Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Good deed gone bad

Compassion | Addiction and missing funds complicate a case of good intentions
by Rob Holmes
Posted 9/05/18, 03:59 pm

A New Jersey judge last week ordered a woman to hand over more than $400,000 she raised last year to help a homeless veteran who gave her his last $20 for gas money.

In a suit filed last week, the veteran, Johnny Bobbitt, accused Kate McClure and her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, of fraud and conspiracy, claiming they were holding the money and using it to fund an extravagant lifestyle. The couple said Bobbitt did not have a bank account and could not be trusted with the entire amount due to a drug addiction.

Last Thursday, Superior Court Judge Paula T. Dow ordered McClure, 28, and D’Amico, 35, to wire the remaining funds out of their own savings into an escrow account within 24 hours and hire a forensic accountant to review financial records within 10 days.

But the wire transfer did not happen by Friday, and on Tuesday, the The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Chris Fallon, a lawyer for Bobbitt, said the couple’s lawyers told him the money was all gone. It is unclear what happened to the funds, and the judge ordered McClure and D’Amico to appear next Monday at a deposition to explain what happened.

McClure met Bobbitt last November when she ran out of gas on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia near Bobbitt’s panhandling spot. Days later, McClure started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $10,000 for Bobbitt. Sympathy and money poured in, and more than 14,000 contributors gave about $402,000 to the cause.

In an update on the GoFundMe page in December, McClure wrote that Bobbitt had received enough money to buy a home and his dream truck, a 1999 Ford Ranger. She said a financial planner was helping Bobbitt open two investment trust accounts and a bank account to help him manage the rest of the money. All seemed well.

But last week, Bobbitt filed suit saying he believed McClure, a receptionist at the New Jersey Department of Transportation, and D’Amico, a carpenter, had spent the donations on a vacation to California, a new BMW, and gambling, according to the Inquirer.

D’Amico and Kelly maintained they did everything they could to help Bobbitt and denied using any of the money personally except for $500 D’Amico said he spent at a casino on a night he forgot to bring his casino card with him. He said he repaid the account from his own money.

Speaking last week on NBC’s Megyn Kelly Today, D’Amico said the couple was holding the remaining $150,000 of the money in their savings account, but said they could never open up a bank account for Bobbitt due to document problems. “He had no … ID, no birth certificate, nothing.”

The couple said Bobbitt blew through $25,000 in just two weeks in December, using it on drugs and past legal fees. They feared he might use it all on drugs if they gave it all to him.

“Giving him all that money, it’s never going to happen. I’ll burn it in front of him,” D’Amico said in an interview with the Inquirer last week, adding that giving an addict the money would be like “giving him a loaded gun.”

Instead of a home, Bobbitt reportedly said he wanted a camper, so they used the money to buy him a camper and SUV last year and let him live on land owned by McClure’s family. D’Amico asked Bobbitt to leave in June.

Bobbitt has been homeless again since then. He is on the street though attending a nonresidential drug treatment program, according attorney Jacqueline Promislo.

Ernest Badway, an investment fraud lawyer representing McClure and D’Amico, told Dow that they had given Bobbitt a total of $200,000 since last year, when the donations began coming in. Badway said his clients were helping Bobbitt with his money and took him to rehab. He said the couple have tried to secure a meeting to talk everything through with Bobbitt, his lawyers, and his financial advisers, but that Bobbitt wouldn’t show up.

Fallon said he has received closer to $75,000, not $200,000, from the couple. On Tuesday, he filed an application for sanctions against McClure and D’Amico, requiring they remain in New Jersey, surrender their passports, post bond, and refrain from spending any money in their bank accounts.

Meanwhile, GoFundMe said it gave Bobbitt $20,000 to help out in the interim and indicated law enforcement had gotten involved. “GoFundMe is also working with Johnny’s legal team to ensure he’s receiving support while the remaining funds are being recovered,” company spokesman Bobby Whithorne said.

Associated Press/Photo by Rich Pedroncelli Associated Press/Photo by Rich Pedroncelli Gov. Jerry Brown, surrounded by California lawmakers, signs a bail reform act into law Aug. 28.

Bye-bye bail

California became the first state to abolish cash bail last week, with Gov. Jerry Brown signing the California Bail Reform Act. Under the new law, jails will release most nonviolent offenders within 12 hours of their arrest, and local courts, instead of setting cash bail, will decide whether violent offenders are a flight risk or likely to repeat their crime. Based on that determination, offenders can be held in custody or released with GPS technology tracking their locations.

