A woman who collaborated on a scam that took $400,000 from 14,000 GoFundMe donors was sentenced to three years in prison on Friday (to serve at the same time as her one-year federal sentence), according to the Associated Press.
The woman, Kate McClure, was part of a three-person scammer team, led by McClure and her then-boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, who cooked up a story in 2017 about raising money to support a homeless veteran.
In a GoFundMe, McClure claimed a veteran who was without housing used his last $20 to buy a can of gas for her after she ran out of fuel while driving on the highway into Philadelphia, per The Arizona Republic.
Several outlets covered the viral feel-good story, and the group went on national television programs like Good Morning America.
While fundraising, McClure had said the money was for the veteran to buy a home and a car, a financial attorney and adviser to assist him, and a retirement and trust fund, per the Republic.
But, the whole thing began to come apart in 2018, when the veteran and intended recipient of the funds, Johnny Bobbitt Jr., said in the press that the couple had not given him the funds and sued the couple for the money, saying in the suit he only received $75,000.
After his legal move, authorities began looking into the issue, per the AP.
It turned out that McClure and D’Amico had met Bobbitt while he was asking for money outside of a casino they went to often, then-Burlington County, New Jersey Prosecutor Scott Coffina said in 2018, per NJ.com. Then, they made a plan to help Bobbitt — and themselves, by posting a fake GoFundMe story and splitting the money.
“The gas part is completely made up but the guy isn’t… I had to make something up so people will feel bad,” McClure wrote in a text message to D’Amico reviewed by federal prosecutors, per The New York Times.
McClure and D’Amico ended up using the money on a helicopter trip to the Grand Canyon, a BMW, and designer bags, federal authorities later said, per The New York Times.
If Bobbitt had not spoken out and sued the couple, however, it’s unlikely the trio would have been caught, Coffina noted in 2018.
After charges were announced against the group in 2018, GoFundMe refunded the donors. It has also said it would help Bobbitt receive funds in some manner, but it is unclear if that happened.
GoFundMe told Entrepreneur via email that it “has zero tolerance for misuse of our platform.”
“We cooperated fully with law enforcement to ensure that these individuals were held accountable for their crimes and all donors were refunded,” the company added.
McClure faced charges at the federal and state level and pleaded guilty to both in 2019. Authorities said the conspiracy was said to be the largest in GoFundMe history at the time, per the AP.
Bobbitt was an unhoused veteran who had served briefly in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was first admitted to a substance recovery program that involves extensive drug testing and was sentenced in New Jersey in early October to three years of probation for his role in the scam, per NJ.com.
D’Amico was sentenced to five years in state prison in August, to be served alongside his 27-month federal sentence, per CBS News.
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