The New Jersey woman who concocted a story in 2017 about a homeless man giving her his last $20 for gas and parlayed the heartwarming fib into a $400,000 GoFundMe windfall was sentenced to a year in federal prison Thursday.
Katelyn McClure, 32, was also given three years’ probation by a federal judge in Camden and ordered to pay back the roughly 14,000 people she tricked into donating to the online fundraiser. McClure, her then-boyfriend Mark D’Amico, and homeless man Johnny Bobbitt plotted the scheme at a Philadelphia casino about a month before going public with the story.
“I wish that I could do more for this selfless man, who went out of his way just to help me that day,” McClure wrote in the GoFundMe message that went viral five years ago. “He is such a great guy, and talking to him each time I see him makes me want to help him more and more.”
“All Johnny needs is one little break,” McClure continued. “Hopefully with your help I can be the one to give it to him.”
Her accompanying story about the humble hobo who selflessly rescued her when she ran out of gas on I-95, spawning an unlikely friendship, pulled at the nation’s heartstrings and even landed them an interview with then-NBC News star Megyn Kelly.
But it all unraveled when Bobbitt accused the couple of cheating him out of his cut. In a lawsuit, he alleged that the pair gave him just $75,000 and spent the rest on gambling, vacations and a new BMW.
Prosecutors said McClure texted a friend immediately after creating the GoFundMe page and admitted the whole thing was a scam.
“OK so wait, the gas part is completely made up but the guy isn’t,’ McClure texted. “I had to make something up so people would feel bad. So shush about the made up stuff.”
“D’Amico, McClure and Bobbitt conspired to pass off a fake, feel good story that would compel donors to contribute to their cause and it worked in a very big way but it was fictitious and illegal and there are consequences,” Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said at a press conference in 2018.
D’Amico pleaded guilty and faces 27 months in prison. Bobbitt was ordered to get drug treatment. All three still face possible state charges.