Attorney James Gerrow, who is defending Kate McClure in the criminal case, said McClure admits the story about her running out of gas on Interstate 95 was invented. But he said D'Amico dictated the story to her when she was creating the GoFundMe page, which was named "Paying it Forward," and convinced her to play along with the lie in order to help the homeless Bobbitt, whom D'Amico had befriended and introduced to McClure.
Kate McClure, the Florence woman at the center of an alleged GoFundMe scam that netted more than $ 400,000, admits the story of a homeless veteran coming to her aid was fake, but that it was her then boyfriend who fed her the story in order to entice donors to give to the fund, her attorney said Saturday.
McClure, her former boyfriend, Mark D'Amico, and the homeless man Johnny Bobbitt, were each charged with theft by deception and conspiracy last week by the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, which alleged the trio made up the story of Bobbitt helping a stranded McClure in order to boost donations with the intent of sharing the proceeds.
Attorney James Gerrow, who is defending McClure in the criminal case, said McClure admits the story about her running out of gas on Interstate 95 was invented. But he said D'Amico dictated the story to her when she was creating the GoFundMe page, which was named "Paying it Forward," and convinced her to play along with the lie in order to help the homeless Bobbitt, whom D'Amico had befriended and introduced to McClure.
The attorney alleges the two men knew each other and conspired to use McClure in their scheme to raise money to feed Bobbitt's heroin addiction and D'Amico's compulsive gambling.
"Throughout this whole thing, Kate was being used and led along," Gerrow said Saturday about the alleged conspiracy. "They needed her for the story. But there's no doubt in my mind that Bobbitt and D'Amico were the ones who invented it. "
He cited the Prosecutor's Office own lengthy probable cause statement that indicated Bobbitt had previously posted a similar tale on Facebook about assisting a stranded motorist in his native state of North Carolina in 2012.
Prosecutors said the couple knew Bobbitt for at least a month before the campaign launched in November 2017. But Gerrow said D'Amico was the one who first met and befriended Bobbitt.
And while McClure created and administered the GoFundMe page, which included the gas story and that Bobbitt used his last $ 20 to help her, Gerrow said the idea of starting the Internet fundraiser was D'Amico's, as was the made up story.
"Her purpose all along was to help a homeless vet," Gerrow said. "She's a young woman who does care and she's done charitable work in the past."
He said McClure never expected the campaign would generate more than a few thousand dollars and she believed all of the money would be used to assist Bobbitt.
"Kate did not think for a second it would get to $ 10,000, but then it goes ballistic," he said, adding that she wanted to stop accepting contributions after it surpassed the goal but that GoFundMe would not let her.
GoFundMe, which has agreed to reimburse the more than 14,000 donors who gave to the campaign, has said campaign organizers are able to shut off donations at anytime.
Later, after the fund had generated more than $ 400,000, Bobbitt offered D'Amico and McClure half of the total proceeds and that D'Amico later agreed that they would take $ 150,000, Gerrow said.
"(D'Amico) even set up a meeting with a tax lawyer to discuss the tax consequences of getting $ 150,000," Gerrow said, adding that all the money was placed in McClure's bank accounts at D'Amico's direction.
"Her bank accounts were used and everything was in her name. That's done at D'Amico's request, but he has equal access (to the accounts), "Gerrow added.
D'Amico and his attorney could not be reached for comment Saturday.
The criminal investigation began this summer after Bobbitt filed a lawsuit accusing McClure and D'Amico of mismanaging the campaign's proceeds and possibly spending a large portion of the money on themselves.
Prosecutors have said their investigation revealed that some $ 75,000 was given or spent on Bobbitt's behalf, including $ 18,350 for a camper that was parked at D'Amico and McClure's Florence home and later sold by the couple.
But investigators contend the vast sum of the proceeds was deposited into bank accounts controlled by McClure and then spent on a BMW, high-end handbags and some $ 85,363 cash withdrawals at or near casinos in Las Vegas, Maryland and Atlantic City, according to court papers .
While executing a search warrant at McClure's and D'Amico's home this fall, researchers seized 12 designer handbags, a wristlet, wallets and a backpack with labels from Louis Vuitton, Coach, Michael Kors and Vera Bradley with a combined value of close to $ 12,000, according to court papers.
Also, about $ 9,800 was given to family members of McClure and D'Amico as repayment for money the couple owed them, according to court papers.
Gerrow did not deny that McClure spent some of the money on handbags and vacations, but he contended that most of the donated money was gambled away by D'Amico or used by Bobbitt to purchase drugs.
He said McClure was naive and did not realize the extent of the deception until later this fall when prosecutors laid out much of their evidence during a meeting with him and McClure.
"I turned to Kate and said 'Do you understand what they're telling you?' She became very emotional, literally she was shaking and in tears," Gerrow said. "She realized she was set up by a man she loved and cared about."
He said the couple broke up around the same time and have stopped communicating.
Prior to that, the two lived together in a Florence home that previously belonged to her grandmother. D'Amico – who has been described as a carpenter – seldom worked and McClure, who is employed by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, was the sole breadwinner, Gerrow said.
He said Bobbitt and his brother lived on the property for a time as well, but the couple had a falling out with him around the same time that items went missing, including computers, a camera and jewelry. While suspicion fell on Bobbitt due to his drug addiction, Gerrow said it was later discovered that D'Amico had taken some of the items himself and pawned them.
It was after Bobbitt returned to living on the streets that he sued McClure and D'Amico in an attempt to gain whatever money raised from the campaign was remaining. Prosecutors launched their investigation after it was revealed that all of the money had been expended.
All three suspects were charged Wednesday. McClure and D'Amico surrendered the same say and were released pending a Dec. 24 court hearing. Bobbitt was arrested in Philadelphia and is being held there pending extradition to New Jersey.
While prosecutors have not specified which of the three suspects devised the scam, Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina has stressed that all three suspects went along with and benefited from the deception and repeated the concocted story during numerous newspaper, radio and television interviews and appearances.
Gerrow, who previously served as a Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor, said he believed the evidence would eventually show his client was manipulated and used by the other two suspects.
"We understand what addicts can do. They're great manipulators and great conspirators, "he said. "I just hope the prosecution takes a view of how she was pulled into this. The evidence really supports that. "