The GoFundMe Scam of the Century and the Leftist Press

Official woke narratives come in many forms.

The Walt Disney owned Hulu film company premiered a new one hour documentary on December 21, 2021 entitled “No Good Deed—A crowdfunding Holiday Heist.” The film, produced in Philadelphia by two 6ABC news reporters, explored one of the greatest scams to hit the world of GoFundMe fundraising: How three people, Mark D’Amico, Kate McClure and a homeless veteran named Johnny Bobbitt concocted a heartwarming tale to get the public to donate to a GoFundMe in Bobbitt’s honor as a reward for Bobbitt’s giving up his last twenty dollars to help McClure when she ran out of gas in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond neighborhood.

“Driving into Philly one night,” McClure said in a statement,

I made the mistake of thinking that I would be able to make it all the way down I-95 with my gas light on. Needless to say, I was wrong. I never ran out of gas before, and my heart was beating out of my chest. I pulled over as far as I could, and got out of the car to head to the nearest gas station. That’s when I met Johnny. Johnny sits on the side of the road every day, holding a sign. He saw me pull over and knew something was wrong. He told me to get back in the car and lock the doors…

Bobbitt, who just happened to have a little red gas can handy, gets fuel for McClure. The two then say their good-byes but later on McClure begins to obsess on the homeless man’s good deed. On numerous talk shows like Megan Kelly Today, long after the story went viral, McClure would explain how she and D’Amico drove back to the I-95 exit ramp to check on Bobbitt the following day. Miraculously, they found him panhandling in the same spot. As a thank you for saving McClure, they tell Bobbitt that they are setting up a GoFundMe for him with a goal of $10,000 to help get him back on his feet. 

As someone who knew Bobbitt very well -- I befriended him more than a year before the gas fable went viral, having met him when he sat with a plastic cup outside a Dollar Tree in the Port Richmond Shopping Center -- I knew that Bobbitt didn’t believe that the area around the I-95 exit was dangerous. In fact, the only danger in that area is the traffic. As for McClure and D’Amico going back and finding Bobbitt in the same spot, that was unlikely since Bobbitt’s regular station was in front of Dollar Tree. Otherwise, he was bobbing around the neighborhood like a fast moving gazelle, racing from the shopping center to his two favorite pit stops -- the public ash trays at WAWA and Rite Aid where he’d salvage cigarette butts -- before heading into Kensington near the Huntingdon Frankford Market Septa station to score heroin.

When news of Bobbitt’s $20.00 good gas deed hit the Philadelphia local news circuit, the GoFundMe donation information was published so that people could contribute. The acceleration of this ‘feel good’ story was fast and furious. Soon it was all over the world with Bobbitt’s bearded face -- a face I knew so well -- taking center stage. In multiple stories, but especially in stories about the GoFundMe in largely liberal or leftist news outlets like The Philadelphia Inquirer, there were no questions posted by any reporter on the real reason why this homeless vet was living a life on the streets.

This part of the narrative was left out or for readers to draw their own conclusions. Bobbitt, in fact, had once told me that the reason he couldn’t go back home to North Carolina (his sign at Dollar Tree read: Homeless Vet looking to go home) was because his family never told him that his “granddaddy” had died. He was also in Philadelphia because of the easy drug (heroin) market here, especially in the Kensington neighborhood which attracts users, who are usually homeless, from al over the country. 

Bobbitt denied being a heroin addict, insisting that he was hooked on Xanax (alprazolam) or some other prescription drug for anxiety and panic disorders. When I’d bring up the subject of his heroin addiction he would become quite angry. He did let it slip once that when he came to Philadelphia from North Carolina he couldn’t find a doctor to renew his Xanax prescription, so he was forced to use street drugs. He also said he came to Philadelphia to start a job but when he arrived the job was no longer available. He often talked about his ex-fiancé, a beautiful blonde, and about his EMT experiences in North Carolina and Montana.

I was aware that every one of Bobbitt’s “friends” on the street had an addiction to heroin, but that many of them lied and said they had a prescription drug problem.

When the Bobbitt GoFundMe campaign was well over the $100,000 mark, the media continued to refer to him as a homeless man who had been the victim of hard times and only wanted to get his life together. But all I could think of were the times I’d see him rushing into Kensington to buy drugs, or the times when he’d frantically knock on my door asking, begging, for a loan of ten dollars (at that time the going price for a small bag of heroin). I did not understand how reporters from the mainstream media covering the story didn’t seem to know or care that every one of Bobbitt’s friends who lived together in the small homeless encampments under I-95 near the shopping center (where the ground was littered with used needles), lived that way because they were addicts.

How could these journalists not see that Bobbitt was also a part of these encampments, and that the GoFundMe money being raised for him was being done without any stipulation that he spend 6 months to a year in rehab before getting any cash?

