Kate McClure, accused of creating a fake GoFundMe account to help a homeless man that went viral and amassed more than $400,000, secretly recorded phone conversations with her then-boyfriend and insisted that he was the one who concocted the scam.
"You started the whole … thing. You did everything," McClure told Mark D'Amico in an exchange she recorded in September that her lawyer played Monday on Good Morning America. In the recording about the bogus campaign to aid Johnny Bobbitt Jr., McClure is heard saying, "I had no part in any of this, and I'm the one … taking the fall."
McClure and D'Amico, along with Bobbitt, were charged last week with theft by deception and conspiracy after the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office announced that the fund-raising campaign they started in November 2017 was based on a lie. Prosecutors say the three conspired to tug at the heartstrings of the public and duped more than 14,000 donors worldwide.
The three made up a story that McClure ran out of gas on I-95 as she was on her way into Philadelphia, and Bobbitt, who was living on the streets nearby, came to her rescue, using his last $20 to get her on her way, prosecutors said. McClure and D'Amico set up the GoFundMe campaign, which they said was designed to repay Bobbitt's kindness. They told donors they wanted to buy him a house and raise money to ensure his financial stability.
McClure, D'Amico, and Bobbitt made national television appearances to tell their feel-good story. The response was overwhelming, and they quickly raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.
By March, the money was gone — spent, prosecutors say, on vacations, a BMW, gambling excursions, and designer handbags. All along, Bobbitt was in on the deal, authorities said, spending tens of thousands of dollars himself. Some of it, he later admitted, was spent on drugs. At one point, authorities said, he made cash withdrawals of more than $23,000 within about three months, mostly in the Philadelphia neighborhood where he had been living while homeless.
The couple's relationship with Bobbitt soon soured and by the summer, they had stopped giving him money. Bobbitt, a veteran who struggles with a heroin addiction, was back on the street, panhandling for money and drugs.
In anger at being denied what he considered his fair share of the GoFundMe money, Bobbitt sued, alleging he was scammed. Prosecutors launched an investigation that led to the criminal charges. The three now face the prospect of five to 10 years in jail if convicted.
McClure and D'Amico were briefly in custody, then released to await a Dec. 24 court hearing. Bobbitt is in the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia, awaiting extradition to New Jersey.
GoFundMe has said it will refund all of the money donors contributed.
McClure and D'Amico, who lived together in Florence Township, Burlington County, have split up.
The recording played Monday on Good Morning America, laced with anger and curses, shows the couple's deteriorating relationship. It was made days after the Inquirer and Daily News reported that Bobbitt, who had been living in a trailer near the couple's home in rural Burlington County, was again homeless — and accusing McClure and D'Amico of squandering the money donors had contributed to help him.
Monday's television appearance by McClure's attorney, James Gerrow, may signal her intention to mount a vigorous defense. Gerrow has said D'Amico was the mastermind of the scheme and McClure an unwitting accomplice.
"Kate thought she was helping a veteran who was homeless," Gerrow told Good Morning America. "Mr. D'Amico was the one behind this and he was calling all the shots. … She didn't understand or appreciate the fact that this may very well be a crime."
Efforts to reach Gerrow were unsuccessful Monday. Joel Bewley, a spokesman for the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, declined to comment.
Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina has said investigators have a trove of text messages that make clear McClure conspired with D'Amico and Bobbitt to devise the false narrative and steal from unsuspecting donors.
In one text message, made public last week, McClure admitted to her best friend that at least part of the story the trio told the public was untrue.
"Okay so wait the gas part is completely made up," she wrote in the message, which was included in an affidavit of probable cause for her arrest. "I had to make something up to make people feel bad … So, shush about the made up part."
Text messages obtained by prosecutors show that McClure's friend — and even McClure's mother — told her the scheme could get her in trouble.
"My mom just called me and said that people go to jail for scamming others out of money," McClure said in a text to her friend on Nov. 14, 2017.
"This gas story is gonna backfire," the friend wrote in a text to McClure the following day.
"Nah, it's all good," McClure replied.
Months later, in March, the friend again warned McClure that she could be in legal jeopardy and suggested she donate the balance of the stolen funds.
"I'll be keeping the rest of the money, [expletive] you very much," McClure replied.