Katelyn McClure started a viral GoFundMe fundraiser for a man she said was experiencing homelessness. She was just sentenced to prison. (Screenshot from GoFundMe).
A woman started what became a viral GoFundMe for a man experiencing homelessness in 2017. The story was seemingly so pure: The woman, Katelyn McClure, said that she met the man after he gave her his last $20 for gas while she was stranded, and McClure wanted to do her part to help him in return.But on Friday, McClure received a three year-sentence in New Jersey state prison for completely making the story up and defrauding thousands of donors for more than $400,000.
In 2017, then-couple McClure and Mark D’Amico said in a GoFundMe post that they were stranded on the I-95 in Philadelphia without gas when a homeless man, Johnny Bobbitt Jr., gave them his last $20. They started a GoFundMe with a goal of $10,000, ostensibly to help Bobbitt Jr.— but raised more than $400,000. McClure later wrote on the GoFundMe that Bobbitt Jr. planned to use the money for a down payment on a house and a 1999 Ford Ranger. GoFundMe even put McClure and Bobbitt Jr.’s story on a year-end list called “Strangers Helping Strangers” in 2017, which is still viewable on the website.But it turned out that the three of them had met at least a month prior and allegedly crafted the scam together. In one text message reviewed by investigators, McClure admitted to a friend that “the gas part is completely made up.” McClure, 32, helped defraud more than 14,000 people who donated to the GoFundMe of more than $400,000 total, CNN reported. Bobbitt initially received $75,000 in connection with the scam, but sued D’Amico and McClure in 2018 for more of the money, which kicked off a federal investigation into where the funds went.
McClure’s prison time will be served concurrently with a yearlong sentence she’s currently serving in Connecticut, after being convicted on federal charges last year. A former New Jersey Department of Transportation employee, McClure was also banned for life from public employment.“This sentencing brings to a close a case that defrauded more than 14,000 people whose decency and compassion for others elicited a tremendously heartwarming response to assist someone they believed was truly in need,” Burlington County (New Jersey) Prosecutor LaChia Bradshaw said in a statement Friday. “With the new year comes new hope for a better world, and our wish is that prosecutions like this will serve to deter criminals from such deceitful actions, but not discourage individuals from caring about those who are in crisis as a result of a tragedy, or simply need a helping hand after experiencing a hardship or setback,” Bradshaw said. D’Amico received five years in state prison in 2019 as part of a plea deal, while Bobbitt Jr. was sentenced to probation and treatment and recovery services and was ordered to pay $25,000 in restitution in October. GoFundMe says on its website that fraudulent fundraisers make up “one-tenth of 1 percent of all fundraisers on GoFundMe.” The company said in a statement to the New York Times that it refunded 100 percent of the donations made to McClure’s fundraiser.“While the overwhelming majority of people use our platform every day to help others, we are aware that bad actors do exist and will attempt to take advantage of people’s generosity,” the company said.