The addicted homeless near the shopping center slept in large construction pipes, cardboard slats or on fly and mosquito infested throw-away mattresses. Bobbitt was usually the ringleader of these small groups, mostly because of his charisma and intelligence. When he worked the Dollar Tree circuit he had women driving to his spot and offering to do his laundry, while others dropped off groceries and various “treat bags.”  Many people wanted to do more for him, and almost all of them told him. “Thank you for your service.”  

When I raised the question of Bobbitt’s drug addiction in columns in Philadelphia’s Free Press and elsewhere, I was accused of defaming Bobbitt and stereotyping homeless people as drug addicts. Even though my message was simple: Giving to this GoFundMe fundraiser is about as sensible as throwing your money into the Delaware River, the Bobbitt fundraiser by now had become a Cause Célèbre something untouchable and  scared, especially among leftist millennials. If you referred to Bobbitt as a ‘junkie’ or a ‘drug addict’ on social media, you were called out as a “heartless” Trump supporter. 

Even people who expressed doubts about the prevailing Walt Disney gas can narrative were scolded by SJW types and told that, “they are the reason why so many addicted to drugs cannot get help.” The prevailing belief was that giving Bobbitt thousands of dollars would be a good thing because it would change his life. The gullibility and stupidity of the 14,000 people who gave to Bobbitt’s GoFundMe had me thinking of the poor saps who followed Jim Jones to Jonestown and who drank the Flavor Aid at Jones’ command. 

Soon, McClure, D’Amico and Bobbitt were being chauffeured to New York City for television interviews, lunches, and book contract meetings. A photo of Bobbitt on Facebook showed him jumping in the air, announcing, “I’m an author!” At Easter time the three friends were photographed in McClure and D’Amico’s living room with Bobbitt dressed as the Easter Bunny. The GoFundMe campaign by now had reached its $400,000 peak. It was reported that Bobbitt shut it off -- no doubt the high amount was beginning to make him nervous. Appearing too greedy would also not be a good public relations move.

At the fundraiser’s height- - about the time when Bobbitt was living in a camper on McClure and D’Amico’s property -- a local source (and former friend of Bobbitt’s) told me that Bobbitt was coming into the Kensington neighborhood on a regular basis via Uber in order to score drugs, in effect using up the money donated by the 14,000 who believed that Bobbitt didn’t have a heroin problem -- because, of course, the media wasn’t writing about it. (A couple months prior, the same source revealed to me that Bobbitt had informed him that the gas can story had been made up). On my end, I’d occasionally send The Inquirer my local columns on what these sources were telling me, but I might as well have been dumping these columns down George Orwell’s Memory Hole.  Confirmation of the validity of my source’s information would come out much later on Meghan Kelly Today when D’Amico announced that he and McClure had to restrict Bobbitt’s access to the GoFundMe because he’d spent $25,000 of it on drugs. D’Amico revealed that Bobbitt had used the couple’s Uber account to travel to Aramingo Avenue to purchase heroin and other drugs.    

At this point, Bobbitt’s relationship with McClure and D’Amico had turned sour. Bobbitt had already accused the couple of mismanaging (and spending) the funds raised for him, and were lying to him about how much of the GoFundMe money remained in the account. Bobbitt’s lawyer also announced that Bobbitt was preparing for his civil law suit against McClue and D’Amico.

I did, finally, get a response from an Inquirer reporter who was just beginning to realize what I had realized long ago: that the GoFundMe was a fraud, concocted by all three to get money, and that Bobbitt had spent a large part of his share of the cash on drugs while D’Amico and McClure had stolen vast amounts for trips, cars and shopping sprees.

The reporter and I had long talks on the phone, although in the end she did not quote me in her feature story. She made no mention of the fact that we had agreed to meet after I offered to show her Bobbitt’s various hang-outs, as well as introduce her to my source who told me that Bobbitt was using the GoFundMe money to buy drugs. Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, she kept postponing her visit to the neighborhood and finally requested that I just give her my source’s phone number, which I did do. In the end, The Inquirer reporter never contacted my source. (In the Hulu film description, a special thanks is given to “the team of journalists” who worked to uncover the facts behind the GoFundMe scam, all Inquirer journalists, of course).

When the case blew up and the three culprits were exposed and charged with various crimes, the shocked corporate media went into a tailspin. Concurrently, the same progressive millennials on social media who had condemned anyone who questioned the gas can narrative were calling the revelation a tragedy and asking, “How were we fooled?”

The Inquirer and other liberal media outlets proceeded as if they’d never received any hints of the truth, but of course there were plenty of hints all along, if only they had chosen to look beneath the surface, and read stories not produced in their armchair reporters’ bubble. 

Thom Nickels is a Philadelphia-based journalist/columnist and the 2005 recipient of the AIA Lewis Mumford Award for Architectural Journalism.  He is the author of fifteen books, including Literary Philadelphia  and From Mother Divine to the Corner Swami: Religious Cults in Philadelphia. Death at Dawn: The Murder of Kimberly Ernest will be published in 2022.

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