Authorities arrested a woman accused of posing as the wife of a firefighter battling Southern California’s massive Holy Fire in order to scam good Samaritans out of thousands of dollars in donations.
Ashley Bemis, 28, of San Juan Capistrano was jailed Tuesday on suspicion of grand theft and other crimes, according to a release from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. It’s unclear whether she has an attorney.
The Sheriff’s Department said Bemis posed on social media as the wife of a firefighter battling the August blaze that scorched the Cleveland National Forest in Orange and Riverside counties. She allegedly posted photos of herself and her fictitious husband, “Shane,” and sought donations for firefighters.
“Shane works for Cal Fire and is out on the Holy Fire right now,” Bemis wrote in a now-deleted Facebook post. ” 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 here battling the unpredictable.”
Investigators previously said Bemis had bilked people out $11,000 in cash and goods, including camping equipment, sports drinks and socks. But, according to the OC Register, officials reduced that initial estimate to $2,000 based on the number of victims who came forward.
The alleged scheme unraveled when a suspicious fire captain contacted the Sheriff’s Department after several people who claimed to have fallen victim to her past schemes warned others on Facebook to be cautious.
“She has a history of doing these types of scams,” Sheriff’s Department Lt. Mike Peters told “Inside Edition” in a September interview.
The Register reports that Bemis faked a pregnancy in 2012 in order to receive free gifts that she could sell, according to a search warrant affidavit.
Bemis appeared on the “Dr. Phil Show” in November and admitted that she did not have a firefighter husband named “Shane.” However, she claimed that she did have family members who work for the fire department and insisted her goal was to help firefighters.
“I was trying to honestly help the firefighters,” she said.
Bemis told the talk show host that she made up the fake story because she felt it would increase her chances of receiving donations.
Bemis remained in custody Wednesday at the Orange County Jail on $50,000 bail.