November 16, 2018

The worst thing about the following story –- like other con games –- is that it might inhibit normally generous people from giving to those genuinely in need.  Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

A year ago, an appeal appeared on GoFundMe called “Pay It Forward.”  It told the story of Johnny, a homeless veteran in Philadelphia who, according to the story, spent his days holding a sign on the highway.  A young woman had written dramatically of running out of gas, heading out on foot in the cold to find the nearest gas station, and Johnny coming up to her, telling her to get back in the car and lock the doors.  “A few minutes later, he comes back with a red gas can,” she wrote.  “Using his last 20 dollars to make sure I could get home safe.”


She wrote that over the next couple of weeks, she would go see Johnny, paying him back and giving him a few extra dollars here and there, bringing him food and warm clothes and getting to know him as a good-hearted person.  “I wish that I could do more for this selfless man,” she wrote, “who went out of his way just to help me that day.”  She posted a picture of the two of them together, she looking friendly and happy, he in a long beard and knit cap, with a benign, vacant expression.

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She said she was raising money for Johnny, enough to pay for the first and last months’ rent in an apartment, a reliable vehicle, and expenses for the next four to six weeks.  He was very interested in finding a job.  “Truly believe that all Johnny needs is one little break,” she wrote.  “Hopefully with your help I can be the one to give it to him.”


She set the goal as $10,000.  What made news was that her GoFundMe account, stunningly, took in $401,921.  By the end, over 14,000 people had contributed.


It was a huge, heartwarming story.  You probably remember it, as everyone talked about it at the time, including CNN, the Washington Post, the BBC,  In her update (#25), the woman wanted “to thank everyone who has been a part of this amazing ride.”  She explained how the money would be used:  to buy a home for Johnny; get him his “dream truck,” a 1999 Ford Ranger; plus set up two trusts in his name, one for income until he found a job and one for retirement funds to pay for some land and a cabin out in the country.  It seemed like a well-thought-out plan, put together by Johnny’s new lawyer and financial advisor.  “Mark [her boyfriend] and I are beyond humbled and grateful that you took our little project and turned it into a world wide project that thousands of people supported.”


She promised an update soon from Johnny himself, now that he had his new computer.


Fast forward one year.  On Thursday, the woman, Kate McClure, her boyfriend Mark D’Amico, and (this was the real surprise) the homeless man, Johnny Bobbitt, were charged by law enforcement officials in New Jersey with second-degree theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by deception.  Scott A. Coffina, prosecutor for Burlington County, said in a news conference that from the beginning, the story was a lie.


After examining more than 60,000 text messages, prosecutors determined that the encounter on the highway never actually happened.  “She did not run out of gas on an I-95 off-ramp, and he did not spend his last $20 to help her,” Coffina said.


According to Coffina, less than an hour after the GoFundMe page was up, McClure texted a friend to say, “Ok so wait the gas part is completely made up but the guy isn’t.  I had to make something up to make people feel bad.  So shush about the made up stuff.”


During all the media attention, Bobbitt went on “Good Morning, America,” and repeated the lie:  “I got her gas to help her get on her way.  I wasn’t expecting anything in return.”  He added that the experience “felt like winning the lottery.”


It seems the three might have gotten away with the scheme if McClure and D’Amico had been a little less greedy.  Bobbitt, the (formerly) homeless man, made a big mistake by filing a lawsuit against the couple when he didn’t get what he considered to be his fair share.


When he sued in August, accusing them of fraud and conspiracy for using the fund as “their personal piggy bank” to fund a lavish lifestyle, he apparently didn’t realize it might not be in his own best interest to call attention to the scheme.

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Investigators got a warrant, searched the couple’s home and took possession of their recently purchased BMW.  When Megyn Kelly interviewed them on NBC, McClure and D’Amico maintained that $150,000 remained for Bobbitt.  They were holding on to some of the money, they said, until Bobbitt could kick his opioid addiction and keep a job.


