Suspect in GoFundMe scam case appears in NJ court via video to face charges
By JAN HEFLER | The Philadelphia Inquirer | Published: December 8, 2018
PHILADELPHIA (Tribune News Service) — Johnny Bobbitt Jr. appeared Friday in an orange jumpsuit, via video link, for his first court hearing in New Jersey, where he faces fraud and conspiracy charges for his role in a GoFundMe campaign that authorities say scammed unsuspecting donors out of more than $400,000.
Bobbitt's attorney, public defender John Keesler, told Superior Court Judge Mark Tarantino that he would apply to have Bobbitt's case heard in Drug Court, a diversionary, or alternative, criminal court process for drug addicts.
After the hearing, Keesler said that Bobbitt would have to be evaluated before he could be admitted to Drug Court and that prosecutors would have input. "He's eligible for it," Keesler said.
The judge set a hearing for 9 a.m. Tuesday to read the charges against Bobbitt and to decide whether he should be detained while awaiting trial. Bobbitt, who was in the Burlington County Jail when the video feed was played in court, said little beyond acknowledging that he understood that he would be brought to court next week for that hearing.
Assistant Burlington County Prosecutor Andrew McDonnell said he would request that Bobbitt be detained and denied bail because he is a "flight risk" and has no known address in New Jersey.
At a hearing in Philadelphia last week, Bobbitt, 35, said he had been living in Fishtown before he was arrested. He was resentenced to probation after he was found in violation of probation on three misdemeanor drug possession convictions in Philadelphia and then extradited to New Jersey.
Bobbitt, along with two co-defendants, is accused of defrauding more than 14,000 donors from across the country who donated money to a GoFundMe campaign that prosecutors say was launched with a false story. The three also face charges of theft by deception and conspiracy.
A hearing for Bobbitt's co-defendants, Katelyn McClure and Mark D'Amico, who also face charges of theft by deception and conspiracy, is scheduled for Dec. 24, also in Mount Holly. They are free on bail pending trial. The fraud case against them was built by the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office after Bobbitt sued the couple in civil court and alleged they took much of the money they received from the GoFundMe campaign.
The three are accused of fabricating a narrative that Bobbitt spent his last $20 to help McClure after she ran out of gas on I-95 in Philadelphia. McClure and D'Amico, in turn, set up the GoFundMe campaign to raise money to get Bobbitt off the streets. The effort, which had an initial goal of $10,000, attracted thousands of donations from across the country and other nations. It was a Good Samaritan story that went viral, as Bobbitt and the couple made appearances on national television.
Prosecutors say it was all a scam designed to prey on the sympathy of donors. McClure and D'Amico spent much of the money on vacations, gambling excursions, and luxury handbags, authorities said. Bobbitt, too, spent tens of thousands, prosecutors say, some of it on drugs.
All donations to the GoFundMe campaign, created in November 2017, have since been refunded, according to a GoFundMe spokesman.
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