MOUNT HOLLY, NJ (AP) — A homeless man was sentenced to five years’ probation Friday after admitting last month that he conspired with a couple to scam the public out of $400,000 in donations by concocting a feel-good story about him helping a motorist in distress.
Johnny Bobbitt had pleaded guilty in state court to conspiracy to commit theft by deception. Conditions of his sentence include inpatient drug treatment and cooperation with prosecutors against his co-defendants. If he violates those conditions, he will be sentenced to five years in prison with no possibility of parole for at least 18 months.
The story of Bobbitt, a homeless military veteran, giving Katelyn McClure $20 when she ran out of gas on a highway in Philadelphia “was designed to pull at the heartstrings of caring, trusting individuals,” Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor Andrew McDonnell said in court, adding that the three exhibited “deplorable behavior.”
Bobbitt, clad in an orange prison jumpsuit, declined to make a statement in court.
Prosecutors contend Bobbitt, McClure and McClure’s then-boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, made up the story in 2017 and even faked photos of themselves standing on the street at the scene of the purported exchange. Blow-ups of the photos were displayed in court Friday.
The trio gained widespread recognition, and more than 14,000 donors contributed through GoFundMe, ostensibly to help Bobbitt. But it was all a scam, Burlington County prosecutors said, intended to enrich the three co-conspirators.
GoFundMe has said it refunded the donations.
Authorities began investigating last year after Bobbitt sued the couple for allegedly not giving him the money.
The couple claimed the cash would be donated to Bobbitt, but New Jersey authorities said the three split the money and spent lavishly, including on a BMW, designer bags and trips to Las Vegas and elsewhere.
More than $85,000 in cash was withdrawn at, or near, casinos in Atlantic City, Las Vegas and in Pennsylvania, prosecutors have said.
The fraud didn’t stop with the GoFundMe page, according to prosecutors. The trio did interview after interview, posed for photos together, revisited the spot where they claimed their first encounter happened and went on “Good Morning America.” The Associated Press prominently featured their story.
In addition to his state plea, Bobbitt pleaded guilty last month to a federal money laundering conspiracy charge. McClure pleaded guilty to one federal count of wire fraud conspiracy. No sentencing date has been set for either person on those federal charges.
D’Amico doesn’t face any federal charges. He and McClure were charged last fall in state court with theft and conspiracy but have yet to be indicted by a grand jury.
D’Amico has denied wrongdoing.