CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — A Philadelphia man who pleaded guilty to conspiring with a New Jersey couple on a bogus feel-good story of helping a motorist in distress that garnered more than $400,000 in online donations has been sentenced to three years’ probation.
Johnny Bobbitt Jr., 39, who previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering, was also ordered Monday in federal court in New Jersey to pay $25,000 in restitution. He was earlier sentenced to five years probation after pleading guilty in 2019 to state charges of conspiracy to commit theft by deception.
Prosecutors said Bobbitt aided Mark D’Amico and Katelyn McClure in a feel-good story in late 2017 about the homeless veteran giving his last $20 to help McClure when her car ran out of gas on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia. The three conducted newspaper and television interviews and solicited donations, ostensibly to help Bobbitt, through a GoFundMe campaign they named “Paying It Forward,” prosecutors said.
The campaign raised more than $400,000 from about 14,000 donors in about a month and at the time was the largest fraud perpetrated through the crowdfunding platform, according to the prosecutor’s office in Burlington County, New Jersey.
Authorities began investigating after Bobbitt sued the couple, accusing them of not giving him the money. They eventually determined that all of the money was spent by March 2018, with large chunks spent by McClure and D’Amico on a recreational vehicle, a BMW and trips to casinos in Las Vegas and New Jersey.
D’Amico pleaded guilty in December 2019 and was sentenced in August to five years in state prison, a term running concurrent to an earlier term imposed on separate federal charges. McClure was sentenced to a year on federal charges and is awaiting sentencing on state charges. Both have been ordered to fully reimburse GoFundMe.