(NEW YORK) — The attorney for the female member of a New Jersey trio charged with launching a GoFundMe campaign that warmed the hearts of millions and generated more than $400,000 in donations for a seemingly selfless homeless military vet claimed in a new interview with ABC News that she herself was victimized by the other two men.
Attorney James Gerrow acknowledged that his client, Kate McClure, was in on the initial plan to concoct a story about allegedly homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt using his last $20 to help her out of a roadside jam when she ran out of gas but said she was only interested in creating the ruse for a brief time to help Bobbitt.
“The story about the gas was what I refer to — and this is where the prosecutors and I have a disagreement — on Kate’s part. It was puffing, it was exaggeration trying to help this veteran.”
Despite what Gerrow described as his client’s good intentions, he said the fund campaign “just took off.”
‘A bit naive’
Gerrow also claimed that his client was too trusting and unsophisticated to understand what was unfolding.
“She’s a bit naive, and she’s come out of a troubled relationship … and now she was with D’Amico, who [is] 10 or 11 years her senior, and she was under his influence,” he said. “And all of this occurred because of her trust in D’Amico.”
It wasn’t until McClure and her attorney’s second meeting with New Jersey prosecutors that he claims she pieced the entire scam together and realized that she had been duped.
“At the second conference, the prosecutors were talking about evidence,” Gerrow said. “At that point in time, I turned to Kate and said, ‘Do you understand what they’re saying?’”
“At that point, she became very emotional,” he said. “She was in tears, she was crying, visibly shaking because she realized what they were saying — and that is that she had been being used by D’Amico and by Bobbit. She had been set up.”
An attorney for D’Amico and Bobbitt was not immediately available to respond to Gerrow’s claims on Friday night.
On Thursday, Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said at a news conference that the entire story of Bobbitt using his last $20 after McClure ran out of gas was “predicated on a lie” designed to dupe thousands of people into contributing to the campaign.
“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 fake.”
In one of the texts read by Coffina, McClure allegedly wrote to a friend, “OK, 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. So, shush about the made up stuff.”
McClure, 28, D’Amico, 39, and Bobbitt, 34, were all charged with second-degree theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by deception. McClure and D’Amico voluntarily surrendered to authorities on Wednesday, and have since been released, Coffina said.
If convicted, each of them faces five to 10 years in prison, prosecutors said.
Gerrow said that despite her deception, McClure’s initial instinct was to help Bobbitt and that once the campaign reached a fever pitch in the media, she tried without success to end the ruse.
“At $10,000, Kate tried to cut it off with GoFundMe, [but] they told her that couldn’t be done,” Gerrow said. “She also tried to cut it off again at $100,000 because she was very concerned about the amount of money that was coming into the fund.”
A spokesperson for GoFundMe, which has cooperated in the investigation and has agreed to refund money to the 14,000 people who donated to Bobbitt, countered Gerrow’s claims.
“Campaign organizers are in full control of their campaigns, including their ability to turn off donations,” spokesman Bobby Whithorne told ABC News late on Friday.
In fact, on the couple’s GoFundMe page, McClure notes to supporters that “Johnny asked me to please stop accepting donations today. … He asked, instead of donating to his campaign, to maybe take a second to search for another worthy cause that, for whatever reason, hasn’t gotten the attention his has.”
Yet, in a subsequent post, McClure acknowledged closing out the campaign, only to reopen it shortly afterward.
“For the short time that we took it down, though, it is obvious that people still want to donate to his cause… You guys continue to amaze us.”
Earlier this week, GoFundMe released a statement about the case.
“While this type of behavior by an individual is extremely rare, it’s unacceptable and clearly it has consequences. Committing fraud, whether it takes place on or offline is against the law. We are fully cooperating and assisting law enforcement officials to recover every dollar withdrawn by Ms. McClure and Mr. D’Amico,” company officials said in a statement.
‘They hit the casinos hard’
Coffina said the suspected fraudsters might have gotten away with the scam had Bobbitt not filed a lawsuit against McClure and D’Amico in August, accusing them of withholding the funds from him.
