The man, Johnny Bobbitt, made headline news after he supposedly gave Kate McClure his last $20 to fill up on gas after her auto broke down on the side of the road.
The story claimed that Bobbitt, a former Marine and first responder, spent his last $20 to help McClure buy gas after her auto broke down on the I-95 exit ramp near Philadelphia. McClure said she later returned with her boyfriend, D'Amico, in tow and he took a picture of the unlikely pair. Coffina believes that the entire story was based on something Bobbit posted to his personal Facebook page in 2012, which was very similar to the story presented on the GoFundMe page. Within days the couple had vastly exceeded their goal of $10,000, eventually raising almost $403,000 from more than 14,000 people.
And they might have gotten away with it, too, Coffina said, had they not gone to court.
"She did not run out of gas on the 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 causes". "It was fictitious, illegal and there are consequences".
McClure's own mother suspected the story was fake, according to an alleged text exchange between McClure and a friend, one of more than 60,000 texts reviewed by prosecutors.
"Ok, so wait. The gas part is completely made up but the guy isn't", McClure allegedly texted.
And, it seems, people did feel bad. "So shush about the made up stuff".
"Campaigns with misuse make up less than one tenth of one percent of all campaigns", said Bobby Whitthorne, spokesperson for GoFundMe, in an email statement. The company will process all refunds in the coming days. They splurged on a BMW, spent lavishly on vacations, purchased high-end handbags and "hit the casinos".
D'Amico, 39, and McClure, 28, surrendered to authorities Wednesday night and were released. They say the couple previously met him near an underpass when visiting a casino in the area. Bobbitt's attorney, Chris Fallon, asked a judge to appoint a supervisor to manage the money in the fundraising account. Their attorney said they have no comment.
At first, the tale of a seemingly selfless gesture made by the homeless veteran - and the couple's efforts to pay him back - enthralled people reading about it online, drawing donations from more than 14,000 people and media coverage from local outlets and organizations such as CNN, The Washington Post and the BBC News.
He was certain that a book deal they were pursuing would "dwarf" the money from the GoFundMe fundraiser and a few months later, when the dispute with Bobbitt became public, D'Amico was not dissuaded, according to the prosecutor.
Coffina also noted that the story of the empty gas tank is not new to Bobbitt. Bobbitt didn't spot her in trouble and give her money.
"If I come across something that I think it's worthy then I might donate", she said.
McClure and D'Amico surrendered to officials on Wednesday night and were released pending a December 24 court date. Bobbitt is in custody in Philadelphia, with a process now underway to extradite him to New Jersey. He is awaiting an extradition hearing.
The three are now facing sentences of five to ten years.