Police search home of couple accused of squandering $400,000 raised for homeless vet
Shortly after sunrise Thursday, Sept. 6, authorities backed a tow truck onto Kate McClure and Mark D'Amico's property and hauled away a recently purchased BMW - a shiny black symbol of just how much their six-figure fundraising campaign to help a homeless veteran had soured into accusations of something much worse.
The Beemer, that homeless man now asserts, was purchased with part of the more than $400,000 the couple raised on GoFundMe with a heartwarming story about a down-and-out vet who used his last $20 to help a woman in need and her attempt to get the Good Samaritan off the streets.
So it's come to this: Last week, Johnny Bobbitt filed a lawsuit against the New Jersey couple, alleging that they withheld most of the money and spent it on vacations, gambling and a luxury car. A judge gave McClure and D'Amico until Sept. 3 to hand over the remaining funds, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. But a day after the deadline passed, a lawyer for Bobbitt said there is no money left to surrender.
On Thursday the couple's home was searched as part of a criminal investigation, Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said in a statement, but charges haven't been filed, CNN reported.
During the search, the couple looked unhurried. TV news footage showed D'Amico whiffing a golf club on the lawn as officers carried boxes of evidence out of his house. He fiddled with his baseball cap and played fetch with a dog. McClure stayed mostly out of sight before driving away from the scene in a white sedan.
Bobbitt's legal team has asked Judge Paula Dow to force the couple to stay in New Jersey, give up their passports and not spend any money from their bank accounts, the Inquirer reported. Dow has since asked the couple to appear in court Monday for depositions, saying she'd heard enough from their attorney: it was time they spoke for themselves, according to reporting from CNN.
The couple's attorney, Ernest Badway, refused to comment on the search and whether or not they'd show up to be deposed.
"If they flee, they're taking the money with them," Jacqueline Promislo, another of Bobbitt's attorneys, told the Inquirer. "We're really concerned about the flight risk."
During an appearance on Megyn Kelly's show on NBC last week, McClure and D'Amico insisted that $150,000 remained of the money they had raised for Bobbitt. The court had ordered them to account for what they spent and put the rest in a trust for the homeless veteran. But a short time later, Bobbitt's lawyer learned that estimate was about $150,000 too high.
As the case drags on, GoFundMe is working with legal counsel and investigators to make sure Bobbitt gets what he's owed, Bobby Whithorne, a spokesman for the company said in a statement. GoFundMe has a policy for cases like these, that protects donors and beneficiaries.
"GoFundMe has given $20,000 to a bank account created by Johnny's legal team to provide assistance during the investigation," the statement said.
As The Washington Post previously reported, McClure and D'Amico started the crowdfunding campaign after Bobbitt came to McClure's rescue on the side of the road in October 2017. McClure had run out of gas on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia, and Bobbitt walked to a service station and spent $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," 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."
McClure and D'Amico hoped the GoFundMe effort would raise $10,000, but the story resonated. It was featured in national newspapers, including The Post. The pair made an appearance on "Good Morning America" and were interviewed by BBC News - a feel-good story at the start of the holiday season last fall. Ultimately, the campaign raised more than $402,000 from more than 14,000 donors.
But then the story took a dark turn, with accusations of mismanagement and outright theft of the money raised on Bobbitt's behalf. The GoFundMe cash, Bobbitt suspected, had been squandered on vacations, a luxury car and more than one addiction.
"He's homeless and penniless," Promislo said about Bobbitt in an interview with The Post last week. She added that her client "wants what he wanted before" - a home to live in, clothes to wear and food to eat - and the money that was intended for him.
Ernest Badway, an attorney for McClure and D'Amico, has previously said they have no comment. They could not be reached for comment Thursday morning.
There are conflicting reports from the couple and Bobbitt about how the money was used and whether Bobbitt was a participant or a victim.
McClure and D'Amico raised the money starting late last year to buy Bobbitt, among other things, his own home and his "dream" truck: a 1999 Ford Ranger. But in the months that followed, the couple used the money to buy him a camper - in their own names - a TV, a laptop and two cellphones, as well as a used SUV that has since broken down, according to local news reports.
Bobbitt met with a financial adviser but never had access to the money or signed paperwork for a trust, according to the Inquirer. D'Amico said he kept $200,000 - the amount that remained after paying for the camper, SUV and other expenses - in a savings account that he would gladly turn over to Bobbitt once he kicked an addiction to opioids and managed to hold down a job.
But Bobbitt said he saw troubling signs. McClure is a receptionist for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, and D'Amico is a carpenter, according to the Inquirer. But suddenly, she had a new BMW, and the couple was taking vacations to Florida, California and Las Vegas, Bobbitt told the Inquirer. He learned of a helicopter ride they took over the Grand Canyon.
And Bobbitt told the Inquirer that D'Amico gambled away some of the GoFundMe money at a casino in Philadelphia. D'Amico told the newspaper he had indeed used $500 from the bank account to gamble on a night when he forgot his Sugarhouse Casino card but had "quickly repaid" the money with his winnings. The couple have denied that they used any more of the money for anything else for themselves.
The Inquirer reported that D'Amico spoke of expenses that he and his girlfriend had incurred caring for Bobbitt, including time that they took off from work.
And D'Amico gave an "evolving account" to the Inquirer of how he handled the money:
Through it all, the money that came to Bobbitt couldn't stop his addiction. He went through two unsuccessful stints in rehab that brought him no closer to being sober. Some of the money that GoFundMe donors gave him ended up in the pockets of drug dealers, Bobbitt told the Inquirer.
In April, six months after his fateful meeting with McClure, Bobbitt told the Inquirer that he had been clean for three weeks and jobless for much longer.
"It's going to be a struggle for the rest of my life," he told the newspaper about his addiction.
Bobbitt's attorney told The Post that he is in detox and working to get his life back.
But the camper, the SUV and most of the other things he got after the GoFundMe campaign are gone.
He spent most of the summer back on the streets of Philadelphia, sleeping under a bridge near the spot where McClure's out-of-gas SUV sputtered to a stop last fall.
This article was written by Cleve Wootson, a reporter for The Washington Post.