The fundraising damsel in distress finally pleads guilty! The story begins like this- It was a dark and stormy night, on the off-ramp of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge between Philadelphia and the New Jersey state line. Katelyn McClure, 29 was driving to meet her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, 39, when her car sputtered to a stop on the shoulder. She was stranded on the bridge alone and afraid, when a homeless man approached her car. He walked up to her and asked, “What’s a young, pretty lady doing out here alone, you gotta be careful out in these streets, a lot of bad things happen all the time.” She stopped crying long enough to explain that she ran out of gas and had no money with her. The homeless man was Johnny Babbitt, Jr. a 36 year old veteran and he suggested she lock the door and he would be back with gas.
Babbitt in an amazing act of kindness, walked to a service station, purchased gasoline with the last $20 bill he had to his name, walked back to the car and give the stranded motorist the full gas can and sent her safely home. He spent the rest of that cold dark night, alone, homeless and hungry.
Katelyn told her boyfriend what happened and he was so grateful that he went back in the morning with Katelyn and located Babbitt and convinced him to start a GoFundMe campaign.
The page was titled “Paying it Forward” and the fundraiser went international and over 14,000 people from around the world donated over $403,000.00 during the holiday season of 2017 for the benefit of Babbitt.
Only one problem. We now know it “never happened”, it was all an elaborate scam that was devised weeks earlier, it was in today’s vernacular Fake News.
The news media believed the story and they ran with it. The trio were invited to network TV studios in New York during the morning news shows with a hero’s welcome, as they told their story while asking for donations to their online crowd sharing campaign. Al Roker even had the homeless marine corps vet do the weather report. This was a feel good story of a good Samaritan giving his last dime to help a total stranger, just as the holiday season was approaching .
This week in 2019, after two long years , the wheels of justice caught up to D’Amico as he appeared in handcuffs in federal court, and was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
His now ex-girlfriend had already pled guilty to conspiracy and is awaiting sentencing, and the homeless vet has also pled guilty and has been sentenced to no prison time on the condition that he be placed in drug rehabilitation.
The three met earlier and made up the entire story over a cup of coffee in a local casino. The homeless man received a pittance and the couple took the bulk of the money and spent it on trips to casinos in Las Vegas, and to Disneyland in California, and Disney World in Florida. They also bought a BMW, a pickup truck, expensive jewelry and designer handbags.
Crowdfunding websites struggle with KYC and AML; know your customer and anti-money laundering. GoFundMe is a humongous website where a $400,000 campaign can seem perfectly normal.
About the Author: Jake Tewel holds a Masters Degree from YU, a wine seller, caterer and a million miler for the past 15 years. Jake is a best friend, great neighbor, your go to travel person, father, grandfather and loving husband. He is now focusing his efforts on heart healthy nutrition, exercise and travel.