A woman was convicted on Friday of defrauding victims by soliciting and keeping donations of cash and supplies intended for firefighters during the Holy Fire. Ashley Bemis, 28, San Juan Capistrano, pleaded guilty on March 1, 2019, to one felony count of grand theft, four felony counts of second degree burglary which can be reduced to misdemeanors upon successful completion of probation, six misdemeanor counts of dissuading a witness from reporting a crime, and 24 misdemeanor counts of defrauding another by false representation. Bemis was sentenced to 177 days in county jail, three days of CalTrans, and three years of formal probation. The defendant was also ordered to pay full restitution, not post to or use any public social media, obtain approval from probation before taking a job where there is contact with kids under age 18, attend counseling, and waive privacy rights to allow the Court, Probation Department and OCDA to review counseling reports throughout her probationary period.
During the August 2018 Holy Fire in Riverside and Orange counties, Bemis presented herself as the wife of a firefighter on social media. The defendant posted pictures of herself and her fictitious firefighter husband and solicited donations she claimed would benefit firefighters. Due to her posts, Bemis collected more than $2,000 including cash, clothing, and supplies from individuals and local businesses. The defendant kept the donations for personal gain.
A captain with a local fire agency had suspicions about the validity of Bemis’ claims and contacted the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD). OCSD investigated this case and recovered items donated by citizens intended for firefighters battling the Holy Fire. OCSD discovered prior fraudulent activity by Bemis, including multiple prior faked pregnancies in an attempt to illegally obtain money from unsuspecting victims.
Bemis was arrested by OCSD on Dec. 18, 2018.
Deputy District Attorney Rahul Gupta of the Major Fraud Unit prosecuted this case.