GoFundMe refunded more than $400,000 donated to a viral crowdfunding campaign that authorities said was a sympathetic tale concocted to attract donations.
The campaign, dubbed "Paying it forward," garnered donations from more than 14,000 people who believed they were helping Johnny Bobbitt, a homeless military veteran, get back on his feet. The fundraiser was allegedly created by a New Jersey couple who said they were struck by Bobbitt's kindness. The couple reportedly recruited Bobbitt to help with the scam.
Bobby Whithorne, a spokesman for GoFundMe, said that "all donors who contributed to this GoFundMe campaign have been fully refunded," WABC-TV reported.
The organization has been cooperating with law enforcement during its investigation, he added.
Kate McClure and her boyfriend Mark D'Amico claimed that Johnny Bobbitt had given up his last $20 to help McClure when she ran out of gas on the side of Philadelphia freeway on Thanksgiving night in 2017.
The campaign quickly went viral and donations poured in. The accused trio might have gotten away with the scam if Bobbitt hadn't filed a lawsuit against the couple for allegedly cutting him off from his money.
As it turned out, McClure and D'Amico had met Bobbitt at a casino about a month earlier and together they concocted the "fake feel-good story to compel donors to contribute to their cause," Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said during a news conference last month.
Less than an hour after the campaign went live on GoFundMe, McClure allegedly texted a friend and admitted the story was a lie, Coffina said. McClure, 28, and D'Amico, 39, allegedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lavish vacations, gambling, expensive shopping trips, and a new BMW, among other things.
In August, Bobbitt, a 39-year-old former Marine, accused the couple of mismanaging the funds and filed a lawsuit against them when he ended up back on the streets.
That's when investigators got involved and exposed the scheme.
What else did GoFundMe say?
The percentage of campaigns involving misuse of funds "make up less than one-tenth of 1 percent," Whithorne said, according to WABC.
"We have a zero-tolerance policy for fraudulent behavior," he said. "If fraud occurs, donors get refunded, and we work with law enforcement officials to recover the money."
The organization has also refunded the fees associated with the campaign's donations.
What are the charges against the trio?
Authorities have charged McClure, D'Amico, and Bobbitt with second-degree theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by conception.