BURLINGTON COUNTY, NJ (RNN) - It was a heartwarming story - a homeless man spends his last dollar to help a stranded young woman, so they raise money to get him back on his feet.
Johnny Bobbitt Jr. captured worldwide attention, and $400,000 was raised. He, Kate McClure, the woman he “helped,” and her boyfriend Mark D’Amico appeared on national and international TV to tell their tale.
"The entire campaign was predicated on a lie," said Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina on Thursday. "Less than an hour after the GoFundMe campaign went live, McClure, in a text exchange with a friend, stated that the story about Bobbitt assisting her was 'completely made up.'"
She didn't run out of gas, and Bobbitt didn't spend the $20 he had to his name to help.
All three have been charged with theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by deception. McClure and D’Amico surrendered and were released Wednesday; Bobbitt was arrested in Philadelphia and awaits extradition to New Jersey.
The story was bolstered by Bobbitt’s history. He served in the military, had been engaged, and was training to be a paramedic when an opiate addiction brought his life spiraling downward.
Coffina confirmed the military service was true, saying he deserves credit for his service but was “fully complicit” in the scam.
The couple had known Bobbitt about a month before they started the scam in November 2017, the prosecutor said.
In August, the story began to go bad when Bobbitt sued the couple for his share of the money. Coffina said they may have gotten away with it if the in-fighting hadn’t gotten law enforcement involved.
The couple had shared some of the money with Bobbitt, but he believed he was entitled to more and was apparently unaware they had spent it.
In messages to each other, the couple lamented that the money was nearly gone by March, Coffina said. However, D’Amico remained confident that a book deal would net them even more than the GoFundMe did, feeling the controversy would become a positive.
GoFundMe had promised to repay Bobbitt when it was revealed during the lawsuit that the money was gone. They will give all the people who made donations a full refund.
Coffina said they plan to seek jail time for all three.