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A New Jersey man who admitted to a story that a homeless veteran used his leftover money to buy gasoline for his ex-girlfriend as part of a $400,000 GoFundMe plan to solicit online donations was sentenced to five years in prison Friday.
Mark D’Amico, 43, of Florence, New Jersey, pleaded guilty in December 2019 and admitted to creating a feel-good tale in late 2017 about Johnny Babbitt Jr. giving his last $20 to help D’Amico’s girlfriend, Katelyn McClure. when her car ran out of gas on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia.
Prosecutors said the trio had previously met to plan to make money.
The story was quickly picked up by news outlets across the country, and they conducted newspaper and television interviews and solicited donations to help Bobbitt, which they called “Paying It Forward” through a GoFundMe campaign.
New Jersey woman jailed for viral $400K GOFUNDME scam for homeless veterans
The campaign raised more than $400,000 from nearly 14,000 donors in about a month and was the largest fraud perpetrated through a crowdfunding platform at the time, according to the prosecutor’s office in Burlington County, New Jersey.
Pursuant to the plea agreement, Hon. Christopher J. of the Superior Court in Mount Holly. Garanger sentenced D’Amico to five years on a state charge of second-degree misappropriation of entrusted property.
D’Amico pleaded guilty to separate federal charges and is currently in federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. His state sentences will run concurrently, and when he completes his 27-month federal sentence, he will serve the rest of his state time, according to the prosecutor’s office.
Along with a staged photo of McClure posing with her hero, the GoFundMe campaign lists a $10,000 goal to rent Babbitt an apartment, a reliable vehicle and six months of living expenses. But the money coming in exceeded their expectations, and authorities launched an investigation when Babbitt sued the couple in civil court, alleging they received only $75,000 in cash.
Mastermind of infamous Gofundme homeless scam faces 5 years in prison
Authorities determined that nearly $400,000 collected by McClure and D’Amico was spent through March 2018 on casino gambling and personal items such as a BMW, a New Year’s trip to Las Vegas, and a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. And Louis Vuitton handbags.
“People want to believe it’s true,” Burlington County Prosecutor Lachia Bradshaw said in a statement Friday. “But it was all a lie, and it was illegal. Our office is happy to bring justice to more than 14,000 kind-hearted people who thought they were helping someone living in a desperate situation.”
D’Amico and McClure were ordered to repay the GoFundMe in full.
McClure and Babbitt also pleaded guilty to state and federal charges. Babbitt is in the state drug court program as part of his plea deal and is awaiting federal sentencing.
Last month, McClure was sentenced to a year and a half in prison on the federal charges and is awaiting sentencing on the state charges, where he is expected to receive additional time.
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McClure admitted to making a false statement about Babbitt, which was at D’Amico’s direction, and pleaded guilty in April 2019 to second-degree theft by deception in exchange for four years in state prison. She is scheduled to be sentenced on September 9 at the Superior Court in Mount Holly.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.