The mastermind of a GoFundMe scheme that conned 14,000 donors across the country out of $400,000 to purportedly benefit a homeless veteran admitted in federal court in New Jersey on Monday that he and his ex-girlfriend pocketed most of the money.
Mark D’Amico, 42, formerly of Bordentown, admitted concocting a bogus feel-good story about the supposed victim coming to the rescue of Katelyn McClure after she ran out of gas on Route 95 on her way home to New Jersey from Philadelphia.
Both McClure and the homeless man, Johnny Bobbitt Jr., were in on the scheme, authorities said.
Together, D’Amico and McClure created a crowd-sourcing fundraising campaign on GoFundMe that they called "Paying It Forward.” The campaign set a $10,000 goal to help get Bobbitt off the streets and cover some of his initial living expenses.
The bogus tale of Bobbitt giving McClure his last 20 bucks was quickly picked up by local and national news outlets. There was even an appearance on NBC's "Megyn Kelly Today" show.
The schemers gathered $400,000 in donations in less than a month.
D’Amico and McClure shifted the money from GoFundMe into accounts that they controlled, then spent most of it over three months for vacations, a BMW, a vacation, clothing, handbags and "other personal items and expenses," Acting U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Rachael A. Honig said.
The couple clued Bobbitt in on the scam early on, the U.S. attorney said. McClure helped open an account for Bobbitt, who received $25,000, Honig said.
The scheme soured when Bobbitt turn around and sued the couple, demanding to know where the money went.
D’Amico and McClure claimed that Bobbitt spent tens of thousands of dollars on drugs, legal bills and donations to his family in less than two weeks. They said they also bought him a camper.
The Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office and Florence Township police began poking around, obtaining search warrants to seize various pieces of evidence. It led to guilty pleas in state court by all three defendants.
Federal authorities brought their own charges.
D'Amico took a deal from the government rather than face trial, pleading guilty Monday in federal court in Camden to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, she said.
U.S. District Judge Noel L. Hillman scheduled sentencing for March 28, 2022.
McClure and Bobbitt Jr. both pleaded guilty, as well, to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, respectively, in connection with the scheme. Both are awaiting sentencing.
Honig credited special agents of both IRS-Criminal Investigation and the FBI with the investigation leading to Monday's guilty plea, secured by Senior Trial Counsel Jason M. Richardson and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey B. Bender and Diana Vondra Carrig of her Criminal Division in Camden.
Honig also thanked the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office and Florence Township police for their assistance.
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