A couple and a homeless man have been accused of conning contributors out of almost half a million dollars in a "completely made up lie".
Katelyn McClure and Mark D'Amico raised more than $400,000 (£308,000) for homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt Jr after saying he gave up his last $20 for fill up their fuel tank when they broke down.
But prosecutors say the campaign to help the homeless man was "fictitious".
Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said it formed the basis of a scam concocted to compel kind-hearted individuals to contribute to the cause.
The 'Paying it Forward' GoFundMe campaign was created on November 10, 2017.
It was created soon after D’Amico, 29, the boyfriend of Katelyn McClure, took a photograph of McClure, 28, and Johnny Bobbitt, 35, standing in front of the Girard Avenue exit ramp on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia.
The page started with a target goal of $10,000 to provide Bobbitt with rent, a reliable vehicle, and living expenses, among other things.
The heart-warming story had gained a global reaction as Bobbit, D'Amico and McClure appeared in various media outlets across the world.
Prosecutor Coffina said: "The entire campaign was predicated on a lie.
"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 'completely made up'.
"She did not run out of gas on an I-95 off-ramp, and he did not spend his last $20 to help her.
"Rather, D’Amico, McClure and Bobbitt conspired to fabricate and promote a feel-good story that would compel donors to contribute to their cause."
Detectives revealed D’Amico and McClure had known Bobbitt for at least a month prior to the date of the GoFundMe campaign’s launch, as they had become acquainted with him during their trips to a local casino.
The investigation found more than 14,000 contributors donated nearly $403,000 during the 2017 holiday season to help Bobbitt.
From November 30, 2017 through to March 26, 2018, there was $189,375.00 transferred from McClure's primary bank account into other bank accounts and cash withdrawals of $89,623.41, which totalled $278,998.41.
High Crimes unit revealed D'Amico and McClure had spent the money on:
- A BMW car
- A New Year's trip to Las Vegas
- Designer handbags
- Withdrawals amounting to $85,363
D’Amico and McClure, of Florence Township, handed themselves in on Thursday evening and were processed and released.
Bobbitt, of the Kensington section of Philadelphia, was charged on Thursday and remains incarcerated in Philadelphia pending an extradition proceeding.
GoFundMe's director of North America Communications said: "All donors who contributed to this GoFundMe campaign will receive a full refund."