Well, It Was Heart-Warming While It Lasted: The “Ethics Hero Epic” Turns Sour

In the November 2017 post titled, An Ethics Hero Epic: Johnny Bobbitt, Jr, Kate McClure, And Americans, Ethics Alarms told the inspiring story of how homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt gave his last dollar (twenty of them, to be accurate), to stranded motorist Kate McClure of Bordentown, New Jersey, who was driving through Philadelphia to visit a friend when her car ran out of gas in a tough section of the city. In gratitude, McClure started a GoFundMe campaign for her rescuer, writing,

I would like to get him first and last month’s rent at an apartment, a reliable vehicle, and 4-6 months worth of expenses. He is very interested in finding a job, and I believe that with a place to be able to clean up every night and get a good night’s rest, his life can get back to being normal.

When I wrote the post, her campaign had attracted donations totaling almost $380,000.

Makes you want to cry!

Not as much as this does, though…

Johnny is back living under a bridge, panhandling for change. GoFundMe is investigating whether McClure and her live-in boyfriend absconded with most of the donations, which eventually amounted to about $400,000. Johnny claims that his once grateful benefactor and friend have been spending the money that was supposed to ensure, in Kate’s memorable words, that “his life can get back to being normal.”

McClure and boyfriend Mark D’Amico insist they’ve spent half the fundraiser money on housing and other expenses for Bobbitt, but are holding on to the rest until he’ licks his opioid addiction. They told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Bobbit once blew through $25,000 cash in less than two weeks. From his home under a bridge where he huddles with with his homeless brother, Josh, 34, Bobbit has a different perspective. He told reporters that he had been  stuck there since June, when he was kicked out of a camper McClure bought him and set up in her yard. A  neighbor of the McClure and D’Amico said that Bobbitt was “an aggressive presence” who constantly asked for more money. “I just gave you money!” the neighbor recalled hearing D’Amico shout in one argument. Who would have guessed that a homeless man would have difficulty managing money?

Upon reflection, this was predictable, was it not? Homeless people are usually homeless for a reason. The tragic record of lottery winners has shown that people without money don’t usually know what to do when they get a lot of it, and large amounts can be wasted in amazingly brief periods….and most lottery winners, even the poorest, are more stable and responsible than people who live under bridges. McClure’s plan was good-hearted, but naive.

Human history also teaches that money corrupts.  It would not surprise me if Kate, perhaps persuaded by her boyfriend, decided that $400,000 was more than Bobbitt needed or deserved, and that her taking a little bit for her own needs…well, maybe a little more…OK, juuuust a bit more…was fair. She also does not have the right to withhold money from Johnny until he kicks his addiction. That wasn’t part of her GoFundMe appeal. His addiction is none of her business.

Her keeping the money, however, any of it, is fraud. Donors to that GoFundMe page weren’t giving so Kate and D’Amico could go on vacations. They gave it to reward the nice, poor homeless man, under the delusion, all too common in some parts of society (and Congress) that the only difference between poor people and wealthy people is how much money they have.

I hope this once heartwarming story somehow works out to be something other than a multi-party tragedy. My guess is, however, that Kate and her boyfriend will end up in jail, and Bobbitt will end up dead.

The only good outcome may be that substantial numbers of people may learn not to give money to GoFundMe and other on-line fundraising sites, which are breeding grounds for scams.


34 thoughts on “Well, It Was Heart-Warming While It Lasted: The “Ethics Hero Epic” Turns Sour

  1. Maybe you should read why poor people stay poor. You seem to be implying that it is their fault.


    First of all, it is incredibly expensive to be poor. If you’re poor, everything costs more. If your insurance is shitty or nonexistent, medical bills cost more. If your expenses total more than your income per month — and money is objective this way — you always wind up in the hole. You need to work, you need more jobs: in most places this means you need a car.

    But suppose your car breaks. If you buy a used beater of a car, the kind a poor person is still unlikely to be able to afford without tremendous financial upheaval, the maintenance costs and sudden breakdowns will create bills that the poor person cannot pay, especially because there are no warranties in place. If you need to lease something, either (a) you need a cosigner, or (b) you will pay two or three times per month what a wealthier person with better credit will pay. Suppose something else breaks. You’re on a budget. You can only budget so much when your expenses exceed your income, or when you just break even.

