The announcement that a heartwarming story involving a New Jersey couple and a homeless veteran was allegedly a scam might have you thinking twice about donating money to those need.
Prosecutors said Thursday the couple who last year famously raised $400,000 on GoFundMe for a homeless veteran they claimed to be helping worked with the man to concoct the tale, which was a hoax. Now all three have been arrested and charged with conspiracy and theft by deception. They face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Charity experts said the scandal should not dissuade you from giving to the needy this holiday season, but cautioned to be smart about it.
"You should be very cautious of giving to people you don’t know in a crowdfunding site," Art Taylor, of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, a national charity monitoring organization, told Inside Edition.
"Not to say you shouldn’t give but make sure you know something about these people," Taylor added. If you're ever in doubt, experts suggest making non-cash donations, like food or clothing.
In the case of the couple and the homeless man, the story began to unravel when the man turned on the pair earlier this year.
Last year, the tale attracted attention nationwide after Kate McClure, 28, said Johnny Bobbitt, a homeless vet, came to her aid when she ran out of gas while driving. Bobbitt was reportedly living under a highway overpass in Philadelphia at the time and gave her his last $20.
McClure and her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, 39, set up a GoFundMe to raise money for Bobbitt, sharing video of the touching moment they told Bobbitt how much money they had raised for him and changed his life.
But prosecutors claim it was all made up. McClure never ran out of gas and Bobbit never gave her $20. All three knew each other from a casino they frequented.
“The entire campaign was predicated on a lie,” Burlighton County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said Thursday at a press conference. “Less than an hour after their GoFundMe page went live, McClure in a text exchange with a friend stated that the story about Bobbitt assisting her was fake. Specifically, she wrote, ‘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.’”
In August, however, Bobbitt sued the couple, claiming they were enjoying expensive vacations while he was getting by on handouts.
In response, McClure and D’Amico appeared on the “Today” show, where they told then-host Megyn Kelly that they gave Bobbitt $25,000 and he blew through it in under 13 days on drugs.
GoFundMe will provide a full refund to the donors.