A California woman has been accused of posing as a firefighter's wife and collecting thousands of dollars worth of donated items she claimed would benefit wildfire-battling firefighters, then using the money and donations for her own personal benefit.
Ashley Bemis, 28, has been charged with felony grand theft, second-degree burglary, witness intimidation and making false financial statements after the Orange County Sheriff's Department said she posted on Facebook and other forms of social media a photo of herself with a fictitious firefighter, who she claimed was her husband Shane.
Bemis, who has a history of other allegedly fraudulent schemes including fake pregnancies, posted a list of goods she claimed the firefighters needed to battle the blaze and asked people to donate the items or money to the cause, even providing multiple drop-off locations.
“Shane works for Cal Fire and is out on the Holy Fire right now,” she wrote in a Facebook post, according to ABC News. “I also have two other family members and many friends out on this fire and other fires burning here in California. I received a text today from Shane saying it’s pretty much a living hell out there battling the unpredictable ‘Holy Hell Fire.’"
Investigators estimate that Bemis collected more than $2,000 in donations in cash and other items such as socks, sports drinks, water and camping equipment. After a captain with a local fire agency became suspicious of the woman's efforts, he contacted the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
Investigators say they later found items she had been seeking donations for stored in her vehicle, residence and multiple garages, they said.
"San Clemente Police Services investigators suspect that Bemis created the fictitious husband with the intention of soliciting donations to defraud victims," the sheriff's office wrote.
Detectives were not able to find anyone with the name Shane Goodman employed by any fire department across the county, the Orange County Register reports.
"It's a strange case," Orange County Sheriff's Department Lt. Mike Peters told the paper. "It's one of those cases that kept growing as investigators turned over rocks. It was very complicated because of the intricacies of her fraudulent behavior."
Bemis has been implicated in a series of other allegedly fraudulent schemes to collect donated items, even appearing on an episode of "The Dr. Phil Show" in November where she was confronted by several alleged victims of her past deceptions.
A San Clemente couple told investigators they were tricked into believing Bemis was pregnant in 2012. Starla Bork even helped host a baby shower, spending several hundred dollars on the party for the supposed mom-to-be, according to an affidavit obtained by the Orange County Register. The couple would later learn Bemis allegedly just used the ruse, which included wearing a fake baby bump, to get donated items she could later sell.
"Ashley admitted to doing it and apologized," the search warrant said.
Investigators also spoke with Emily Strickland, who had hired Bemis to be a nanny for her son but later allegedly found pictures on Bemis' social media account of her son dressed as a girl. She said Bemis was portraying her son as her own daughter, named Cheyanne, the paper reports.
After hearing of Bemis' arrest, Strickland told the paper "it was about time" Bemis was put behind bars.
"I am happy she is where she belongs so that she can't victimize others and victims can get the justice they deserve," she said.
Bemis is currently being held at the Orange County Jail on $50,000 bail, the sheriff's department said.
[Photo: Orange County Sheriff's Department]
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