Johnny Bobbitt Jr., the homeless vet who conspired with a Burlington County couple to spin a feel-good story that captured hearts across the country and raised $400,000 in a GoFundMe campaign, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a single count of conspiracy to commit money laundering in federal court in Camden.
Bobbitt, 36, could face from six to 30 months in federal prison for his crime.
A codefendant, Kate McClure, 28, also admitted her role in the scheme Wednesday, pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She faces up to 33 months in prison.
Bobbitt, McClure, and her former boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, still face conspiracy and theft-by-deception charges in a case brought by Burlington County prosecutors. That case is pending.
The three are accused of cheating 14,000 donors around the world who contributed money to help Bobbitt after the three solicited money online that they said would be used to help get the Marine veteran off the streets. They told donors Bobbitt had come to McClure’s rescue when she ran out of gas off an exit on I-95 in Philadelphia on a cold night in the fall of 2017. Their story went viral and the three appeared on national television to promote the campaign.
In court, Bobbitt was demure as he stood before U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle and admitted his guilt. He said he helped concoct the Good Samaritan story and opened a bank account in December 2017 to deposit $25,000 of the donations. He said D’Amico helped him open the account and McClure deposited the money. And he said he agreed to allow a photograph of himself with the couple to be posted online to encourage more donations. But he also told the judge he played only a minor role in the scam and netted just a fraction of the proceeds.
McClure, who was nervous and polite at the brief court hearing before Simandle, admitted that she used electronic services to pay -- with the donated funds -- for vacations she and D’Amico took, a BMW, and other purchases.
However, she, too, sought to minimize her involvement in the scheme. She told the judge that she had only set out to raise $10,000, and that was to find Bobbitt a home.
D’Amico, 39, was not part of Wednesday’s court proceeding and federal prosecutors have not commented on their plans.
At an impromptu news conference Wednesday, McClure’s attorney, James Gerrow, declined to say whether his client would testify against D’Amico.
He added, however, that as GoFundMe donations poured in, McClure twice warned D’Amico that they needed to stop, saying things were “going too far.”
After McClure met Bobbitt, Gerrow said, she offered him food and blankets and then decided she and D’Amico should do more to help him find a place to live.
“In my view, this was benign as she just wanted to help get him off the streets,” the lawyer said.
County prosecutors, however, have said the entire GoFundMe campaign was based on a lie. With D’Amico, Bobbitt and McClure are accused of duping donors and spending the GoFundMe donations on themselves.
The couple bought Bobbitt a camper, and he lived for a time on property McClure’s family owns in Florence, Burlington County. They also gave Bobbitt about $25,000, county prosecutors say, some of which he spent on drugs.
McClure and D’Amico, authorities say, spent the rest of the money on vacations to Disney World, Disneyland, and Las Vegas, a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, gambling excursions, the luxury car, and designer handbags, among other things.
Their scheme unraveled when Bobbitt, upset that the couple had not given him what he considered his fair share of the money, accused the couple of squandering the GoFundMe donations. Pro bono lawyers for Bobbitt went to court to get an accounting of the money, and a lawyer for McClure and D’Amico admitted it was gone. That got the attention of Burlington County prosecutors, who filed the pending criminal charges.
McClure is scheduled to be sentenced June 19. The judge released her on $100,000 unsecured bond and restricted her travel to the continental U.S. She was also ordered to have no contact with the codefendants, victims, and any witnesses.
Simandle said that he would be guided by the plea agreements but that he has discretion to determine the sentence. Without a plea agreement, the crimes could carry sentences of up to 20 years in federal prison.
Bobbitt is scheduled for a hearing in Drug Court in Mount Holly on Friday. Drug Court is a diversionary program that allows people with addiction problems to plead guilty and receive intensive court-monitored treatment and rehabilitation instead of a criminal sentence.
Simandle said he was glad the federal prosecution would not interfere with Bobbitt’s ability to receive drug treatment in the diversionary program and agreed to postpone sentencing on federal charges until after drug program is completed.