A New Jersey man who conspired with his girlfriend to concoct a feel-good story about a helpful homeless man and then used the lie to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations online pleaded guilty on Monday in federal court.
Mark D’Amico pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman in Camden to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. An indictment unsealed in January 2020 charged D’Amico with a total of 16 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering.
The 42-year-old man had already pleaded guilty to charges in state court last year. His former girlfriend, Katelyn McClure, and homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt Jr. previously pleaded guilty to state and federal charges. Bobbitt was sentenced to five years’ probation on state charges in 2019. Both are scheduled to be sentenced on the federal charges in early 2022.
The trio made up a story in late 2017 about Bobbitt giving $20 to help McClure when her car ran out of gas in Philadelphia, according to prosecutors. D’Amico and McClure solicited donations through GoFundMe, purportedly to help Bobbitt, and conducted newspaper and television interviews. Investigators said D’Amico was the plot’s ringleader.
The scam eventually raised more than $400,000 in donations in the space of a month, according to investigators, who said almost no part of the tale was true and that instead, the group met near a Philadelphia casino in October 2017 shortly before they told their story.
Authorities began investigating after Bobbitt sued the couple, accusing them of not giving him the money. The federal criminal complaint alleged all of the money raised in the campaign was spent by March 2018, with large chunks spent by McClure and D’Amico on a recreational vehicle, a BMW, and trips to casinos in Las Vegas and New Jersey.
D’Amico is scheduled to be sentenced in March. A message seeking comment was left with his attorney Monday.