The money is all gone, most of it allegedly squandered by McClure and D’Amico on luxury handbags, a New Year’s trip to Las Vegas and a BMW; the couple also used the donated funds to pay back $9,000 they owed to relatives and “hit the casinos hard,” Coffina said. Bank records showed they withdrew more than $85,000 at or near casinos in Atlantic City, Philadelphia and Las Vegas, he said.
They were ordered to appear in court on Christmas Eve.
Bobbitt was arrested Wednesday night by the Philadelphia Police Department on charges of being a fugitive from justice, according to Philadelphia police. He is expected to be extradited to Burlington County to face charges related to the GoFundMe case.
Reached Thursday, an attorney for McClure and D’Amico told ABC News, “We have no comment. Have a nice day.”
In numerous media appearances, McClure claimed she was driving to meet a friend in September 2017 when she ran out of gas around midnight on the I-95 exit ramp near Philadelphia. Bobbitt, who was sleeping under a nearby overpass, came to her rescue, she would say. She claimed Bobbitt spent his last $20 to buy her gas.
“I pulled over to the side of the road as far as I could and I was going to get out and walk to the nearest gas station because it was not that far away, and that’s when I met Johnny,” McClure said last November in a “Good Morning America” interview. “He walked up and he said, ‘Get back in the car. Lock the doors. I’ll be back.’ I was just like, ‘OK.'”
She said Bobbitt used his panhandling money to get her out of the jam.
“I almost couldn’t believe it,” McClure added. “I said, ‘Thank you… I swear, I’ll be back. I promise I’ll be back to give you [the] money back.'”
Hoping to repay Bobbitt for the apparent generous act, McClure said she and D’Amico set up a GoFundMe online. The fund was launched on Nov. 10, 2017, just hours after D’Amico took a photo of McClure posing with Bobbitt near the I-95 exit ramp, Coffina said.
“I just got her gas to help her get back on her way. I didn’t think anything about it. I wasn’t expecting anything in return,” Bobbitt told “Good Morning America.” “That’s how I got the money to start with — from other people. [I had to] return the favor. I can’t constantly take and not give back.”
‘No Good Deed’
Coffina said investigators believe McClure and D’Amico first met Bobbitt about a month before they launched the GoFundMe campaign near the Sugarhouse Casino in Philadelphia, close to the I-95 off-ramp where Bobbitt was living on the streets at the time.
Asked who came up with the idea of the scam, Coffina noted a 2012 Facebook post written by Bobbitt that was “remarkably similar” to the narrative on the GoFundMe page.
“He reported that he helped a woman who had both run out of gas and had a flat tire at a Walmart, spent his last supper money to get her on her way and fix her flat tire,” Coffina said. “I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”
Among the few things about the story that’s true is that Bobbitt served in the Marine Corps and was homeless, Coffina said.
Military records obtained by ABC News show that Bobbit served in the Marines as an ammunition technician from December 2002 to February 2004, and was awarded a National Defense Service Medal.
“He deserves our appreciation for his willingness to serve our country as a United States Marine and he has our sympathy and concern for the homelessness that he’s experienced, as well as his publicized struggle with addiction,” Coffina said.
“But it is imperative to keep in mind that he was fully complicit in the scheme to defraud contributors, promoting the campaign in multiple media appearances and posing with D’Amico and McClure for a Philadelphia Inquirer story in front of a gas station that he did not buy gas from.”
In August, Bobbitt filed a lawsuit accusing McClure and D’Amico of committing fraud by taking more than half of the money they raised for themselves. His pro bono attorney alleged in court papers that the couple treated the donations like their “personal piggy bank to fund a lifestyle that they could not otherwise afford.”
D’Amico and McClure denied the allegations.
In September, the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation into the missing GoFundMe donations and raided the couple’s home, seizing a BMW and other belongings.
Coffina said that even after burning through most of the money and getting sued by Bobbitt, D’Amico was allegedly thinking of ways to keep the scam going, including landing a book deal.
“He was certain the payday from the book deal they were pursuing would dwarf the money from the GoFundMe campaign,” Coffina said. “A few months later, when the dispute with Bobbitt became public, D’Amico was not dissuaded. Instead, he pitched a title for the book that would encompass the controversy, ‘No Good Deed.'”
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