The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is investigating a woman who is suspected of making up a firefighter husband to scam people into giving her thousands of dollars that she said would be donated to Cal Fire crews battling the Holy fire.
Investigators say Ashley Bemis, 28, of San Clemente, received $11,000 worth of donations in cash and gifts that included blankets, baby wipes, socks and food between Aug. 10 and Aug. 17, when officials began investigating. Bemis has not been arrested or charged.
The Sheriff’s Department is asking community members who donated gifts or money to the woman to come forward and fill out a questionnaire at the San Clemente office of the Sheriff’s Department.
“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 Orange County district attorney’s office] to hold this individual accountable for her actions,” said Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
On Aug. 10, Bemis posted on the San Clemente Life Facebook page that she would be delivering food and other items needed by her husband, whom she named as Shane Goodman, and other California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection firefighters, and she requested the public’s help, Braun said. She provided a list of suggested donations that included basic items such as socks, toothbrushes and blankets.
“Shane works for Cal Fire and is out on the Holy Fire right now,” she wrote in the post, according to the Orange County Register. “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.’”
The Facebook post has since been deleted.
Community members in the Facebook group, including one who was a Cal Fire employee, had suspicions about the woman and reported her to the Sheriff’s Department. The Cal Fire employee ran the name “Shane Goodman” in an internal database and learned that the person is not a Cal Fire employee, Braun said.
Investigators interviewed Bemis, several people who donated to her, and the owners of businesses where Bemis collected donations. “We've also collected some evidence related to past scams including some possible faked pregnancies and baby showers,” Braun said, adding that she could not say how many pregnancies the woman may have faked. Bemis appears to be well-known in the community.
“I believe she was relatively active on that particular Facebook page and it seems like she’s lived in San Clemente for a good majority of her life,” Braun said.
One Facebook user recounted his first experience with Bemis: “...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.”
That time, the community rallied around her with gifts and support, the Facebook post said.
Braun said the investigation is focused on the donations to the Holy fire at this time, because officials have more evidence for this case.