Criminal charges against three people for allegedly running a scam through the website GoFundMe are wrapping up. The case highlights the power of prosecutors and vulnerable defendants to sign plea deals that serve both of their interests and threaten to stack the cards against remaining defendants.
Charges for Three Defendants in GoFundMe Scheme
The case all started back in 2017 when a boyfriend and girlfriend allegedly conspired with a homeless man to create a scam on the altruistic website GoFundMe. She would claim that her car ran out of gas and that the homeless man gave her his last $20 for her to get home.
A GoFundMe page was set up, allegedly to help the homeless veteran. However, the three had agreed to split the donations between them. The situation drew national media attention, and the page gathered more than $400,000 from more than 14,000 donors.
Things began coming apart, though, when the homeless man sued the couple for not paying him his fair share.
Prosecutors filed a variety of theft charges against the three and then agreed to a plea deal with the homeless man to flip on the couple and provide information and testimony about what happened.
Details of the Plea Deal Highlight Prosecutorial Powers
The plea deal that was struck between the prosecutors and the homeless man involved a guilty plea to one charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering. This offense would have carried up to 20 years in jail and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
Rather than pay the fines or serve any more time in jail than what he had served before trial, though, the plea deal suspended a five-year jail term in lieu of five years of probation. However, one requirement of the probation was that the homeless man stays sober – a condition that, if broken, would lead to the suspended jail sentence being re-implemented.
All of this, of course, happened outside of the court system where judges and the co-defendants in the case had no voice. Prosecutors and defendants are given largely free-rein to negotiate plea deals that give prosecutors the evidence that they think they need to convict other defendants, while suspects can avoid some of the most difficult penalties, in return.
This ability to cut one defendant's punishments in exchange for valuable evidence is well known, but rarely fully appreciated until it is happening. Suddenly, co-defendants find themselves being sold out so someone else can avoid jail time, stacking the cards against their own case, no matter how solid it is.
An often overlooked complication is that the promises made by the co-defendant made to the prosecutors were overly ambitious, and made in a desperate attempt to get a good plea deal. Sometimes, the evidence that the prosecutors end up getting is only a fraction of what they were promised.
Criminal Defense Lawyer in Philadelphia: Joseph D. Lento
Reading the warning signs that a co-defendant is going to flip on you is something that often takes the experience of a criminal defense attorney. Reach out to Joseph D. Lento if you have been accused of a crime in the Philadelphia area. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353.