SAN CLEMENTE (CBSLA) – A woman was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of collecting money and items she claimed would benefit firefighters battling the Holy Fire and then keeping them for herself.
Ashley Bemis, 28, of San Juan Capistrano allegedly “presented herself on social media as the wife of a firefighter working on the fire line of the August 2018 Holy Fire in Riverside and Orange counties,” according to Orange County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun.
“On multiple social media pages, Bemis posted pictures of herself and her fictitious firefighter husband asking for donations,” Braun said in a statement. “She solicited for items she claimed would benefit the firefighters working alongside her husband battling the blaze that ultimately burned more than 23,000 acres in the Cleveland National Forest and destroyed 18 structures.”
The posts led people and businesses in San Clemente to make donations and Bemis is suspected of taking more than $2,000 in cash and items such as socks, sports drinks, water and camping equipment, Braun said.
When a captain grew suspicious of Bemis’ posts, he contacted the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to check it out. Investigators interviewed donors and got search warrants for Bemis’ vehicle, home and garages, where they recovered donated items intended to help firefighters battling the Holy Fire.e
Investigators believe Bemis concocted a phony story, complete with a fictitious husband, “with the intention of soliciting donations to defraud victims,” Braun said.
The investigation also uncovered additional social media posts from members of the community of Bemis allegedly faking pregnancies in an attempt to solicit donations from unsuspecting victims.
Other Facebook posts appear to show Bemis pretending to be the birth mother of children she was caring for as a nanny, according to authorities.
Bemis was arrested and was booked on suspicion of felony grand theft, second-degree burglary, witness intimidation and making false financial statements. She is being held on $50,000 bail and is scheduled to appear Wednesday in court.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)