A New Jersey man who fabricated the story of a homeless veteran with his former girlfriend to raise more than $402,000 (£333,000) via a GoFundMe page has been sentenced to five years in state prison.
A superior court in Burlington County sent Mark D’Amico to New Jersey state prison for five years for participating in the “fraudulent scheme that misled donors” into pouring funds for a fabricated cause, the county’s prosecutor LaChia L Bradshaw said on Friday.
Prosecutor Bradshaw came down heavily on the convicted and said: “People genuinely wanted to believe it was true. But it was all a lie, and it was illegal. Our office is pleased to bring justice for the more than 14,000 kind-hearted people who thought they were helping someone who was living in a desperate situation.”
D’Amico and his then girlfriend Katelyn McClure created a GoFundMe page “paying it forward” in 2017 to allegedly help Johnny Bobbitt Jr, who posed as a homeless veteran.
The fundraiser was created just in time for holidays to rehabilitate the homeless man, who had spent his last $20 to help a stranger, McClure, after she ran out of gasoline and was stranded on a highway in Philadelphia.
D’Amico pleaded guilty to the charges in December 2019.
His ex-girlfriend McClure was awarded a one-year prison sentence last month after she pleaded guilty to the charges.
According to prosecutors, the trio had met previously and concocted the story to make money. Following this, they conducted newspaper and television interviews and urged people to contribute for donations and “help” Bobbit.
Through this, the trio raised more than $400,000 from about 14,000 donors in about a month. It went on to become the largest fraud to have succeeded through a crowdfunding platform, the prosecutor’s office in Burlington County, New Jersey, said.
However, the scam came to light after Bobbitt accused the couple of not giving him the money and sued them.
McClure and D’Amico allegedly spent all of the money raised via GoFundMe by March 2018, with a majority of it spent on a recreational vehicle, a BMW, and trips to casinos in Las Vegas and New Jersey, per a federal complaint.
Authorities have ordered D’Amico and McClure to fully reimburse GoFundMe.
D’Amico is currently in federal prison in Pennsylvania’s Lewisburg and his state sentence will run parallely. On finishing his 27-month federal sentence, D’Amico will serve the remainder of his state time, the prosecutor’s office said.
Bobbitt, who also pleaded guilty to state and federal charges, is in a state drug court programme as part of his plea agreement and is awaiting federal sentencing.