A California woman is facing felony fraud charges after police say she invented a “firefighter husband” who she claimed was off fighting wildfires and using the fake man to scam $11,000 in donations.
As the New York Post noted, police arrested Ashley Bemis in connection to a social media scam in which she received cash and gifts from kind-hearted strangers who wanted to lend a hand while her alleged husband was fighting dangerous wildfires. Bemis claimed she was married to a firefighter named Shane Goodman, and even went so far as to post pictures of herself with the fictitious man.
“On multiple social media pages, Bemis posted pictures of herself and her fictitious firefighter husband asking for donations,” the Orange County Sheriff’s Office 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.”
Bemis collected a host of items, including air mattresses and blankets, police say, but the popularity of the fundraiser also tipped off suspicions for one employee of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, who tried to look up the man’s name in the database but could not find him. The employee passed along the concerns to the sheriff’s department, which launched an investigation and ultimately found that Bemis was stashing the items in her car, home, and garage. It was not clear if she intended to sell the items.
As CBS Los Angeles noted, Ashley Bemis appeared to be a serial con artist who used social media to perpetrate her scams. An investigation turned up other social media posts from Bemis that showed fake pregnancies meant to solicit donations from strangers and another post in which she pretended to be the birth mother of a child she cared for as a nanny, the report noted.
PRESS RELEASE: Investigators arrested Ashley Bemis today on multiple felony counts for defrauding individuals who believed they were donating to firefighters battling the Holy Fire. Bemis is accused of collecting donations and keeping them for her personal benefit. pic.twitter.com/s4iYPIXco8— OC Sheriff, CA (@OCSheriff) December 19, 2018
Her latest scam took place during the most destructive and deadly wildfires the state had ever seen. There were a number of legitimate fundraisers to support firefighters and people who had lost their homes and businesses in the fires, and police are accusing Bemis of trying to capitalize on the good nature of people who were trying to help.
Ashley Bemis faces charges of felony grand theft, burglary, witness intimidation, and making false financial statements for the alleged scam. She is being held on $50,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in court next week.