    Not if, but when, something extra goes wrong, and you have no choice but to fix it — your heater stops working, say, in the dead of winter — then it’s time to play a fun game: Which Bill Can I Pay? This game is often followed by an equally awful game of What’s Going to Collections Next? and, finally, a lightning round of How Bad’s My Credit Score Now?

    And if you have children, you know children are a money pit, and that their exigent needs are unpredictable and sometimes shockingly expensive. Why did you have a child if you were poor? Not all of us did this on purpose; not all of us had a choice in the matter; not all of us were always poor; but if they exist, they count on us to feed them, clothe them, house them, make time to be with them, to love and care for them, to give them a childhood and joy and freedom from too many adult worries. This is a difficult security blanket to provide when you’re freezing your ass off yourself.

    But the short answer to this question is that poverty begets poverty in countless insidious little ways, only a bare few of which I have highlighted above. Some of you know that I was driven by medical expenses and sudden unemployment and a run of bad luck, and then by the inadequacy of the pay I make, as a single father and an adjunct professor pushing my way back into teaching, to post. The Quora community, fortunately, is overflowing with kind people.

    But I am not the only person who has been put in such a position, and this answer is not about me except insofar as I am a member of the working poor. (I mean, it is, but…)

    Suppose that instead of a single dad whose various jobs don’t add up to the costs of survival in a state where everything, even the polluted air one breathes, is expensive, you are a single mother in Kansas, and that you receive enough child support (barely) to take care of your son of whom you have custody 6–7 days of the week every week because your ex is remarried and tends to ignore his first kid — but who also ties your hands so you can’t leave your immediate environs, however desolate the prospects for gainful employment might be. Now suppose, on top of that, you had eye surgery when you were younger to improve fading eyesight, and instead you were damn near blinded, and can no longer work in the profession for which you were trained, and at which you were very good. No one expects to walk into a doctor’s office one day and come out near-blind the next. But there it is. Now you can’t do your old job anymore.

    Imagine that, clinging to what scant employment you can find as a single mother, you find your already damaged eyesight fading toward total blindness. And there is no way out, no hope, because the cycle of poverty rolls over you ever and always, and your only concern is keeping your food on the table, gas in the car, the car itself not falling apart, etc., etc., etc. In those circumstances you might find also find yourself in straits similar to mine, and you might have fewer followers than I am fortunate enough to have. You might have to do too, eventually, when the perfect storm lined up.

    The person I’ve just described is one of the most generous, kind, decent, and funny people I know, and is someone at least 3,300 of you know too. If you’re reading this particular answer of mine on poverty, then, the “TL;DR” is simple:

    It is a vicious cycle;
    It is a condition social realities work to punish;
    It leaves good, hardworking people — not just “lazy” unemployed people, who may actually make more money on unemployment than the working poor do holding down jobs — in desperate straits, and finally willing to pawn their dignity in hopes of making ends meet;
    And the people who do that will often do it not for themselves, but for the well-being of their children, none of whose fault this ever is, even if their existence (for which no child has ever asked) is among the reasons poverty can prove inescapable.
    For that reason, people like (and me, but forget me right now, or until you’ve helped her first) need more help than the current social structure affords them.
    Asking theoretical questions about poverty on Quora is easy enough, and it can be done to elicit honest accounts of how the poor stay poor, or with the presumption that poverty is the fault of the poor person.

    But I know that the better angels of Quorans’ natures are mighty indeed. That I posted? I hope you’ll investigate it and help. I don’t have a pot to piss in and I already have.

    That’s another thing about poor people: they have little, but they give what they can, because they know what it means to hang by a string. Those who have much tend to give less, perhaps because they believe no luck was involved in where they ended up, or perhaps because they buy into myths about self-reliance and bootstrapping and rugged individualism. But I find that to bespeak one of the deepest disconnects in the current form of capitalism practiced in my country: that the greater one’s resources are, the less, oftentimes, is one’s charity. And that, I think, is to miss a central point about life in the modern world, with wealth and income inequality widening:

    The better the poor are able to manage, the safer the wealthy are. To tend to the common good is a civic virtue because it protects the entire social structure. When this goes ignored too long, bad things happen. One need only look to history to see the blades dropping, again and again, across the long centuries, especially in cultures that have failed to offer things like debt amnesties and robust provisions for those in direst need.