But that was a lie, too, at least the part about still having money.  According to Coffina, by mid-March, all the money had been spent or gambled away.  “Among other things,” he said, “they bought a car, took trips, purchased high-end handbags and hit the casinos --- hard.”


Coffina had sympathy for Bobbitt but said he has “no choice” but to charge him along with the other two, as he was part of the con from the beginning.  “He deserves our appreciation for his willingness to serve our country as a U.S. Marine,” Coffina said.  “And he has our sympathy and concern for the homelessness he’s experienced.  But it is imperative to keep in mind that he was fully complicit with this scheme to defraud contributors, promoting the campaign in multiple media appearances and posing with D’Amico and McClure for a Philly Inquirer story in front of a gas station that he did not buy gas from.”


According to Coffina, it’s not the first time Bobbitt has done something like this.  In 2012, while he was living in North Carolina, he posted on Facebook a similar story about helping a woman with dinner money.


In case you were wondering about the thousands of people who donated money for Bobbitt’s cause, they apparently are going to get all their money back.  Amazingly, they will get it from GoFundMe.  Who knew they would take responsibility to the extent that they could also be called “RefundMe”?


So I hope no one reading about this scam will see it as a deterrent from giving, especially during this Christmas season.  GoFundMe can be a lifesaver, literally, and according to their officials, “GoFundMe always fully protects donors, which is why we have a comprehensive refund policy in place.”  Of course, there are many other worthwhile causes that need donations this time of year as well.  It’s been a particularly hard year, with so many people across the country having lost everything --- even loved ones --- in hurricanes, floods, raging fires and other natural disasters and personal twists of fate.  Your generosity can be life-changing, so don’t let a rare story about a few greedy con artists stop you from giving to people in actual need.


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Comments 1-14 of 14

  • Rae Thomsen

    12/09/2018 01:14 AM

    I realize this is several weeks late, but I can't help but wonder why people kept on giving after the fund had so exoribitantly exceeded the initial amount? Why, in this day and time of such a ridiculous amount of fraud taking place, did people not have the forethought to question it? Is old fashioned 'common sense' completely dead? I don't think GoFundMe should be expected or feel the need to refund contributions made past, at the most, $20,000.

  • Leonard

    11/20/2018 02:26 PM

    My, my, so sad, as Americans we are compassionate, give from our heart. Dad in the early 1900's called them "confidence men" gain your confidence, however long it took, then, steal from you! They will Reap what they Sow as scripture says. Folks, pray about your giving, (I'm thankful though homeless ,God's been merciful)be thankful everyday, God's Grace through the Lord Jesus Christ! A blessed Thanksgiving in Christ!

  • Charlie Pridmore

    11/17/2018 04:38 PM

    Dear Govenor Huckabee, thanks for all you do. I am a pastor serving in the Philippines. Some time ago I sent $1000 to a GoFundMe campaign for special stem research for a former student. He never accessed the funds and subsequently passed away. The GoFundMe folks refused to return the donations. I made several appeals with negative response every time. I believe that constitutes fraud on their part. I doubt that I will give to any further GFM campaigns.
    Blessings, Pastor Charlie Pridmore

  • Paul T. Kern

    11/17/2018 01:22 PM

    Why no newsletteron the 17th?

  • Amelia Little

    11/17/2018 12:23 PM

    I haven't done any gofundme giving--don't trust paying money out on the internet--even if I figured out how to do it. There have been local gofundme pleas and I take the money I would have donated and give it to one of the starters of the page (usually I know some of them) or to wherever a local fundraiser is going on. There is usually a call for providing meals or help with transportation costs, etc. Or, just give the money directly to the person the gofundme plea is for--who can then buy milk, put gas in the car, or even go get hair and nails done.

  • Suzi Stack

    11/16/2018 08:33 PM

    Does this mean that all the folks who contributed to Christine Ballsy Ford will get their money back, too?? Asking for a friend??

