GoFundMe scam ringleader heading to jail over homeless man lie

A New Jersey man pleaded guilty to a state charge stemming from a scheme that raked in more than $400,000 in online donations with a phony story about a homeless man helping a stranded woman.

Mark D'Amico pleaded guilty on Friday in state Superior Court in Burlington County to misapplication of entrusted property stemming from the late 2017 scheme.

D'Amico, ex-girlfriend Katelyn McClure and homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt faced state and federal charges.

McClure and Bobbitt have already pleaded guilty to federal and state charges.

D'Amico still faces federal wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy charges.

The trio made up a story in late 2017 about Bobbitt giving $20 to help McClure when her car ran out of gas in Philadelphia, prosecutors said.

Mark D'Amico (centre) will serve five years in jail for his part in the GoFundMe scam, which involved his ex-girlfriend, Katelyn McClure, and homeless man Johnny Bobbitt. Source: AP

The group solicited donations through GoFundMe, purportedly to help Bobbitt.

The trio did newspaper and television interviews, posed for photos, revisited the spot where they claimed their first encounter happened and went on US breakfast TV show Good Morning America.

Authorities began investigating after Bobbitt sued the couple for allegedly not giving him the money.

Almost no part of the tale was true, Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina has said.

Instead, the group met near a Philadelphia casino in October 2017 shortly before they told their story.

Authorities have alleged D'Amico was the ringleader and concocted the story.

The federal criminal complaint released last month alleged all of the money raised in the GoFundMe campaign was spent by March 2018, with large chunks spent by McClure and D’Amico on an RV, a BMW, and trips to casinos in Las Vegas and New Jersey.

New Jersey prosecutors have said the tale might not have been uncovered if it hadn't been for a dispute among the three people involved that led Bobbitt to bring a lawsuit against D'Amico and McClure.

D'Amico will serve a five-year term in prison as part of a plea agreement, Mr Coffina said in a written statement on Friday.

All three defendants must pay restitution under plea agreements, according to Mr Coffina.

The case is a good reminder to be thorough when vetting charitable causes, he said.

“Do your research, and make sure you are donating to a worthwhile cause," Mr Coffina said.

GoFundMe said the money has been returned to donors.

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