    • I didn’t say anything about fault at all, except perhaps implying that the simplistic idea that you can fix a poor person’s problems by just handing them money is to blame for a lot of idiotic and destructive social policies.

    • “One need only look to history to see the blades dropping, again and again, across the long centuries, especially in cultures that have failed to offer things like debt amnesties and robust provisions for those in direst need.”

      Not sure about the last part. The blades drop when unhappy people blame their problems on happy people, and they drop more frequently when power-hungry (rarely poor) socialists grease them. Income disparity isn’t always even present, and blade-droppers are not necessarily even poor. The Turks and Nazis weren’t any poorer than the Jews or Armenians. Just bitter and greedy. And I doubt Stalin or Mao killing millions was a result of not ENOUGH socialist justice. Those were the biggest and nastiest blade-drops of the last century.

      America, on the other hand, presents zero risk of debtors’ prison. It’s easy to declare bankruptcy and leave your creditors with squat. Hospitals write off patients who can’t pay. The worst consequence of collections and a wrecked credit score is that you can’t borrow huge sums of money to buy a house or a new car (and THAT consequence wears off in a few years.) In the meantime you can enjoy accessible technology, medical care, and frankly, first-world luxuries that 99% of all humans who ever lived could never have dreamed of. That’s about as good as it realistically gets, and we still have socialists telling us how much everything sucks and Venezuela is better (wait, never mind Venezuela, just kidding it’s Bolivia now. That’s the ticket.)

      Agree wholeheartedly with the bulk of it though, and yes, read the whole thing. Just hate to see capitalism impugned (the thing by which one is able to access blogs and websites, and also electricity and food.)

      • Agree with much of what you said Isaac, but…

        “America, on the other hand, presents zero risk of debtors’ prison.”

        I’d say child support laws makes the system not quite ZERO risk. There is not much, but it is greater than 0.

          • As with many things, it gets complicated on the ground. There’s no shortage of accounts where the father (and almost always the father) wants to care for the child but is forced out of the home by the mom. There are plenty too who fit the cliche of abandoning cad who cares not for any but himself. (and I say ‘fathers’ since they are usually the ones to pay child support https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/are-moms-less-likely-than-dads-to-pay-child-support/)

            Still, when child support payments are set, this number is locked in regardless of circumstances until the parent in question can go back to court to get it readjusted. Which of course poses a problem when we consider how speedy the courts are at things.

          • I believe it is a bit of both. Early in my career I was assigned as a court officer in a court which routinely heard child support default cases. There was an endless supply of excuses as to why the men -almost always they were men- had failed to pay what the court had ordered them to pay – this is, after all, more than just an agreed-upon debt. The judges were usually quick to point out the failure to provide for the needs of the children. One judge used to routinely tell men who were seriously and flagrantly in arrears, “Mr So-and-so, I hope you brought a check for $XX.XX, or your toothbrush today.” He actually had such defendants who had not prepared to pay walked directly across the street to the jail to be booked for contempt; often they used their phone call to contact someone to bring sufficient funds to catch them up on their arrearage and spring them from jail. Violators regularly spent weeks, sometimes months, in jail for non-support. Of course that was more than thirty years ago and jailing of child support violators is much rarer nowadays.

          • In theory it is failing to care for one’s child to the child’s detriment (according to state guidelines and a judge’s decision after lawyers negotiate).

            The theory very, very rarely reflects reality, where the reality is that the State acts like a vindictive cudgel to squeeze money out of a father to supplement a mother’s personal financial choices, often leaving a father in crappier living conditions to present to his own children for the few times the State deems he gets to see his children.

            • Or, in other cases, NBA players circle the country having babies with women they seldom see again, and then make the mothers chase them down for child support….or just never pay at all. I think “very rarely” is hyperbole.

