A woman was charged on Friday with multiple felony counts after she allegedly masqueraded as the wife of a firefighter on the front lines of the Holy Fire to scam people into giving her donations, officials said.
San Juan Capistrano resident Ashley Bemis, 28, appeared wide-eyed with her blonde hair half up as she entered a not guilty plea during her Friday morning court appearance in Santa Ana.
Bemis was arrested Tuesday following a three-month investigation into allegations that the photos she shared to social media alongside her firefighter husband with captions soliciting donations were faked and actually just a ploy to collect money meant for recovery efforts and keep it for herself.
The suspected arson blaze took more than a month to fully contain after it broke out Aug. 6. It ultimately consumed more than 23,000 acres across Orange and Riverside counties, largely in the Cleveland National Forest, and destroyed 18 buildings.
In addition to discovering that Bemis took in more than $2,000 and items like water and camping equipment that she kept for herself, investigators uncovered evidence that she had previously faked pregnancies in an effort to get money, the Orange County Sheriff's Department said.
Her fictitious husband allegedly helped her garner donations from stores and companies as well as individuals.
She had been arrested on suspicion of felony grand theft, second-degree burglary, witness intimidation and making false financial statements.
Bemis is scheduled to return to court for a pretrial hearing on Jan. 8
Inmate records showed the defendant was being held at the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach. Officials had previously said her bail was set at $50,000.