“By eliminating cash bail, we are saying that those with the least ability to pay should not be released or incarcerated solely on the basis of their wealth or poverty,” Democratic California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said. California is at the forefront of a national movement to reform the bail system. Advocates say it unfairly imprisons low-income defendants, separating them from family and jobs.

“Bail can be used properly, but it is not in fact being done so,” Craig DeRoche, senior vice president of Prison Fellowship, told WORLD Magazine’s Emily Belz earlier this year. “If you are not deemed to be a risk, bail should be a very easy and straightforward process.”

But placing the decision of whom to jail in a judge’s hands is worse than setting bail, detractors argue. The American Civil Liberties Union initially co-sponsored the bill but then withdrew support because it did not include sufficient protection against discrimination. An advocacy group called Silicon Valley De-Bug also switched from supporting to opposing the bill. “They took our rallying cry of ending money bail and used it against us to further threaten and criminalize and jail our loved ones,” the group’s co-founder, Raj Jayadev, told The Sacramento Bee.

The new law is set to take effect in October 2019. —Charissa Crotts

Associated Press/Photo by Gerald Herbert (file) Associated Press/Photo by Gerald Herbert (file) A Make It Right home in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans

Making it right, again

Residents of New Orleans plan to file suit against the Make It Right Foundation, the philanthropic creation of actor Brad Pitt. Attorney Ron Austin told WWL-TV in New Orleans that homeowners living in houses built by Pitt’s foundation have suffered health problems and made unmet requests for the builder to address structural dilapidation.

The Lower 9th Ward suffered immense damage in 2005 from Hurricane Katrina. Pitt toured the enclave two years later, noting little had changed. He committed to help rebuild the historically low-income area. The foundation started work in 2008 with an initial plan for 150 “green” houses. After 10 years, 111 have been built. The foundation touted the homes as solar-powered, storm-safe, sustainable, and affordable—with an average cost of $150,000.

Residents of the new houses said many are now falling apart, though some people, like Constance Fowler, said they were still grateful they even owned a house and credited the foundation’s grants, as well as government financing and resettlement help, for making it happen.

“Our homeowners’ well-being and privacy are some of our top priorities, and we work closely with them to address their concerns,” Make It Right said in a statement to WDSU-TV in New Orleans. After having switched out lumber in 39 homes at a cost of $12,000 per house in 2014, Austin said the foundation made promises to repair houses it built but has “failed to do so.”

This year, one eco-friendly home had to be demolished after being unoccupied for years, according to The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. The foundation paid the bill.

“Each situation is different, and we are currently coordinating the necessary follow-up with the appropriate parties to address any areas of concern,” Make It Right said. —R.H.

Youthful idealism

More than half of millennials expect to become millionaires one day, according to a survey released this summer.

TD Ameritrade asked 1,519 Americans between the ages of 21 and 37 about their expectations of wealth. Fifty-three percent said they expected to become millionaires or they already were. Seventy-three percent of males out of that group answered yes, compared to 38 percent of females. A global wealth survey by Credit Suisse showed that a mere 4.7 percent of Americans were millionaires in 2017.

Millennials are optimistic about finances despite their per capita average of $15,000 in student debt and memories of the 2007–2009 recession. A recent movement known as FIRE (financially independent, retire early) shows millennials are open to financial experimentation, exploring non-traditional ways of earning and saving money in order to pursue lifestyles that don’t involve a 9-to-5 job. They seem especially positive about the possibilities of investments and money-saving hacks. —C.C.

Polls are closing for the 2018 Hope Awards!

We’re in the final week of online voting for the 2018 Hope Awards for Effective Compassion. WORLD’s five regional finalists—Colorado Burma Roundtable Network in Denver, Colo.; Jericho Partnership in Danbury, Conn.; Jump Start in Spartanburg, S.C.; Windswept Academy in Eagle Butte, S.D.; and Aquila Rehab Center in Hanoi, Vietnam—are vying for the $10,000 grand prize. We need you to vote for the ministry that moves you the most. But hurry, voting ends Saturday. —Mickey McLean

Rob Holmes

Rob is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course. Follow Rob on Twitter @SouthernFlyer.

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