A former Bordentown woman was the last of three defendants sentenced on state charges to three years in her role in the fictitious GoFundMe “Paying it Forward” campaign in 2017 that misled donors into contributing more than $402,000 to a fabricated cause, according to Burlington County Prosecutor LaChia L. Bradshaw.
“This sentencing brings to a close a case that defrauded more than 14,000 people whose decency and compassion for others elicited a tremendously heartwarming response to assist someone they believed was truly in need,” Bradshaw said. “With the new year comes new hope for a better world, and our wish is that prosecutions like this will serve to deter criminals from such deceitful actions, but not discourage individuals from caring about those who are in crisis as a result of a tragedy, or simply need a helping hand after experiencing a hardship or setback.”
Katelyn McClure, 32, now of Burlington Township, was not present in the Mount Holly courtroom when Burlington County Superior Court Judge Christopher J. Garrenger handed down the sentence, which was announced on Jan. 6.
McClure is currently serving a 12-month and one-day term sentence in a federal prison in Connecticut on the federal charge of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She was sentenced in federal court for her role in July 2022. The New Jersey sentence will run concurrent to the federal one.
Garrenger also ruled that McClure, a former state Department of Transportation worker, is permanently barred from ever holding another position as a public employee, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office.
McClure was charged in late 2018 – along with her boyfriend at the time.
Mark D’Amico, of Florence, and Johnny Bobbitt of Philadelphia – with concocting the feel-good story that misled potential donors into believing the money would go to help Bobbitt, a homeless veteran who was living on the streets of Kensington in Philadelphia, according to the prosecutor’s office.
At the time, it was the largest fraud perpetrated through the crowdfunding company. GoFundMe voluntarily reimbursed the donors.
D’Amico, 43, was sentenced in August 2022 to five years in New Jersey State Prison. He pled guilty in December 2019 to a second-degree charge of misapplication of entrusted property, according to the prosecutor’s office.
D’Amico is also currently serving his federal court charge in Pennsylvania. He was sentenced in April 2022 to 27 months behind bars. His state and federal sentences are running concurrently. He and McClure were ordered by the federal judge to make full restitution to GoFundMe, according to the prosecutor’s office.
Bobbitt pled guilty in March 2019 to a second-degree charge of conspiracy to commit theft by deception and was admitted into the New Jersey Judiciary’s Recovery Court program when sentenced in April 2019. The program allows those with addiction problems to seek treatment instead of being incarcerated. However, if Bobbitt fails to adhere to the tightly structured regimen of treatment and recovery services, which includes frequent testing for drug use, he could be sentenced to five years in state prison, according to the prosecutor’s office.
McClure admitted that she advanced the false narrative about Bobbitt, saying it was at D’Amico’s direction, and pled guilty in New Jersey Superior Court in April 2019 to a second-degree charge of theft by deception, according to the prosecutor’s office.
The cases against the trio in New Jersey Superior Court were put on hold while charges were pursued on the federal level by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of New Jersey.
In October 2022, Bobbitt was sentenced to three years of probation in U.S. District Court in Camden and ordered to pay $25,000 in restitution, according to the prosecutor’s office.
The “Paying it Forward” GoFundMe campaign was created on Nov. 10, 2017, soon after D’Amico took a picture of McClure and Bobbitt standing in front of the Girard Avenue exit ramp on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia. The fairy tale narrative that accompanied the photo indicated that McClure had run out of gas, and Bobbitt spent his last $20 to help her get back on her way, according to the prosecutor’s office.
The campaign listed a goal of $10,000 to provide Bobbitt with rent for an apartment, a reliable vehicle and six months of living expenses, among other things. But the incoming funds far exceeded their expectations – rising above $400,000 – and were quickly spent by McClure and D’Amico on casino gambling and personal items such as a BMW, a New Year’s trip to Las Vegas, a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon and Louis Vuitton handbags, according to the prosecutor’s office.
Within a few months of the campaign’s creation, all of the donated funds had been spent. Once he realized the money had been squandered, Bobbitt took civil action against D’Amico and McClure. He alleged in August 2018, through his attorneys, that he had only received approximately $75,000 of the funds raised on his behalf.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant Prosecutor Andrew McDonnell, supervisor of the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office Financial Crimes Unit. The investigation was conducted by the Prosecutor’s Office Financial Crimes Unit and High-Tech Crimes Unit, with assistance from the Florence Township Police Department.