SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. (CNS) - A San Clemente woman with a history of alleged bizarre scams, including a faked pregnancy, is suspected of creating a nonexistent husband to bilk good Samaritans out of at least $11,000 in donations she claimed would help firefighters during the recent Holy Fire, it was reported.
Ashley Bemis, 28, collected cash and hundreds of items -- such as food, clothing and blankets -- in the scheme uncovered after victims began complaining on Facebook, Orange County sheriff's Lt. Mike Peters said, according to the Orange County Register.
"The scam involved the elaborate support of social media postings to add credibility to the fictitious information," he said. "It was well-planned."
There is no indication that Bemis, who on LinkedIn lists her occupation as a wedding planner at A Sweetpea Event & Celebration, has been arrested.
The investigation began Aug. 17, when sheriff's department detectives were alerted that Bemis had posted on her Facebook page and another belonging to a group named San Clemente Life that she was married to a Cal Fire firefighter named Shane Goodman and was collecting donations because her husband and his crew were not getting the supplies they needed, according to a 43-page search warrant affidavit cited by the Register.
"Shane works for Cal Fire and is out on the Holy Fire right now," she wrote in the post, which has since been deleted. "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 there battling the unpredictable ‘Holy Hell Fire'."
Bemis also posted a long list of items that Cal Fire firefighters needed, including air mattresses, socks, T-shirts, underwear, bottled water, baby wipes, ear plugs and candy, along with the addresses of four drop-off locations in San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano, the Register reported.
As the donations rolled in, those who gave items became suspicious and alerted authorities that Bemis "has a long history of fraudulently representing herself" and reselling donated items for profit, the affidavit said.
Detectives used a national database to determine no firefighter exists by the name of Shane Goodman either employed by Cal Fire or any other fire department in the United States, Orange County sheriff's Lt. Mike Peters told the Register. Furthermore, Bemis isn't married and doesn't have any children, investigators said.
In addition, Cal Fire does not seek donations from the public, Lucas Spelman, a battalion chief with the agency, told the Register. "All firefighters are taken care of 100 percent" by Cal Fire, he added.
Bemis took a few donated items to the Holy Fire command post in Irvine in an apparent attempt to make the ruse appear legitimate, Peters said. Investigators found hundreds of additional items in a garage at her residence and a "secret stash" in a second garage.