Homeless man helps woman, $400,000 gets donated to him, and then it all unravels

Homeless man helps woman, $400,000 gets donated to him, and then it all unravels
Posted at 3:47 AM, Aug 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-25 00:56:42-04

(RNN) – In a case illustrating the pitfalls and limitations of crowdfunded generosity, what began as a feel-good story of a homeless man helping a woman and being rewarded by strangers has devolved into a he-said-she-said in which the only certainty is the man to whom the money was donated doesn’t have it.

Johnny Bobbitt, 35, gained widespread attention last year after encountering Kate McClure.

The 27-year-old woman ran out of gas late at night and came to a stop on a New Jersey exit ramp, where Bobbitt often spent time hoping passing drivers could spare some change.

On this occasion, however, the reverse happened. Bobbitt walked to a gas station and used his last $20 to fill up a gas can and bring it back to McClure, sending her safely on her way.

She thanked him in part by setting up a GoFundMe, which raised $400,000 from thousands of donors.

“I wish I could do more for this selfless man, who went out of his way just to help me that day,” she wrote in the original posting.

Warning: Video below contains foul language

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Bobbitt had once served in the military, been engaged, and was training to be a paramedic when an opiate addiction took hold and brought his life spiraling downward.

His chance encounter with McClure, however, promised a second chance.

Their story inspired people around the world. The pair went on “Good Morning America.” Bobbitt did an interview with the BBC.

In an update, McClure assured donors that the life-changing influx of money would help Bobbitt get a new home, his dream truck and his life, in general, back on track.

She outlined how trusts would be set up on his behalf so he could “collect a small ‘salary’ each year” and have a retirement fund “which will be wisely invested by a financial planner.”

The North Carolina native wanted to “live his retirement dream of owning a piece of land and a cabin in the country.”

“This is a well thought out plan that Johnny, his lawyer and financial advisor came up with in order to give Johnny the means to acclimate back into a ‘normal life’ and also to protect him and ensure he has a bright future,” McClure wrote.

Subsequent updates indicated things were going well.

“I will never be able to put into words how I feel and all the emotions I have felt because of this experience,” Bobbitt himself wrote in one. “You made a donation for me to turn my life around and trusted me to make (the) right decisions for my future. I will not let you down.”

A new Instagram account showed him having dinner and spending Christmas with McClure and D’Amico.

“Sorry I haven’t been in touch but it’s been a crazy few months! But today has been 30 days of clean and sober for me!” he wrote in an update to the GoFundMe in April. “I’m finally starting to feel like my old self.”

Four months after that post, and a trip to New York City the trio posted happy pictures of, The Inquirer reported that Bobbitt is addicted, homeless and panhandling again.

He doesn’t have access to what’s left of the $400,000.

According to McClure and D’Amico, because he was recklessly burning through the money on drugs. According to Bobbitt, because they spent it on themselves.

The Inquirer’s reporting couldn’t establish exactly who’s telling the truth – D’Amico and McClure wouldn’t offer an accounting of the money, and lawyers are now involved on behalf of both GoFundMe and Bobbitt.

But what’s clear is that the relationship between the three serendipitous friends fell apart, and Bobbitt’s life hasn’t turned around.

McClure and D’Amico initially set Bobbitt up in a new trailer on family property in New Jersey. They got him a car, and began giving him cash.

By their account, he ran through $25,000 in less than two weeks at one point, and began stealing from them as he returned to the grips of addiction.

But, according to The Inquirer, Bobbitt denied that. He said the $25,000 mostly went to family and friends, though he admitted to what he claimed was a $15 a day drug habit.

He countered that he’s skeptical about how the couple, who work middle-class jobs as a receptionist and carpenter, paid for a new BMW and vacations around the country.

They said they paid for it with their own money.  

The paper reported D’Amico is in control of the accounts that hold the funds, and described him telling an “evolving account of his stewardship of the money.”

He was defiant.

“Giving him all that money, it’s never going to happen,” he said. “I’ll burn it in front of him.”

Bobbitt believes McClure and D’Amico simply took advantage of the situation.

“I think it might have been good intentions in the beginning, but with that amount of money, I think it became greed,” he told The Inquirer.

He’s now living under a Philadelphia bridge with his brother, Josh.

They’re both addicted to opiates.

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