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Onetime homeless veteran charged in GoFundMe scam fails to show up in court

Accused $400 GoFundMe scam participant Johnny Bobbitt stands in Burlington County Court Friday December 14, 2018. (DAVID SWANSON/Philly.com/TNS)

Johnny Bobbitt is on the lam.

Bobbitt, the formerly homeless veteran charged in a $400,000 GoFundMe scheme, failed to show up in a New Jersey court Tuesday afternoon to face charges that he violated court-ordered conditions that allowed him to be released from jail while awaiting trial.

State Superior Court Judge Mark Tarantino ordered a warrant for Bobbitt’s arrest after he was more than an hour late for his hearing in Mount Holly. Tarantino said Bobbitt has not been in contact with pretrial court officials since Dec. 17, three days after his release from the Burlington County Jail. The judge also said there is “indication” Bobbitt is again using drugs, but he did not elaborate.

Tarantino said the focus of the pretrial conditions he imposed was “to try to address his substance abuse issues. … We talked about treatment, urine tests, things of that nature. … It’s regretful he hasn’t done that.”

John Keesler, Bobbitt’s public defender, said he last spoke with his client on Friday and had expected him to appear in court Tuesday for a hearing on the violations of the conditions of his release from jail. Keesler said Bobbitt had been accepted into a diversionary drug court program and is still eligible.

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“Maybe he got caught up with public transportation. … I hope he gets here and I hope he’s safe,” Keesler said at the end of Tuesday’s court session.

With a warrant issued for his arrest, Bobbitt can now be arrested by any law enforcement officer who encounters him.

Nearly a month ago, the judge had ordered Bobbitt, 35, to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings regularly, provide the court with his address and a copy of his lease, and to comply with several other conditions before releasing him from the jail. Around that time, Bobbitt had told court officials he had been living in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood and was going to drug rehab.

Tuesday’s hearing was to address why Bobbitt had failed to provide his address, a lease agreement and why he had not checked in with pretrial court staff since mid-December.

Bobbitt and his co-conspirators, Kate McClure and Mark D’Amico, a former Florence Township couple, concocted a feel-good story in November 2017 to solicit funds from donors on the GoFundMe crowd-sourcing website, and then spent all of the money, according to Burlington County prosecutors.

The trio falsely claimed that Bobbitt had spent his last $20 to fetch gasoline for McClure, a stranger whose vehicle sputtered to a stop in October 2017 when she was driving alone on an I-95 ramp in Philadelphia near where Bobbitt was panhandling, prosecutors said. More than 14,000 donors gave nearly $403,000 to the trio when the story went viral. McClure and D’Amico said on their posting that the money would be used to get Bobbitt off the streets.

The three are charged with conspiracy, fraud and theft by deception and are awaiting trial in Mount Holly. McClure, 28, and D’Amico, 39, were released late last year after their arrest, pending trial.

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Assistant Burlington County Prosecutor Andrew McDonnell, who is handling the case, asked the judge to issue the bench warrant for Bobbitt’s arrest. Afterward, he declined further comment on the case.

Joel Bewley, the prosecutor’s spokesman, said, “We hope Mr. Bobbitt recognizes this is not going to go away and we would encourage him to come in and answer to these charges.” Bewley said the prosecutor’s office did not oppose Bobbitt’s acceptance into Drug Court.

To be accepted into Drug Court, Bobbitt would have to plead guilty to one or more charges. A judge could then order intensive drug supervision, which could be a mixture of in-patient rehabilitation and out-patient monitoring.

His Drug Court date had been set for Jan. 22. The judge would have discretion over whether Bobbitt would face a penalty for failing to meet the conditions of his release. To do that, Keesler said, Bobbitt would have to plead guilty to one or more charges and would have to get the prosecutor’s approval.

Burlington County officials were not alone in their concern about Bobbitt’s return to drug use.

At a municipal court hearing in Florence last month, where D’Amico was facing charges that he had been driving with a suspended driver’s license D’Amico told a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter that he had learned “through sources” that Bobbitt had “left the area” and likely would not appear for trial. “He’s a junkie,” D’Amico said.

The Good Samaritan tale the couple posted on the GoFundMe site spread when Bobbitt, McClure and D’Amico had appeared on various national television shows and talked about how the money was helping Bobbitt turn his life around. They told donors the funds they raised would be used to buy Bobbitt a house, but McClure and D’Amico ended up buying Bobbitt a used trailer that was parked on her grandmother’s property in Florence where they all lived.

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