Thousands of people were moved by the tale of a homeless veteran giving a woman his last $20 after she ran out of gas last year, flocking to the crowdfunding site GoFundMe to share what they could.
But the story, prosecutors said, turned out to be a lie, a tall tale concocted by the woman, Kate McClure, her boyfriend, Mark D'Amico, and the homeless veteran himself, Johnny Bobbitt.
For Dawn Salter, the news was devastating. She was among the more than 14,000 people who contributed to the campaign, which raised over $400,000 last year.
"I felt like I was completely a sucker," she told Inside Edition of the moment she heard of the alleged scam. "I'm definitely going to second guess where I donate my family's money to.
"We work hard for it," she added.
Adrienne Gonzalez of the website GoFraudMe, which reports on scams and offers resources for crowdfunding fraud victims, warns that would-be do-gooders need to be vigilant.
GoFundMe has said it will refund everybody who donated.
"GoFundMe will process all refunds in the coming days,” the company said in a statement. “While this type of behavior by an individual is extremely rare, it's unacceptable and clearly it has consequences.
"Committing fraud, whether it takes place on or offline is against the law. We are fully cooperating and assisting law enforcement officials to recover every dollar withdrawn by Ms. McClure and Mr. D'Amico."
More is being learned about the alleged plot.
McClure's own mother suspected the story was fake, according to an alleged text exchange between McClure and a friend, one of more than 60,000 texts reviewed by prosecutors.
"My mom just called me and said that people go to jail for scamming others out of money," McClure allegedly wrote. "…That's what my own mother thinks of me."
In another text exchange McClure appeared to admit the tale was fake. “I had to make something up to make people feel bad,” she allegedly wrote.
“I’m confident that in the end the evidence will reveal that Kate had only the best intentions," James Gerrow said in a statement, according to NBC10. "She was used by Mr. D’Amico and Mr. Bobbitt and she thought throughout that this money was going to a homeless veteran.
"She was unaware that they had concocted this scheme. It wasn’t until September when meeting with prosecutors that she came to realize that she had been used by both of them.”
It's not clear if Bobbitt has a lawyer. Ernest Badway, an attorney for both D'Amico and McClure, had no comment.