  • Jean Irwin

    11/16/2018 08:13 PM

    Hi Mike, love your commentaries and wit. In the small town where I live, a lady made a very lengthy plea for help to pay off medical bills that her live-in boyfriend had compiled due to "several" knee surgeries. They received around $1800-2,000 and spent it on a very expensive camera! Guess what? Medical bills never got paid. She told her coffee meeting "friends" that she never intended to pay them and didn't think she should have to. Because of this(and others), I have become very discerning on my giving, (most of the time).

  • Don Chenault

    11/16/2018 01:52 PM

    How is it possible that jim acosta, cnn, and fox news can legally out manuver the President of United States...shocking

  • Shauna dickerson

    11/16/2018 01:47 PM

    But, tell me, how do you know if he cause is any good. Some of the charities we are so familiar with, like The Red Cross, so little of the donated money goes to people in need - or at least that is what I've read.

  • robert waters

    11/16/2018 12:10 PM

    I continue to enjoy your articles. Just read the one about the "go-fund-me" scam. Very interesting.
    I recently wrote an article that was published in Madison County Record (Arkansas) on Civility. I took the liberty to quote something you had said, which was very helpful. Here is a link to that article:

  • Stephen Russell

    11/16/2018 12:06 PM

    fighting wild fires:
    OK clearing trees, etc from homes
    Do surveys via drones & on ground visits.
    Give timeline for clean up.
    Revisit site
    Not done, add Fine to Tax records.
    DIY clean up or paid service.
    Or by city & add fine to Taxes.
    What can happen in CA can occur in AR.
    More ideas:
    Roving Fire teams
    Wildfire CP Center estd.
    Volunteer Fire Teams OKd.
    State train & tested Units..
    More surplus copters, planes used for firefighting
    IE HH53, CH47, Hueys, Aerospatiles, Twin engine exec models, miscl copters.
    Idle 747s for tankers.
    Drone firefighting trucks.
    Drone dozers to clear debris.
    Post sensors in area.
    Map where to build
    Map for flooding
    We have Tech to deter fires & fight fires

  • Ed Callagy

    11/16/2018 11:58 AM

    Dear Mikey, God loves a cheerful giver. He wants us to give with Love, no judgement no strings. He tells us it is more blessed to give than to recieve and to be anxious for nothing and to give thanks to Him for our means and opportunities He gives us to walk by faith. For all haved sinned and fallen short of His Glory, we are all un worthy yet He has demonstrated His Love, Grace and Mercy by generously giving us Salvation through the Death, Burial and resurrection of His Son and allows the sun to shine on both the righteous and unrighteous. He has shown us how to Love and He would like us to practice Loving one another. God will shine His Light, now or latter on the sins of man and Judge according to His will, making it so a person of faith does not have to worry about justice but live their lives with the peace that surpasses all understanding that comes from being a Child of God.
    Don’t think for a second that I can maintain the above walk and attitude based on my perfect performance. I am speaking to myself, reminding myself that God’s Agape is for everyone that will accept it. He reminds me that He is in control even if people sin against our generosity and viloate our trust just like I sin against His generosity and violate His trust and yet He continues to Bless me with everything.
    The Good News (Real as it gets Good News for sure not fake news) it is not about what I “Do” but it is all about what He has “Done” for me. Thank you Jesus and thank you Heavenly Daddy.
    Happy Holidays and life Mikey to you and yours.

  • Patricia Varhol

    11/16/2018 10:51 AM

    I’m so impressed with GoFundMe refunding the money. The story has a happy ending - justice! And since the story of their sins finding them out spreads, maybe it will be a deterrent to others doing something like it (probably not, though)


    11/16/2018 10:24 AM

    It sounds to me that they were just being good Democratic Socialist by using other people's money, to share the wealth among the three of them. How can that be bad? HA HA! Doesn't the Government do the same thing? Maybe they should give us our tax money back if they don't use it properly.