Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina addresses media during a press conference regarding the three individuals charged in a conspiracy to defraud GoFundMe contributors Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018 in Mount Holly, N.J.
Cherry Hill Courier-Post
MOUNT HOLLY, N.J. – Johnny Bobbitt Jr., the homeless man who helped dupe donors of more than $400,000 in a viral GoFundMe scam, was sentenced to probation Friday.
The Philadelphia man received a five-year probationary term, which will include long-term in-patient treatment for addiction under the state’s drug court program.
He also is expected to cooperate with the prosecution of his alleged accomplices, New Jersey couple Mark D’Amico and Katelyn McClure.
“This is an opportunity that you should take advantage of,” Superior Court Judge Christopher Garrenger told Bobbitt at a hearing in Mount Holly.
Bobbitt would face an alternative sentence of five years in state prison if he violates his probation. The prison term would include 18 months without parole eligibility, the judge said.
The trio falsely claimed Bobbitt spent his last $20 to buy gas for McClure, a stranger whose car had run out of fuel on a Philadelphia highway in November 2017, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office.
The conspirators then created a highly publicized GoFundMe account, saying donations would help Bobbitt get on his feet, authorities allege.
In fact, the prosecutor’s office contends D’Amico and McClure knew Bobbitt through their visits to a Philadelphia casino. And the GoFundMe donations primarily funded a lavish lifestyle for the couple, including the purchase of a BMW and multiple visits to casinos.
Feel-good story too good to be true: Couple, homeless vet bilked public with made-up story on act of kindness, prosecutor says
More than 14,000 contributors responded to the false story, the prosecutor’s office said.
Assistant Prosecutor Andrew McDonnell on Friday described D’Amico and McClure as “the architects” of the scam, but said the ruse “would not have succeeded without his active participation.”
McDonnell described Bobbitt’s actions as “deplorable,” but also noted the defendant’s “raging life-long drug addiction.”
Bobbitt’s drug use resulted in his “less-than-honorable discharge” after serving 14 months in the U.S. Marines, McDonnell said.
Bobbitt declined to speak during the hearing but his public defender, John Keesler, said, “He has taken responsibility for this and is willing to cooperate.”
The scheme unraveled in August 2018 when an attorney sued on Bobbitt’s behalf, claiming the homeless man was owed nearly $200,000 in GoFundMe donations.
“The entire campaign was predicated on a lie,” Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said in November, when he announced charges against the trio of theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft.
Bobbitt admitted guilt to the conspiracy charge last month under a plea agreement.
“With that alternate (prison) sentence hanging over his head, we hope he’s successful,” McDonnell said.
Bobbitt failed in an effort to address his problems after being released from custody late last year.
Superior Court Judge Mark Tarantino released a smiling Bobbitt at a Dec. 14 detention hearing, but said the homeless man had to stop using drugs, establish an address and meet other conditions.
Taranatino ordered Bobbitt’s arrest after he ignored those conditions and missed a Jan. 8 court hearing.
Bobbitt was arrested the next day in Philadelphia and has been held in Burlington County Jail since his extradition to South Jersey on Jan. 28.
Bobbitt and McClure also pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy charges in federal court. They await sentencing.
Bobbitt admitted he had conspired to commit money laundering. McClure said she conspired to commit wire fraud.
No federal charges are pending against D’Amico.
Garrenger said a decision still is to be made on Bobbitt’s ability to pay restitution to GoFundMe.com, which has refunded all donations.
The fundraising website lost $412,706 due to the scam, he said.
McDonnell also noted a likely loss of trust among people who might be asked to donate to a needy person in the future.
He said the trio’s deceit “rocks the very foundation of people’s confidence in charitable causes.”
Follow Jim Walsh on Twitter: @jimwalsh_cp
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