The Viral GoFundMe That Raised $400K For A Homeless Vet Was A Scam

Does everyone remember the homeless vet GoFundMe campaign from last year? Good, me neither. Usually, stories described as “heartwarming” don’t appear in my feed because of who I am as a person. But the story that this campaign was actually allegedly run by three scammers who made up every detail, though? Yeah, you better believe I was the target audience for that kind of groundbreaking news.

As someone who is both financially and morally bankrupt, I can’t help but love a good scamming story. This one has it all—the compassion of trifling fools charitable strangers, incriminating texts, and even the alleged scammers turning on each other. Read on for what Vice calls, “another example of how our world is a dark and depressing place,” and what I’m calling a how-to guide for gaming the world of online fundraising. Just kidding! (Or am I?)

The Original GoFundMe

Back in September 2017, Kate McClure started a GoFundMe. Apparently, she’d gotten stranded in Philadelphia, and encountered a homeless veteran named Johnny Bobbitt. She claims that Bobbitt spent his last $20 to buy her gas. McClure and her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, decided that “all Johnny [needed] [was] one little break,” and with that thought, they started a GoFundMe campaign.

Their initial goal was set at $10,000, but people are such suckers the story got so much media attention that they ended up raising over $400,000. Cute, right? Hah. This is America, people. You gotta know there’s a twist coming. Especially with a hook as wholesome as a homeless vet GoFundMe page.

Johnny Bobbitt’s Lawsuit

In August, the headlines about this started getting weird. Bobbitt, the vet they were allegedly raising money for, turned around and sued McClure and D’Amico. He alleged that they had taken over $200K for themselves. Bobbitt claimed that McClure had initially provided him with food, clothing, and cash. Yet the bulk of the money donated to the GoFundMe campaign never came his way. He was even back on the streets. Bobbitt then alleged that the couple was using those funds as a “personal piggy bank to fund a lifestyle that they could not otherwise afford.” The fact that this is precisely how I used my parents’ credit card in college is neither here nor there.

The couple responded to the lawsuit by claiming that they were withholding the remaining funds until Bobbitt—who struggles with drug addiction and has been in and out of rehab several times—got clean. They further claimed to have set up two trusts in Bobbitt’s name, providing him a small salary, retirement funds, and investment funds to be overseen by a financial planner. D’Amico popped off even further, claiming he would rather “burn [the money] in front of him” than hand it over, given Bobbitt’s situation. Way harsh, Tai.

He also apparently hoped to get a book deal out of this whole situation. He pitched the title “No Good Deed” for said memoir while the lawsuit was ongoing, to further the whole “white knight being victimized” thing he had going. Unsurprisingly, the trusts they claimed to have established for Bobbitt did not exist.

The Alleged Scam Revealed

Ultimately, Bobbitt’s lawsuit had the exact opposite effect of what he hoped. Not only did news coverage do little beyond painting him as an erratic, ungrateful drug addict, but the subsequent investigation led to this week’s revelation. The entire GoFundMe was allegedly an elaborate scam—and Bobbitt himself was in on it. Prosecutors say that “every shred” of the campaign was a lie. This includes the initial charming anecdote about Bobbitt spending his last $20.

Text message evidence between McClure and her friend proves that less than an hour after the campaign went live, McClure wrote, “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.” And that, my friends, is why I don’t give to charity. I’M KIDDING. But always, stay on your toes—evil is real and walks among us.

For those of you saying: “But wait! Who cares if she made up a detail if the guy is real,” I have some further bad news. This was not an innocent-white-lie-to-serve-a-greater-good kind of situation. McClure and D’Amico allegedly had no intention of using the money to help Bobbitt.

In fact, all of the money is now gone. And the couple spent most of it. Some of the purchases that ABC News lists include luxury handbags, a New Year’s trip to Vegas, a BMW, and over $85,000 worth of ATM withdrawals “at or near casinos in Atlantic City, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas.” Yeah, these are not people who started a homeless veteran GoFundMe page in good faith.

When the prosecutors confront them with this evidence:

While Bobbitt’s exact involvement in hatching the scheme is unclear, prosecutors have uncovered a Facebook post he made back in 2012. In this post, he tells a very similar story to the one shared on the GoFundMe page. A woman ran out of gas, he spent his last few dollars to help her, and so on. Interesting.

The Criminal Charges

Back in September, the Burlington County Prosecutor’s office raided McClure and D’Amico’s home. Many of their possessions (including the BMW) were seized. On Wednesday, McClure and D’Amico turned themselves in to prosecutors, they’ve since been released. Bobbitt was arrested later that night on charges of “being a fugitive from justice.” All three are being charged with second-degree theft by deception, as well as conspiracy to commit theft by deception.

According to ABC News, the New Jersey couple is facing five to ten years in prison if convicted. Bobbitt, on the other hand, will be extradited to Burlington County to face his charges. And in a final poetic turn, the couple will appear in court on Christmas Eve.

Others typically view scamming stories like this as a sign of humanity’s decline. But I feel like I already knew that most people are self-serving assholes! So, it doesn’t quite shake me to my core when I find out that one more person shamelessly stole for their own gain. Ultimately, it’s nice to know that a charitably minded GoFundMe page could be effective. But that is, of course, if the story is aw-shucks enough to get its peddlers on Good Morning America (like these three were).

On the other hand, it’s yet another reminder that the internet world is a shady place. It’s all too easy to sell people on outright fabrications. I don’t really have any advice on how to counter that. I just want to make sure we’re all appropriately spooked about the state of the world. And with that, enjoy your weekend.

Are you obsessed with scams, cults, conspiracies, and true crime? Listen to Not Another True Crime Podcast! New episodes drop NOVEMBER 19TH!!

Images: Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash; Giphy (4)

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