Photo: Theresa and Barry Buker

An October 2017 article in the Gravenhurst Banner introduces us to a 32-year-old woman named Amy Tomassetti. Judging by the article alone, Amy is a stand-up sorta gal looking to do some good for a couple who really deserve some help of their own. Let’s check it out.

“Barry and Theresa Buker of Free Stuff 4 Daily Needs are struggling in their personal lives, especially in the past couple weeks due to Barry having a seizure and a nasty fall,” said Tomassetti, who kick-started a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for the couple in their hour of need. “They are really struggling. It could even be as bad as having to stop the ministry.”

The campaign, started Sept. 30, has a $20,000 goal.

$20,000, that’s ambitious.

“For 19 years in our community, whenever a person has needed clothing, furniture, household items, help accessing community resources or just everything, Barry and Theresa Buker have been here,” said Tomassetti, noting Free Stuff 4 Daily Needs was a non-profit program aimed at keeping people warm, dry and fed. “If you ask around town, it is hard to find someone who doesn’t know this couple.”

She said the Bukers dedicate themselves to helping those in need.

“They get up early every day, rain or shine and work a full day then donate whatever free time and resources they have helping everyone in our community,” she said. “Now they need our help.”

She noted Barry suffered his health emergency in late-September and Theresa has taken on the workload.

“They are struggling a lot financially in their personal needs and it’s time for this community to step up and try to give back,” said Tomassetti.

The Bukers founded Free Stuff 4 Daily Needs in 1999. According to Tomassetti’s now-removed GoFundMe campaign, the couple is facing a significant number of bills and in desperate need of home repairs.

Fast-forward to January, the Bukers say they never received any money from the GoFundMe account. Tomassetti claims she never got any from GoFundMe either. GoFundMe meanwhile issued this statement:

“Our team is working with law enforcement to assist in the investigation. Our platform is backed by the GoFundMe Guarantee, which means users are fully protected and we guarantee the money goes to the right place. We’ve reached out to the Bukers and we’ll ensure they receive all of the money raised on their behalf. The total amount raised was $2,595.”

At the time questions were raised about Tomassetti turning over the GoFundMe cash, she told the Gravenhurst Banner that she “asked to have all funds from the online campaign sent back to all donors” but that “she was informed she would have to pay GoFundMe around $300, the equivalent of what they would have earned in the fundraiser, in order for all the money to be returned to donors.”

As far as we are aware (based on conversations with donors who have received refunds from GoFundMe for other campaigns), the full amount is refunded to donors, not the donation amount minus any GoFundMe fees. Additionally, even if platform fees were taken out on the $2595 GoFundMe says was raised that doesn’t add up to $300.

Fast-forward once again to February 13, when Tomassetti was arrested and charged with one count of Fraud under $5,000 directly related to the GoFundMe campaign she set up for the Bukers. It’s worth noting that GoFundMe fully cooperates with law enforcement under subpoena and would have been able to confirm whether or not Tomassetti ever withdrew money from the campaign; if she had, the company would also be able to confirm to which bank account the money was withdrawn. It goes without saying that it’s pretty likely the money A) was withdrawn and B) was withdrawn directly to a bank account associated with Amy Tomassetti if police went ahead with charges.

Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the Bukers who spurred the investigation. Tomassetti herself contacted local police because the Bukers kept asking her for their money. ““Barry and I did not involve the OPP. She did; she called the OPP on Nov. 27 to have them come and tell us to stop asking her for money,” Theresa Buker told the Gravenhurst Banner.

The Bukers are awaiting police paperwork to submit to GoFundMe to make a beneficiary claim. In the meantime, Theresa says Tomassetti’s alleged actions hurt not only her own family but all charities.

“We are saddened at this turn of events. By her using our personal and ministry names to raise funds falsely, it has hurt. It has hurt more than just Barry and I. It has hurt hundreds of people, businesses, and even other humanitarian organizations throughout the region. Even other local GoFundMe campaigns have been affected with lower-than-expected fundraising results. This has hurt everyone,” she said.