CAMDEN, N.J. — A New Jersey man who helped concoct a fraudulent GoFundMe scheme that raised $400,000 with a false, feel-good story about a homeless veteran was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison on Friday.
Mark D’Amico, 42, also must serve three years of probation, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. He also must pay restitution and undergo gambling, drug and mental health counseling, according to WPVI-TV.
In November 2021, D’Amico pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud conspiracy, the Inquirer reported. His two co-conspirators — former girlfriend Katelyn McClure and homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt Jr. -- pleaded guilty in 2019 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, respectively, in connection with the same scheme, according to the newspaper.
Both are awaiting sentencing for the federal charges. Bobbitt was sentenced to five years of probation on state charges in 2019, according to The Associated Press.
“The person that did the things that led us here no longer exists,” D’Amico told U.S. District Judge Noel L. Hillman before sentencing.
The scam began with a heartwarming story concocted by the trio in 2017 that quickly went viral. D’Amico and McClure claimed that Bobbitt gave McClure his last $20 when she ran out of gas off an exit on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia, the Inquirer reported. Bobbitt, a homeless former Marine, was praised as a modern-day good Samaritan who gave the last of his cash to help someone in need.
A photo of McClure and Bobbitt in front of an exit sign on I-95 with the title, “Paying It Forward” was posted on social media and went viral, according to the Inquirer. D’Amico and McClure created a GoFundMe page with the claim of helping Bobbitt get back on his feet. The fundraiser quickly surpassed its initial goal of $10,000, the newspaper reported.
More than 14,000 donors contributed money to the cause, KYW-TV reported. GoFundMe has since returned the money to the donors, the television station reported.
“I’ll make this very clear,” D’Amico told reporters after he was sentenced. “Literally every part of this story is 100% true except for the gas.”
Investigators said D’Amico was the plot’s ringleader, according to the AP. The group met near a Philadelphia casino in October 2017 shortly before revealing their story, prosecutors said.
The scam began to unravel after Bobbitt sued D’Amico and McClure, accusing them of not giving him the money, the Inquirer reported. Initially, the couple used some of the money to buy items for Bobbitt, including a camper, and gave the homeless veteran approximately $25,000, according to the newspaper.
However, prosecutors said the couple had spent most of the money by March 2018, using large chunks of cash to take vacations to Disneyland, Walt Disney World and to casinos in Las Vegas and New Jersey, according to the federal complaint. The couple also bought a BMW and luxury goods while Bobbit’s access to money was restricted, the Inquirer reported.
The trio clashed and the ruse fell apart, according to the AP.
Text messages between McClure and D’Amico chronicled the unraveling of the scheme, according to the Inquirer.
“I don’t trust you with any money at all whatsoever and this all needs to be accounted for. Like I’m really freaking out right now, just being honest,” McClure texted D’Amico, according to court documents.
“D’Amico began the scheme with lies, furthered it with lies, and ended it with lies,” U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger wrote in a sentencing memo.
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