GoFundMe offers full payout to homeless man after couple allegedly squandered most of US$400k raised for him

Screenshot of the GoFundMe campaign created by Kate McClure for homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM GOFUNDME.COM

NEW YORK (NYTIMES, THE WASHINGTON POST) - A homeless veteran who sued a New Jersey couple, claiming that he did not receive most of the US$400,000 (S$550,000) they had raised for him online, will get the money he is due, GoFundMe said on Thursday evening (Sept 6).

The couple, Mr Mark D'Amico and Ms Kate McClure, started the crowdfunding campaign after Mr Johnny Bobbitt Jr came to Ms McClure's rescue on the side of the road in October 2017.

Ms McClure had run out of gas on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia, and Mr Bobbitt walked to a service station and spent US$20 of his own money to buy her gas.

"Johnny did not ask me for a dollar, and I couldn't repay him at that moment because I didn't have any cash, but I have been stopping by his spot for the past few weeks," Ms McClure wrote on GoFundMe.

"I repaid him for the gas, gave him a jacket, gloves, a hat, and warm socks, and I give him a few dollars every time I see him."

Ms McClure and Mr D'Amico hoped the GoFundMe effort would raise US$10,000, but the story resonated and ultimately the campaign raised some US$400,000 from more than 14,000 donors.

But Mr Bobbitt said that he received only US$75,000 and that the couple spent the rest, including on a BMW. He sued the couple last month, and police are investigating. The couple have disputed his allegations.

On Thursday evening, GoFundMe said it would help cover the costs, if necessary, to ensure that Bobbitt gets any donations he has not already received.

"Johnny will be made whole, and we're committing that he'll get the balance of the funds that he has not yet received or benefited from," GoFundMe said in a joint statement with Cozen O'Connor, a law firm representing Bobbitt.

The statement came on the same day that investigators searched the property of Ms McClure and Mr D'Amico.

The authorities arrived at the couple's home in Florence Township, New Jersey, at around 8 am Thursday and were seen taking away items in bags and towing away a BMW coupe.

Mr Scott A. Coffina, the prosecutor for Burlington County, said investigators in his office and from the Florence Township Police Department searched the property "in connection with a criminal investigation into the Johnny Bobbitt matter".

"As of this time, there have been no charges filed," Mr Coffina said in an e-mail.

Lawyers for Mr Bobbitt and the couple did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday. Mr D'Amico was seen swinging a golf club outside his house as the authorities searched his residence.

The authorities executed the search warrant a day after a court hearing in New Jersey in which a judge expressed frustration that the couple's lawyer did not show an accounting of the money raised and if it had been spent.

Mr D'Amico and Ms McClure did not appear at the hearing, and their lawyer, Mr Ernest Badway, said the couple would invoke their Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination and not produce the financial information requested by the judge, Ms Paula T. Dow of the Burlington County Superior Court.

"I am no longer comfortable with counsel representing what their clients purport to say, when I have no certifications from the clients, no appearances by the clients, and a record that before me lacks clarity at times as to what happened with the funds," Ms Dow told Mr Badway on Wednesday (Sept 5).

At the end of the hearing, Ms Dow ordered Mr Badway and Mr Chris Fallon, a lawyer for Mr Bobbitt, to organise their financial documents and provide an accounting at a hearing scheduled for Monday (Sept 10).

On Aug 30, Ms Dow had ordered the couple to transfer the money into an escrow account by the next afternoon.

When the couple first met Mr Bobbitt, he was homeless on the streets of Philadelphia and "living off the kindness of strangers", according to Ms Jacqueline Promislo, another lawyer representing him. She said last month that Mr Bobbitt was seeking treatment in rehab but declined to elaborate.

Mr D'Amico and Ms McClure said they bought Mr Bobbitt a trailer home and parked it on their property. But Ms Promislo said they bought the trailer in their name and have since sold it.

Mr Bobbitt estimates he received US$75,000, including the cost of the trailer. Mr Badway disputed that amount in court and said the couple gave Mr Bobbitt more than US$200,000 in goods and services.

"I had to ask them for everything in the beginning," Mr Bobbitt told WPVI-TV, the ABC station in Philadelphia. "It was a joke."

On the NBC show Megyn Kelly Today last week, Mr D'Amico said that of the total money raised, he spent only US$500 on himself, at a casino, but he repaid it.

On the show, the couple said they withheld money from Mr Bobbitt after they gave him US$25,000 before Christmas last year and Mr Bobbitt spent it in two weeks.

"We didn't want to give him the whole US$400,000," Mr D'Amico said, adding that they were worried Mr Bobbitt would spend it on drugs.

Mr Bobbitt has said he wants to put what remains of the money in a trust and learn how to manage it.

"I hate that it came to this," Mr Bobbitt told the ABC station. "I didn't want to be pressuring to get a lawyer or do anything, because I didn't want to appear ungrateful."

GoFundMe says it is prepared to pay for funds that Mr Bobbitt has not yet received as part of its "GoFundMe Guarantee, which means that in the rare case that GoFundMe, law enforcement or a user finds campaigns are misused, donors and beneficiaries are protected".

It is unclear how much that might cost, but the organisation will find out "at the conclusion of the investigation or legal proceedings and after a detailed accounting has taken place", said Mr Bobby Whithorne, a spokesman for GoFundMe.

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