A San Clemente, California, woman is suspected of scamming thousands of dollars from donors by fabricating a story that she was married to a firefighter. The alleged scam collected cash and supplies intended to help those fighting a nearby wildfire.
What is she accused of?
Law enforcement began investigating 28-year-old wedding planner Ashley Bemis after being alerted by suspicious community members on the Facebook group, San Clemente Life.
On that page and her own, Bemis reportedly asked for donations saying her firefighter husband and his crew were not receiving the supplies they needed while battling an ongoing blaze.
Bemis named her husband as Shane Goodman and said in the now-deleted message: "Shane works for Cal Fire and is out on the Holy Fire right now. 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.'"
She also posted the addresses of four drop-off locations and a long list of items needed, such as socks, bottled water, and underwear.
In a search warrant affidavit obtained by the Orange County Register, investigators found evidence that Bemis "has a long history of fraudulently representing herself" and reselling gifts and donations to pocket the money.
Detectives were able to determine that Bemis is not married, and could find no firefighter named Shane Goodman in a national database.
Battalion Chief Lucas Spelman of Cal Fire told the Register that his organization doesn't even accept donations, saying, "All firefighters are taken care of 100 percent."
A search of Bemis' home uncovered an estimated $11,000 in donated items, but she has not yet been charged.
Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesperson Carrie Braun told the Los Angeles Times, "We're hoping the community will do a good job of coming forward for us so we're able to present the best case possible [to the district attorney's office] to hold this individual accountable for her actions."
Braun told the Times, "We've also collected some evidence related to past scams including some possible faked pregnancies and baby showers."
Fellow members of the San Clemente Life Facebook group have posted past experiences with Bemis on the site, with one commenting that "she faked a pregnancy by wearing graduating pregnancy suits for 9 months, claiming that her husband Shane had died of a terminal illness, and that her first 2-year-old child had died of a heart defect."
Authorities interviewed Emily Strickland as a witness, who hired Bemis to be her son's nanny in 2011. Strickland later obtained a restraining order against Bemis, who she feared might kidnap her son.
Strickland said that Bemis had posted pictures of her son dressed up as a girl on the former nanny's Facebook page, claiming the child was Bemis' daughter, Cheyanne.
Investigators were able to confirm that Bemis has no children.
Commenters also posted on Facebook that a GoFundMe account asking for donations to help victims of another fire by someone named Shane Goodman was also a scam from Bemis, but that has not been confirmed. The fund has received no donations toward its $5,000 goal.
Another post from San Clemente Life's Facebook page purported to show screenshots from Bemis' Facebook page, including a message from Ashley addressing the allegations against her in an effort to "set the record straight."