NEW JERSEY — The attorney for the female member of a New Jersey trio charged with launching a GoFundMe campaign that warmed the hearts of millions and generated more than $400,000 in donations for a seemingly selfless homeless military vet claimed in a new interview with ABC News that she herself was victimized by the other two men.
Attorney James Gerrow acknowledged that his client, Kate McClure, was in on the initial plan to concoct a story about allegedly homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt using his last $20 to help her out of a roadside jam when she ran out of gas but said she was only interested in creating the ruse for a brief time to help Bobbitt.
"The story about the gas was what I refer to — and this is where the prosecutors and I have a disagreement — on Kate's part. It was puffing, it was exaggeration trying to help this veteran."
Despite what Gerrow described as his client's good intentions, he said the fund campaign "just took off."
Gerrow also claimed that his client was too trusting and unsophisticated to understand what was unfolding.
"She's a bit naive, and she's come out of a troubled relationship … and now she was with D'Amico, who [is] 10 or 11 years her senior, and she was under his influence," he said. "And all of this occurred because of her trust in D'Amico."
It wasn't until McClure and her attorney's second meeting with New Jersey prosecutors that he claims she pieced the entire scam together and realized that she had been duped.
"At the second conference, the prosecutors were talking about evidence," Gerrow said. "At that point in time, I turned to Kate and said, 'Do you understand what they're saying?'"
"At that point, she became very emotional," he said. "She was in tears, she was crying, visibly shaking because she realized what they were saying — and that is that she had been being used by D'Amico and by Bobbit. She had been set up."
An attorney for D'Amico and Bobbitt was not immediately available to respond to Gerrow's claims on Friday night.
On Thursday, Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said at a news conference that the entire story of Bobbitt using his last $20 after McClure ran out of gas was "predicated on a lie" designed to dupe thousands of people into contributing to the campaign.
"Less than an hour after the GoFundMe campaign went live, McClure, in a text exchange with a friend, stated that the story about Bobbitt assisting her was fake."
In one of the texts read by Coffina, McClure allegedly wrote to a friend, "OK, so wait, the gas part is completely made up but the guy isn't. I had to make something up to make people feel bad. So, shush about the made up stuff."
McClure, 28, D'Amico, 39, and Bobbitt, 34, were all charged with second-degree theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by deception. McClure and D'Amico voluntarily surrendered to authorities on Wednesday, and have since been released, Coffina said.
If convicted, each of them faces five to 10 years in prison, prosecutors said.
Gerrow said that despite her deception, McClure's initial instinct was to help Bobbitt and that once the campaign reached a fever pitch in the media, she tried without success to end the ruse.
"At $10,000, Kate tried to cut it off with GoFundMe, [but] they told her that couldn't be done," Gerrow said. "She also tried to cut it off again at $100,000 because she was very concerned about the amount of money that was coming into the fund."
A spokesperson for GoFundMe, which has cooperated in the investigation and has agreed to refund money to the 14,000 people who donated to Bobbitt, countered Gerrow's claims.
"Campaign organizers are in full control of their campaigns, including their ability to turn off donations," spokesman Bobby Whithorne told ABC News late on Friday.
In fact, on the couple's GoFundMe page, McClure notes to supporters that "Johnny asked me to please stop accepting donations today. ... He asked, instead of donating to his campaign, to maybe take a second to search for another worthy cause that, for whatever reason, hasn't gotten the attention his has."
Yet, in a subsequent post, McClure acknowledged closing out the campaign, only to reopen it shortly afterward.
"For the short time that we took it down, though, it is obvious that people still want to donate to his cause... You guys continue to amaze us."
Earlier this week, GoFundMe released a statement about the case.
"While this type of behavior by an individual is extremely rare, it's unacceptable and clearly it has consequences. Committing fraud, whether it takes place on or offline is against the law. We are fully cooperating and assisting law enforcement officials to recover every dollar withdrawn by Ms. McClure and Mr. D'Amico," company officials said in a statement.
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