An attorney for a New Jersey woman accused of working with a homeless man and her boyfriend to use GoFundMe and a heartwarming story for a get-rich-quick scheme said his client was unaware of the scam and was herself duped.
"I’m confident that in the end the evidence will reveal that Kate had only the best intentions," said James Gerrow of his client, Kate McClure, 28.
McClure, her boyfriend, Mark D'Amico, 39, and a homeless man, Johnny Bobbitt Jr., 35, were charged last week with second-degree theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by deception for allegedly running a scam that swindled donors out of more than $400,000.
Gerrow said McClure "was used by Mr. D’Amico and Mr. Bobbitt, and she thought throughout that this money was going to a homeless veteran. She was unaware that they had concocted this scheme."
He said a recording McClure said she made of a heated conversation between her and her boyfriend in September serves as proof of her innocence. In the recording, which NBC News has not verified, McClure is heard telling D'Amico, "I had no part in any of this ... I might be going to jail because of something that you said."
"You don’t go to jail for lying on TV, you dumb b****," D'Amico says to McClure.
"But who made me lie on TV?" she responds.
The couple had appeared on ABC, the BBC and NBC to tell their story of their efforts to help a homeless man who had come to McClure's assistance on a Philadelphia freeway ramp, according to a brief filed by the prosecutor on the case, Scott Coffina.
In the recorded conversation between McClure and D'Amico, she also appears to refer to the money that the couple raised for Bobbitt, which he has claimed they mostly kept for themselves.
"I never said that I never spent a dollar," McClure said to her boyfriend.
Viral GoFundMe campaign for homeless veteran was a hoax, prosecutors sayNov. 15, 201801:14
The saga started in November 2017 when McClure started a GoFundMe that she said was for a homeless man, Bobbitt, who had given her his last $20 after she ran out of gas on the freeway ramp.
More than 14,000 people donated to the campaign, which received widespread media attention for what appeared to be a heartwarming tale.
But the story began to unravel when Bobbitt sued the couple in August, saying McClure, a receptionist for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, and D'Amico, a carpenter, had kept most of the money for themselves.
Bobbitt's attorneys said he only received $75,000 of the money raised and claimed the couple spent the donations on items such as a BMW and luxury vacations to Florida and Las Vegas.
The couple denied the allegations and said they had withheld some of the money because they feared Bobbitt would spend it on drugs.
The lawsuit prompted authorities to look into the case.
"The entire campaign was predicated on a lie," said Coffina, the prosecutor in Burlington County, New Jersey, in announcing charges against the trio last week.
The prosecutor said McClure had texted a friend an hour after the campaign went live admitting that the ran-out-of-gas story was bogus, but Bobbitt was real. "'I had to make something up to make people feel bad ... So, shush about the made up part,'" Coffina said the text read.
More than 60,000 messages between McClure and D'Amico were seized from their iPhones detailing their financial woes, including bills and debts, and how they began thinking of Bobbitt when the idea of the hoax first took root, the prosecutor said.
But Gerrow, McClure's lawyer, said "it wasn’t until September when meeting with prosecutors that she came to realize that she had been used by both of them.”
An attorney for D'Amico said Monday that he's surprised by McClure's defense. "I don’t know how Kate is playing the victim now. I will be curious to see how this defense plays out for her in court," he said.
If found guilty, McClure, D'Amico and Bobbitt could each serve up to five to 10 years in prison.