A 29-year-old woman is accused of swindling more than $60,000 from an elderly survivor of California’s deadliest fire in the state’s history.
Brenda Rose Asbury was arrested and charged with elder abuse, embezzlement, and grand theft this week, according to a police press release. Police said they began investigating Asbury in July, and she was arrested on Nov. 4 after turning herself into Butte County Sheriff’s Office.
Asbury is suspected of pilfering a total of $63,100 from an unidentified victim who supposedly is a Camp Fire survivor. The money Asbury allegedly took from the elderly person, police said, was part of an insurance settlement the 75-year-old, who lost their home, had obtained in the aftermath of the natural disaster
The nature of Asbury’s alleged scheme or how she managed to embezzle thousands from the elderly person is unknown. Law enforcement declined to provide more information.
Camp Fire was one of the deadliest and the most destructive fires on record in the state — and the deadliest in the U.S. in the past century, USA Today reported. The monstrous 2018 fire killed at least 85 people and displaced an additional 50,000 people, according to the Washington Post.
The blaze, which was ignited in Butte County, burned for 18 days and destroyed 153,336 acres, Palm Beach radio station WFTL reported.
Nov. 8 marks the one-year anniversary of the deadly wildfire.
Natural disasters, some experts said, are cash cows for fraudsters, scammers, and crooks looking to exploit destruction and tragedy for their own gain.
“They are seizing on people in their desperate moments,” Jon Gallant, a New Jersey-based private insurance fraud investigator, told Oxygen.com.
Gallant, who investigated multiple cases of insurance fraud in New York and New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2013, noted that the elderly are particularly susceptible to such financial schemes.
“Natural disasters create an opportunity for someone to commit fraud; they’re dealing with an emotional individual who has not experienced loss of this magnitude or this scale, and they’re more apt to be trusting of people because they’re more trusting in a time of need and they’re not thinking clearly," he explained.
Asbury was scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday. She’s being held on a bail of $63,100, according to a Butte County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson. If she posts bail, the spokesperson said, she must prove where the money is coming from.
Michael Erpino, Asbury’s criminal defense attorney, didn’t immediately respond to Oxygen.com’s request for comment on Thursday.
William Brewton, a Butte County Sheriff’s Office detective familiar with the case, also declined to comment until after Asbury’s arraignment on Thursday. However, the detective said it doesn’t appear Asbury has a past criminal history in Butte County.
Asbury is originally from California, according to officials.
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