A New Jersey woman was sentenced on Friday to three years in prison on state theft charges after previously pleading guilty over a GoFundMe scam that raised more than $400,000 in online donations for a homeless man.
Katelyn McClure, 32, is currently serving a 12-month and one day term in a federal prison in Connecticut for her involvement in the scheme, the Burlington County Prosecutor announced in a news release Friday.
Her state sentence will run concurrently with her federal prison time, according to the prosecutor's office. The judge also ruled McClure, who formerly worked at the state Department of Transportation, is "permanently barred from ever holding another position as a public employee," the release said.
'Paying it Forward'
McClure was charged in 2018 alongside her then-boyfriend, Mark D'Amico, for creating a crowdsource funding page on GoFundMe's website titled "Paying It Forward," wherein donors could purportedly help a homeless Philadelphia veteran named Johnny Bobbitt.
McClure claimed she ran out of gas and was stranded on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia, when Bobbitt saw her and gave her his last $20 for gas. McClure and her then-boyfriend, Mark D'Amico, posted about the "good deed" on social media, including a picture of her with Bobbitt on a highway ramp.
The campaign initially posted a goal of $10,000 to support Bobbitt which would cover apartment rent, a car, and six months' worth of living expenses among other items. The three went on to conduct numerous newspaper and television interviews, with the donations eventually surpassing the goal and exceeding $400,000.
However, both McClure and D'Amico then spent the donations on personal expenses, including casino gambling, a BMW, and a Las Vegas trip. All the donated funds were eventually spent within a span of just a couple of months, with Bobbitt then taking civil action against both D'Amico and McClure wherein he alleged he only received part of the funds.
Bobbitt's Good Deed was Made Up
An investigation into the "good deed" later revealed the real story. According to Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina, the couple first met Bobbitt at an off-ramp near a casino at least a month before the GoFundMe campaign went live.
Investigators reviewed texts the couple sent discussing the scam and their money troubles, including one McClure sent to a friend which read, "Okay so wait the gas part is completely made up, but the guy isn't. I had to make something up to make people feel bad."
D'Amico pled guilty in December 2019 and was sentenced to five years in state prison, with his term also running concurrently with a federal one. Both he and McClure have been ordered to fully reimburse GoFundMe.
Bobbitt pled guilty in March 2019 to conspiracy to commit theft by deception in the second degree and was then admitted to the New Jersey Judiciary's Recovery Court program.
The GoFundMe scam turned out to be the "largest fraud perpetrated through the crowdfunding company" at the time, according to the press release. GoFundMe voluntarily reimbursed those who donated to the scam page.