A San Juan Capistrano woman was arrested following a three-month investigation into allegations she had posed as the wife of a firefighter on the front lines of the Holy Fire to defraud people who were donating money to recovery efforts, officials said Tuesday.
Ashley Bemis, 28, allegedly posted pictures of herself alongside her fictitious firefighter husband to various social media accounts, with captions soliciting donations, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said in a news release.
Bemis collected more than $2,000, officials said. Though she claimed the funds would benefit firefighters, she allegedly kept the money for herself.
The Holy Fire broke out Aug. 6. The suspected arson blaze destroyed more than a dozen buildings and consumed over 23,000 acres across Orange and Riverside counties before it was fully contained in mid-September.
In addition to cash, Bemis collected relief items including sports drinks, water and camping equipment from individual donors as well as stores and companies, authorities said.
A local fire captain grew suspicious of Bemis’ requests and asked the Sheriff’s Department to investigate.
Detectives said they were able to uncover items intended as donations after obtaining search warrants for her home, vehicle and garages.
San Clemente police investigators believe Bemis invented a fake husband with the intention of defrauding people hoping to donate to wildfire relief. They also uncovered previous social media posts showing she had faked pregnancies in an effort to solicit donations, sheriff’s officials said.
Bemis was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of felony grand theft, second-degree burglary, witness intimidation and making false financial statements.
She was being held at the O.C. Jail on $50,000 bail.