Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Police raid home of GoFundMe couple

Compassion | An ongoing legal battle over money raised for a homeless New Jersey man reveals the pitfalls of well-intentioned giving
by Rob Holmes
Posted 9/12/18, 04:36 pm

Police last week raided the home of a New Jersey couple suspected of funding their own lifestyle with a GoFundMe campaign they set up for homeless man.

The raid is the latest in a sad saga surrounding the $402,000 Kate McClure raised online for Johnny Bobbitt, a homeless veteran who helped her last year when she ran out of gas on an interstate highway near Philadelphia.

The Burlington County, N.J., prosecutor’s office ordered the raid last Thursday on Kate McClure and her boyfriend Mark D’Amico’s Florence Township property after their lawyer revealed days earlier there was no money left from the donations, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

In late August, Bobbitt, 35, filed suit against McClure, a receptionist at the New Jersey Department of Transportation, and D’Amico, a carpenter, claiming they spent the donations raised for him as their own “personal piggy bank” to fund a California vacation, a BMW, and gambling.

On Friday, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Paula T. Dow suspended Bobbitt’s civil case against the couple while a criminal investigation proceeds.

In the house raid, police hauled off the couple’s new BMW and bags and boxes of evidence.

On Tuesday, McClure and D’Amico’s attorney, Ernest Badway, said his firm would no longer represent the couple, stating he believed “one or both of the defendants will likely be indicted.” No charges have yet been filed.

The couple has previously defended their actions, denying claims that they used the money for themselves. In an interview on NBC’s Megyn Kelly Today, they said they put the money in their personal account because Bobbitt didn’t have the right identification to open a bank account, and that when they did transfer some of the money to him, he used it for drugs.

Bobbitt’s lawyer, Christopher Fallon, said his client received a total benefit of about $75,000, some of which Bobbitt admitted to using for drugs. Fallon said Bobbitt is entering a drug addiction program.

Last Thursday, GoFundMe company spokesman Bobby Whithorne said the company will ensure Bobbitt receives the remaining balance from the fundraiser. “Johnny will be made whole,” Whithorne said. “GoFundMe’s goal has always been to ensure Johnny gets the support he deserves.” Whithorne said the company had placed $20,000 in an interim account for Bobbitt. But whether giving Bobbitt a lump sum of cash will lead to his wholeness, or further brokenness, remains to be seen. Practice has shown homelessness is often the result of deeper needs for spiritual, physical, and emotional healing, often met through long-term care, counseling, and training, not money and housing. An influx of sudden cash can be detrimental.

“Generosity has never been easier,” said Daniel Darling, vice president of communications for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Online giving has offered ordinary people new tools to raise money for important causes and has allowed the most vulnerable a platform to have their needs recognized. And yet as with any new piece of technology, online giving can be exploited by bad actors with selfish motives.”

Darling said Christians compelled to fund a cause should be both generous and discerning, “knowing that their best intentions can be exploited for evil,” adding that Christians should also be “transparent in their own online giving appeals, unwilling to engage in deceptive practices even if they have good ends.”

Associated Press/Photo by David Goldman Associated Press/Photo by David Goldman Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms

Atlanta gives ICE the cold shoulder

Federal detainees will no longer be housed in Atlanta’s city jail, according to an executive order signed last week by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

The mayor’s order ends the Atlanta City Detention Center’s relationship with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and follows a June order that prohibited taking in new detainees. Bottoms said the move demonstrates the city’s stance on “inhumane” national immigration policies. ICE must transfer five remaining detainees as soon as possible.

The jail had been receiving the detainees by agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service, which paid the city $78 per day for each person held. The fees constituted a fifth of the jail’s annual $33 million budget, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. About 205 detainees were housed in June but the number fell as ICE released, deported, or transferred them.

ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said the jail had held less than 10 percent of ICE’s detainees in Georgia.

Other U.S. cities and counties have also stopped housing ICE detainees this year. In May, Josephine County, Ore.—located in a sanctuary state—ended its contract with ICE, despite good earnings from the holding service it provided to the federal government.

In contrast, the Miami New Times reported Miami–Dade County, Fla., spent $12.5 million in taxpayer money in 2017 to maintain federal immigration detainees in its local jails. In January 2017, Mayor Carlos Gimenez reversed the city’s previous sanctuary mindset and began to comply with federal agents seeking illegal immigrants.

In a speech announcing the order in Atanta, Bottoms said federal immigration policy “intentionally inflicts misery on a vulnerable population,” adding that “civil offenses do not warrant criminal consequences, and no one should be jailed solely because they seek the American Dream.”

But Syracuse University’s TRAC report of prosecutions for July 2018 shows many detainees are charged with more than seeking a better life. For hundreds, those charges included drug abuse, fraud, importation of controlled substances, attempt and conspiracy, misuse of passport, material involving sexual exploitation of a minor, and firearms. Nearly 2,000 were charged with reentry into the country following deportation. —R.H.

A right to panhandle?

The American Civil Liberties Union sent letters to three Iowa cities last month claiming their anti-panhandling laws violate free speech.

Many U.S. cities prohibit panhandling, but critics like the ACLU claim these laws violate individuals’ First Amendment right to ask for help and unfairly criminalize the poor. The ACLU argues giving homeless people criminal records and fines they cannot pay can make it harder for them to find stable jobs and housing in the future.

The ACLU letters are part of a national wave of challenges to similar laws. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty started an initiative called Housing Not Handcuffs, designed to change policy to help the homeless.

“Punishing homeless people with fines, fees, and arrests simply for asking for help will only prolong their homelessness,” said NLCHP Executive Director Maria Foscarinis.

But others argue panhandling itself can prolong an individual’s homelessness and keep them away from sustainable solutions to their situation.

A Houston initiative called Meaningful Change—Not Spare Change, organized by local faith leaders, non-profit groups, and the business community, is trying to educate citizens on the harm that can come from giving to panhandlers, while also raising money for a network of local organizations that provide permanent housing and supportive services to homeless individuals. “If a person can manage their homelessness by panhandling,” the initiative’s site states, “that is one more day that they will be homeless, rather than getting permanent help.” —Charissa Crotts

Rob Holmes

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

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  • OldMike
    Posted: Tue, 09/18/2018 02:36 am

    Panhandling apparently is profitable enough: my wife and I have noticed a great increase in the numbers standing at intersections with their cardboard signs. 

    After volunteering this summer at a ministry that prepares lunch for the homeless, plus some other experiences, I’m coming to the conclusion that a lot of homelessness is not totally due to unfortunate circumstances. 

    I’ve talked to a number of people who simply appear to reject any idea they should work and earn their own way.  None have ever directly said it to me, but I’m pretty sure some homeless regard those of us who work every day as suckers and fools. 

    Most of us see homelessness as a tragic situation,and if we found that terrible circumstances had suddenly caused us to become homeless, we would claw and scratch our way back to “normal” lives. And indeed, that is what a lot of homeless do, and aren’t homeless for years and years.  

    Then there are others who are mentally ill or so enslaved to drugs/alcohol that they are helpless.  And they likely end up on the streets.

    But for others, and I’m beginning to think it might be as many as half of the homeless, living on the streets is just camping out, with free food, free clothes, and in some areas, free medical care.