A US homeless veteran was sentenced on Oct 3 to three years on probation for his role in a GoFundMe scam that gained nationwide attention and swindled more than 14,000 donors out of over US$402,000 (RM1.86mil), federal prosecutors said.
Johnny Bobbitt, 39, of Philadelphia, previously pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to a statement from the US Attorney’s Office District of New Jersey.
Bobbitt was charged in 2018 – along with Bordentown residents Mark D’Amico, 43, Katelyn McClure, 32 – with concocting the feel-good story that misled potential donors into believing the money they were collecting would go to help Bobbitt, a homeless veteran living on the streets of Philadelphia, authorities said.
The “Paying it Forward” GoFundMe campaign was created on Nov 10, 2017, soon after D’Amico took a picture of McClure and Bobbitt standing in front of the Girard Avenue exit ramp on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia, officials said. The narrative that accompanied the photo indicated that McClure had run out of gas, and Bobbitt spent his last US$20 (RM92) to help her get back on her way.
The campaign listed a goal of US$10,000 (RM46,460) to provide Bobbitt with rent for an apartment, a reliable vehicle and six months of living expenses, among other things, investigators said. But the incoming funds far exceeded their expectations, and were quickly spent by McClure and D’Amico on casino gambling and personal items such as a BMW, a New Year’s trip to Las Vegas, a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon and Louis Vuitton hand bags.
A few months after the creation of fake campaign, all of the donated funds had been spent and once he realised the money had been squandered, Bobbitt took civil action against D’Amico and McClure, authorities said. He alleged in August 2018 through his attorneys that he had only received approximately US$75,000 (RM348,450) of the funds raised on his behalf.
At the time, it was the largest fraud perpetrated through the crowdfunding company. GoFundMe voluntarily reimbursed the donors.
McClure and D’Amico previously pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme, the office said. D’Amico was sentenced in April 2022 to 27 months in prison while McClure was sentenced in July 2022 to one year and one day in prison.
Aside from these federal charges, the trio was also charged by the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office.
Bobbitt was admitted into the New Jersey Judiciary’s Recovery Court programme, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office. The programme allows those with addiction problems to seek treatment instead of being incarcerated. However, if Bobbitt fails to adhere to the tightly-structured regimen of treatment and recovery services, which includes frequent testing for drug use, he could be sentenced to five years in state prison.
D’Amico was sentenced sentenced in August to five years in state prison, authorities said.
McClure admitted that she advanced the fake story about Bobbitt, saying it was at D’Amico’s direction, and pleaded guilty in April 2019 to theft by deception in exchange for a four-year state prison term, investigators said. She had not yet been officially sentenced.
Their sentences handed down at the county level were slated to run concurrently with the sentences they received in federal court. – nj.com/Tribune News Service