              • Probably fair to say in those cases “none innocent.” The sports stars flaw is obvious, and of course it bears pointing out that the mothers are flawed as well in choosing to have a child with a person they know is transient and won’t be staying. This is where one is tempted to quote Bill Burr’s routine.

                • The problem, Nate, is that sports stars belong to multiple cultures and at least 2, probably more, see it as OK to impregnate a woman or girl, then boogie. Good luck changing that.

              • I think very very rarely is right. In most divorces, both spouses are human wrecks. So we can go ahead and toss that whole subset of the divorced population out in this consideration…no matter how much the state interferes with the resolution of those divorces, children are probably not going to be “well taken care of”.

                There’s no point discussing a situation where two non-wrecks divorce because that doesn’t happen with any statistical regularity. So, out of the small contingent of divorces where one partner is not a human wreck and the other partner is we either have a responsible mother and a wreck of a father or a responsible father and a wreck of a mother. The state is awful at determining one from the other and defaults to a somewhat bigoted conclusion that mothers are better caretakers and almost exclusively fall on the side of taking more money from the father than the mother really needs to supplement “care taking” AND fall on the side of denying the father ample in person time with the children to make even a modicum of impact in their lives.

                So of the small contingent of possibly salvageable divorce scenarios, the state is already defaulting to make worse at least 50% of them.

                I think my term “very rarely” is still closer to accurate than not.

  2. Let’s assume that McClure is being truthful in withholding the funds until Bobbitt “licks” his addiction. This would not necessarily be an unreasonable action *if* she had some formal custodial relationship over Bobbitt. If the addiction and excessive spending claims are true, I would tend to discount Babbitt’s claim McClure and her boyfriend are skimming the funds. McClure seems over her head and should perhaps turn the funds over to a probate court to decide whether to provide direct access to the funds or if appointing a formal conservator to administer the funds would be appropriate. She needs to get herself untangled from Bobbitt, so that both can hopefully “get back to normal”.

  3. I’m dead certain that the whole truth about this story hasn’t actually been presented to the media or it’s not all being presented yet so I’m not going to judge any of it.

    I’ve begun to hate GoFundMe with a passion, nothing on there will ever get a penny from me.

    • When my beloved wife died, my middle son set up a GoFundMe page for her friends and relatives to contribute to her funeral expenses. She was cremated and placed in a columbarium at Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery. I have no problems with GoFundMe.

      • It suppose it can have a purpose for those that actually personally know each other like friends and family; me, I’ll always look for another way to get funds to them.

        GoFundMe and KickStarter are both primed for abuse and both spots can easily seem to “legitimize” scams that target people that don’t think critically. In my humble opinion, GoFundMe and KickStarter are both slippery slopes that I’ll not participate in.

        That said: I actually participated in two KickStarter fund raisers because I personally knew both people and I was connected to both projects before they chose to use KickStarter. For financial reasons, this was the only way either of these people would accept the “investment” dollars I wanted to send; if they didn’t reach their financial goals they didn’t want all the hassle of running the dollars through their accounts and then having to refund people – I literally had no other option. I don’t think either one of those people will use KickStarter again. Other than those two, not a penny.

        • When I get on the Web, I’m generally there for a specific purpose. Thus, I hope you’ll pardon a slight naiveté. Do people really get on GoFundMe and/or KickStart and browse, presumably looking for ‘good causes’? If they’ve got that much money, just, just…SEND ME SOME.

          • dragin_dragon asked, “Do people really get on GoFundMe and/or KickStart and browse, presumably looking for ‘good causes’?”

            Naaaa, not that at all. These fund raisers are usually being promoted by “word of mouth” when people share them on social media. I see lots of them. How about this one for Michael Cohen; I’ve seen a bunch of my far left friends wanting others to donate because they want to financially support anyone that might be the straw that’ll break Trumps back.

  4. Fair points, but I think it’s worth noting that you can’t say that all poor people are victims of circumstance any more than you can say all poor people are lazy bums. Plus there’s plenty of overlap; one can have bad turns of fortune made worse by failure to prepare. Also, one can at least minimize the chances of ending up on the street by doing some very basic things: Stay in school. stay off drugs, stay out of debt, stay out of jail, and…stay out of your boyfriend/girlfriend’s pants until you’re ready to start a family. The last one may be the least popular, but the fact is, unless you get raped, you DO have a choice. Sex is a luxury, not a necessity of survival. Especially if you can’t afford birth control. It’s like the parable of the house on a rock foundation and the house on a sand foundation. Both get hit by waves, but one stays up while the other falls.

