GoFundMe case for Agawam man’s family leaves grieving daughter feeling betrayed

After Angelee Lombardo’s father died, an acquaintance offered to help her pay off bills by asking for the public’s help.

Today, she is still waiting for more than $3,000 raised last year through a GoFundMe campaign, after the woman who mounted the drive received the proceeds but did not distribute them.

GoFundMe is one of the leading crowdfunding sites, through which people can donate to fundraisers for a variety of causes, including helping with rent or school supplies or supporting a family after a death.

Lombardo, then an Agawam resident, was initially grateful that a GoFundMe drive had been started after her father, Angelo Lombardo, died last October following a battle with cancer.

A few days after his death, one of his friends and coworkers, a Hampden resident, reached out to Angelee Lombardo, 18, and asked if she’d like help in starting a GoFundMe to help pay off some of her and her father’s bills.

The GoFundMe was meant to make Angelee’s life a little easier. Instead, it caused her further stress and pain.

The woman who started the campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The Republican and MassLive are not naming her because she has not been charged with a crime.

However, the woman has been ordered by a small claims court to pay Lombardo $3,111.74.

Had doubts

The woman seemed trustworthy to Angelee since her deceased father was close with the woman’s parents and had gotten her a job in the past. The woman had even babysat Angelee when she was young. When the woman offered to run the GoFundMe, Angelee didn’t notice any red flags.

However, Wendy Lombardo, Angelee’s aunt, expressed skepticism over the woman’s intentions.

“I saw [the fundraiser] pop on Facebook and me and my other siblings talked about it to see if anyone knew who this person was who had started the GoFundMe and nobody knew who it was,” Wendy Lombardo said. “Despite the gut feeling of ‘This is not a good idea,’ I just let it go.”

Wendy Lombardo’s instincts appear to have been right. In November, the woman collected all of the money raised from the GoFundMe drive, then over $3,000, and kept it for herself, violating GoFundMe’s terms of service.

Those terms state: “You are also responsible for ensuring the funds raised are used for the purpose outlined in the Fundraiser. If you are not the Beneficiary of the Fundraiser you organize, you agree to deliver funds to the ultimate Beneficiary directly and as soon as possible.”

A spokesperson for GoFundMe said the company “has zero tolerance for the misuse of our platform and we cooperate with law enforcement investigations of those accused of wrongdoing. We have removed the fundraiser, banned the organizer from using the platform for any future fundraisers, and are working to deliver funds directly to the intended beneficiary.”

Angelee Lombardo said she was disgusted by the theft — and hurt that the woman took advantage of her dad’s memory.

“I just felt really upset that someone that was really close to my dad and someone my dad even trusted with taking care of me and babysitting me, that she would do that to me,” she said. I was more hurt by the fact that she used my dad’s name like that because I don’t want my dad to be some charity for her to get money.”

Recovery effort

Angelee Lombardo contacted the woman in December and January asking to receive the money. Both times, the woman claimed she was ill and not able to give the money at that time, but that she would as soon as possible.

In January, Wendy Lombardo attempted to contact the woman but did not receive a response. The woman then deactivated her Facebook page, blocked Angelee, Wendy, and Angelee’s mother and changed her number.

GoFundMe has a guarantee in place for victims of fraud on its website, but requires a police report to ensure the validity of the claim and to begin the reimbursement process. Angelee Lombardo went to the police, who told the family that it was a civil matter and did not fill out the police report, instead recommending that the Lombardos go to small claims court, which they did.

The woman did not show up to the Zoom hearing in court, defaulting on the case. The judge ruled in Angelee Lombardo’s favor and ordered the woman to pay $3,111.74 by May 12. Even though the Lombardos told the woman she could have until the end of July to pay, no money had been paid as of Friday.

Wendy Lombardo informed the woman that she was planning on alerting her and her husband’s places of employment of their conduct and that she was going to the police. The Hampden police said they couldn’t do anything, even though a small claims court judge ruled against the woman, since it’s still a civil matter and refused to fill out a police report, since Angelee Lombardo wasn’t a Hampden resident.

Angelee Lombardo now lives in Windsor, Connecticut. Police in that community filled out the necessary paperwork and report which the Lombardos sent to GoFundMe. They are waiting to hear back and are hoping to receive the money from GoFundMe’s guarantee.

The woman offered this week to pay Angelee Lombardo through a payment plan. Although Lombardo admits the money would be nice to finally have, she’s skeptical the woman would follow through on her promise. “I don’t trust it, I don’t have faith in it, and I really doubt that she’d pay the payment plan,” Lombardo said.

She said the situation has taken a toll on her and her family, but that her dad continues to inspire her to persevere. His obituary referred to her as “the center of his world, his Princess and Little Mermaid.”

“My dad is looking down on me and telling me, ‘I know that this situation is really messed up, but you’ve gotta keep pushing because you’re gonna get this money. … Karma will come around.’”

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