gas, and Bobbitt had never emptied his pockets to help her on the side of the road.
In reality, the three met near a Philadelphia casino, according to the Associated Press.
Federal prosecutors said D’Amico and McClure crafted the story to encourage donations — much of which they spent on themselves, including “significant amounts by D’Amico for gambling, as well as for vacations, a BMW automobile, clothing, handbags and other personal items and expenses.”
Once the money started pouring in, the couple told Bobbitt about it, depositing $25,000 of the proceeds into his personal bank account, according to the statement from the U.S. attorney’s office.
Since then, all three have pleaded guilty to state and federal charges.
In March 2019, Bobbitt pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence. That year, he was sentenced to five years of probation on state charges, according to the Associated Press.
McClure pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She and D’Amico face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. All are set to be sentenced on federal charges in 2022.
Cleve Wootson contributed to this report.