    Now, I’m not saying that there is some line between victims of circumstance and bums where you get to help the former but spurn the latter; we all need help in life, and even people who screw up deserve the chance to turn their life around. But we shouldn’t make it more profitable to beg or scam than to work, and we should help people strive for the dignity of supporting themselves. This requires more work than tossing money at beggars. Young people need to be educated on how to be financially responsible. We need fiscal policies that encourage job growth and manageable healthcare costs. We need responsible charities and addiction recovery programs to help people get off and stay off the streets. And yes, we also need individual people to give their time and money to these endeavors.

  5. Well, if there intent was to do good, it may have been better for the couple to have partnered with trusted people or organizations that could offer support services to the homeless man beyond him simply having the money. Once the couple realized the homeless man needed help beyond what they could offer, they, too, could have sought help in the situation and not tried to come up with a way to handle it on their own…especially one that left the man back on the streets when there seems to be other options that may not have been pursued.

  6. I’m suspicious of the major players here, but if the fundraising was for an apartment paid for, I don’t think a camper in someone’s backyard fulfills that pledge or has much dignity. Pay for the apartment longer, pay for cleanup, pay for retraining if you want, but the first promise of a clean apartment was a place to call their own… I’d probably feel ungrateful too. That go fund me would cover the apartment for five years,

    That is a good bootstrap if he wants to fix his life, but you cannot force someone to go clean. Nannying him breaks the promise of the gofundme and shows she thinks she must nanny someone who was foolish enough to give his last twenty.

    No one loves being nannied, and I wish they’d sample what they are pushing. What they push (campers) may be awful to the guy, but they are sure he should like their choice… I really wanted to petition that satanism be included in the public school prayer rotation when it was briefly a thing. (I found the prayers in another church’s style really annoying and ticked me off for hours, and thought putting something they couldn’t stand would make my point… I wasn’t quite angry anough, but it did entertain me)

  7. Something that needs to be considered about this guy not being in an apartment and living in a camper in a back yard; it’s quite possible that he is not able to rent an apartment for reasons other than financial.

    I know a few drug addicts that can’t rent an apartment even with an exorbitant deposit, one can’t even get a bank account. Most of these people are nomads jumping from one friends basement to another, shelters, living on the streets, and in and out of jail.

    Life choices have consequences and being a veteran can’t white-wash over some choices.

    • Something that needs to be considered about this guy not being in an apartment and living in a camper in a back yard; it’s quite possible that he is not able to rent an apartment for reasons other than financial.

      What would these reasons be?

      • Poor credit rating (or non-existent), no job, convicted felon, smelled bad, incoherent when he spoke. The list actually gets quite long.

        • d_d is correct.

          Set an apartment on fire cooking meth, drug house problems, constant police calls, growing pot in apartment, constant loud parties, odors emanating from apartment causing constant complaints from neighbors, regular harassment of neighbors, defecating in hallways, too many dogs and cats, unhealthy hoarder, writes lots of bad checks, registry on sex offenders list for raping minors and apartment is next to K-12 school; heck there’s literally a plethora of reasonable reasons that someone might not be able to rent any given apartment and none of them are good.

          Again, life choices have consequences and being a veteran can’t white-wash over some choices.

            • Mike, you just moved the goalposts.

              The assertion was that it is possible the person in question could not get an apartment, for any number of now enumerated reasons.

              Do you have a point here?

            • Michael Ejercito asked, “Which of these apply to the person in question?”

              Geeze Michael it was one of those out of the box thoughts and now you are basically asking someone to prove it’s one of those things. Give it a break.

              Accept the fact that there may be other reasons that this guy might not be able to rent an apartment other than financial; I don’t know for sure that there are and you don’t know for sure there aren’t. The fact is that he was living in a camper in a backyard, there is a reason he’s there instead of an apartment.

              When we know all the facts we can go toe-to-toe on this, until then let’s leave it at that and move on.

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