A feel-good tale of a homeless man using his last $20 to help a stranded New Jersey woman buy gas was actually a complete lie, manufactured to get strangers to donate more than $400,000 to help the down-and-out good Samaritan, a prosecutor said Thursday. As expected, Burlington County prosecutor Scott Coffina announced criminal charges against the couple who told the story to newspapers and television stations along with the homeless man who conspired with them to tell the story. He said the money, donated to the homeless man, Johnny Bobbitt, will be refunded to people who saw the story and contributed to him through a GoFundMe page set up by the couple, Mark D'Amico and Katelyn McClure. "The entire campaign was predicated on a lie," Coffina said, per the AP. "It was fictitious and illegal and there are consequences."
Bobbitt was arrested Wednesday night by US marshals in Philadelphia and remained in custody Thursday on probation detainers and a $50,000 bond. D'Amico and McClure surrendered to authorities Wednesday night and were released. All were charged with theft by deception. Coffina said almost no part of the tale behind the fundraising campaign was true; the couple actually met Bobbitt near a Philadelphia casino they frequented, People reports. Less than an hour after the couple set up the page to solicit donations, McClure allegedly sent a text message to a friend saying, "The gas part is completely made up, but the guy isn’t. I had to make something up to make people feel bad." Police say they likely would have gotten away with the scheme had Bobbitt not gone public with his claims that the couple had only given him $75,000; an investigation was launched after that. (Bobbitt's lawyer has said all the money is "gone.")