The New Jersey couple and a homeless veteran at the center of a long-running $400,000 GoFundMe controversy have been charged with conspiracy and theft by deception for an alleged scheme that "hoodwinked an awful lot of people," authorities said Thursday.
GoFundMe said immediately after charges were filed that all 14,000 donors to the campaign last year would be refunded in full.
NBC10 first reported that Johnny Bobbitt Jr. and the South Jersey couple, Kate McClure and Mark D'Amico, would all face criminal charges of conspiracy and theft by deception on Thursday for the GoFundMe campaign that began in 2017.
Burlington County, New Jersey, Prosecutor Scott Caffina alleged the three conspired with one another to make up a story and raise more from online donors. The GoFundMe campaign garnered national headlines and news segments, eventually raising more than $400,000.
Authorities believe the three met at least a month before the campaign was launched, possibly on one of many trips McClure and D'Amico made to SugarHouse Casino.
Bobbitt was homeless and often stayed near an Interstate 95 off-ramp near the casino.
Caffina said that, within hours of the three launching the campaign on the GoFundMe website last November, McClure texted a friend that the majority of the story was fabricated.
"Ok, so wait. The gas part is completely made up. The guy isn't," McClure allegedly texted the friend after the campaign went live Nov. 10 with a photo of a smiling McClure and Bobbitt.
"So shush about the made up stuff," she added, according to Caffina.
D'Amico and McClure turned themselves in Wednesday to Burlington County prosecutors, the source said. On Thursday, James Gerrow, another attorney for McClure, released a statement on her behalf.
“I’m confident that in the end the evidence will reveal that Kate had only the best intentions," Gerrow said. "She was used by Mr. D’Amico and Mr Bobbitt and she thought throughout that this money was going to a homeless veteran. She was unaware that they had concocted this scheme. It wasn’t until September when meeting with prosecutors that she came to realize that she had been used by both of them.”
The backbone of the story was that Bobbitt used $20 to help McClure get gas when her car ran out on I-95 at the Girard Avenue exit. McClure and D'Amico then launched a GoFundMe page to supposedly raise money for Bobbitt, and the page brought in over $400,000 from 14,000 contributors.
At first, the account led to appearances for Bobbitt and McClure on national TV programs. But it turned into a dispute over the money.
Bobbitt accused the couple of dipping into the funds and using them as a "personal piggy bank" to bankroll a lifestyle they couldn't afford.
Bobbitt later sued the couple over mismanagement of the funds and a judge ordered sworn statements to determine what happened to the cash, which Bobbitt's attorney, Chris Fallon, said had disappeared.
The couple denied any wrongdoing and accused Bobbitt of spending $25,000 in less than two weeks last year on drugs as well as paying for overdue legal bills and sending money to family.
The couple's lawyer, Ernest Badway, later said Bobbitt had gotten about $200,000. But Fallon said his client had received only about $75,000.
The couple also bought Bobbitt a camper with some of the cash and parked it on land McClure's family owns in New Jersey. But Bobbitt became homeless again after D'Amico told him in June that he had to leave the property.
In September, police raided the couple's home in Florence, New Jersey, hauling away a new BMW on a flatbed truck. Badway said that all the couple's personal and business financial statements, along with jewelry and cash, were seized in the raid.
At that point, officials said the couple was under investigation, though no charges had been filed.
D'Amico was arrested in September in Burlington County on an unrelated $500 warrant for an October 2017 traffic stop, according to officials. At the time, he was driving on a suspended license and also had a broken tail light. He also failed to appear in court on two separate occassions, according to court records.