Katelyn McClure’s story about a down-on-his-luck hero who’d spent his last $20 to help a stranger inspired thousands to contribute to a GoFundMe campaign that soon topped $400,000.
McClure, 32, pleaded guilty in March 2019 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. On Thursday, she was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison and was ordered to pay $400,000 in restitution.
The scam began outside a Philadelphia casino in 2017, prosecutors said. That’s where McClure and her boyfriend at the time, Mark D’Amico, met Johnny Bobbitt, a homeless veteran, according to court documents. But McClure had never run out of gas and Bobbitt hadn’t spent his last $20 to help her, a federal prosecutor said in 2018.
The 2017 GoFundMe campaign claimed that McClure had run into problems on her way from Philadelphia to her home in New Jersey. Bobbitt, who had been sitting on the side of the road near an exit ramp holding a sign, came to her rescue by using his last bit of cash to get a can of gasoline at a nearby gas station, the fundraiser claimed. As a thank-you gesture, McClure and D’Amico started the GoFundMe to raise $10,000 to get Bobbitt an apartment, a car and cover other expenses, it said.
But the campaign gained widespread attention — including in an article from The Washington Post — and people soon donated over $400,000. The couple had informed Bobbitt about the campaign in November 2017, when about $1,500 had been raised, according to court records. They later set up a bank account for the veteran and deposited $25,000 of the GoFundMe proceeds, prosecutors said.
However, the story began unraveling in August 2018, when Bobbitt filed a lawsuit accusing McClure and D’Amico of using the “GoFundMe account as their personal piggy bank to fund a lifestyle that they could not otherwise afford.” Federal investigators soon got involved.
While some of the funds went toward buying Bobbitt a camper, a TV, two cellphones and a used SUV, most of the money was pocketed by McClure and D’Amico, prosecutors said. The couple “used the funds to pay for luxury items, such as a BMW and expensive hand bags; go on trips; and to gamble at casinos in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Las Vegas,” according to court records.
Still, in an August 2018 interview with Megyn Kelly, McClure and D’Amico insisted they were holding $150,000 for Bobbitt. However, investigators found that there was actually no money to be given, prosecutors said.
Attorneys for the couple didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. But Mark Davis, D’Amico’s attorney, told The Post in November that the couple’s desire to help Bobbitt “was very real.”
Lori Koch, Bobbitt’s attorney, said her client “deeply regrets” the scam, adding that Bobbitt was battling addiction at the time and has since been in recovery. “He wants nothing more than to put this ugly episode behind him and move on to being the solid, caring citizen he once was, helping others in need as an EMT,” Koch said. “He would like to help others who are in recovery as well, and welcomes the idea of using his experience to help others.”
By the end, McClure, D’Amico and Bobbitt all pleaded guilty for their roles. Bobbitt is expected to be sentenced next month. In April, D’Amico was sentenced to 27 months in prison for leading a move that prosecutors allege was a ruse right from the get-go.
Less than an hour after the GoFundMe page went live, McClure texted a friend and said, “Ok so wait the gas part is completely made up, but the guy isn’t. I had to make something up to make people feel bad. So shush about the made up stuff,” according to federal prosecutors.