The national media has had a field day in the six days since the OC Register broke the news of how a 28-year-old San Clemente resident named Ashley Bemis fabricated a fake husband to swindle people out of $11 thousand worth of supplies in the wake of the Holy Fire.
The media frenzy is both good news and bad news. The good news is that OC is making national headlines. The bad news is that our most recent brew of local celebrities (with the exception of Sam Darnold who dominated the Lions in his NFL debut) have been all-out nut-cases. At least Bemis’ fraud is minor compared to the damage created by White Trash Jesus Forrest Clark–the man who allegedly started the fire in early August. Even though Bemis successfully preyed upon people’s good nature, the silver lining is that she has been caught and that victims have a chance to reclaim what they’ve lost.
It’s interesting to note that neither Bemis nor Clark appear to possess the skills necessary to pull off their intended crimes. Clark was arrested in his camouflage skivvies and giant medalion one day after the Holy Fire began. The tip that gave him away? He sent a message to the Holy Jim Fire Department stating, “This place is going to burn!” Bemis didn’t fare much better. For a person with a history of defrauding people, you’d think she’d be more careful, especially when you consider the Holy Fire made international news, and that law enforcement needed to be diligent to avoid looking inept on a world scale. Bemis didn’t make it out of the month of August before she was caught. Now, it’s only a matter of time before the District Attorney’s office presses charges in the Bemis fraud case, according to the OC Sheriffs Department.
Click here for the original White Trash Jesus story.
For those who don’t know the Bemis story, here’s the background.
Shortly after the Holy Fire began, Bemis posted a message to the San Clemente Life Facebook group which stated that she was married to a Cal Fire fireman named Shane Goodman. The post claimed that she was collecting donations because her husband and his fellow firefighters weren’t getting the supplies they needed, according to an affidavit from the OC Sheriff’s Department (OCSD). Bemis posted a list of items she needed including an air mattresses, baby wipes, candy, bottled water, clothing and cash; and asked people to deliver them to four neutral locations around San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano.
In a post that has since been deleted, Bemis wrote, “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.’”
This would be a heartfelt sentiment . . . if it were true.
OCSD caught onto Bemis’ scheme, and began investigating on August 17. They honed in on Bemis’ alleged husband Shane Goodman, and decided to look him up in a national database for fire employees.
“Not only was he not a Cal Fire firefighter, he wasn’t a firefighter at all! He wasn’t a person at all,” Carrie Braun, PIO for the OCSD told the Weekly.
As investigators began asking questions, Bemis tried to absolve herself by bringing some of the fraudulently syphoned goods to the Holy Fire temporary command center in Irvine Regional Park.
The distraction didn’t work. When investigators searched Bemis’ San Clemente residence on September 1, they found that her garage and a secondary storage unit were filled with items she’d received from the Facebook scam.
“She defrauded people through Facebook by offering to take donations from individuals to firefighters on the front line,” Braun said. “It’s clear that she’s been eliciting donations under fraudulent pretenses.”
By the time police put a stop to Bemis’ scam, she’d stolen $11 thousand worth of cash, clothing, food, and goods from good Samaritans.
San Clemente Police Services are heading the investigation into Bemis’ $11 thousand scam, but they have yet to arrest her. Braun said that the only way for authorities to know how much Bemis swindled is for victims to report their stories to the San Clemente Police Services.
Bemis has a history of defrauding her kind-hearted neighbors and selling their donations. In 2012 she feigned a pregnancy, threw a baby shower to obtain gifts which she later sold, wore a baby bump for months, and then told her neighbors that the baby was stillborn, according to investigators. Bemis later admitted to this scam.
San Clemente residents have taken to Facebook to toss their two cents about the Bemis debacle.
Sandy Clontz Sommers wrote, “She lives next door to me. Never would have thought.”
Patricia Minnich-Besio added, “So the hubs and I were walking the dogs in our neighborhood (same place as Ashley Bemis) and I see a news truck….keep walking and I see Ashley in a “disguise” run into her Ford and leave.”
Heather Moreno posted a string of messages–allegedly sent by Bemis–in which Bemis admits to defrauding people with the scam.
Moreno’s post–possibly from Bemis– reads as follows:
“There has been a lot of false info posted about me in the past two weeks on Facebook. It’s time to state some facts and set the record straight. 1. I did collect donations to help those affected by the Holy Fire. 2. I did donate everything I collected to the command center, evacuation center, and fire stations. 3. When they were full and told me they couldn’t take any more loads after the current one I was dropping off (8/15/18) I donated the rest to the Marines, Laura’s House, and the used items were donated to the Salvation Army. 4. I stopped collecting items on 8/14/18. This was posted to all social media outlets.”
The messages go on to list 35 “facts” about the donation scandal. My personal favorite fact is number 21 on the list and reads as follows. “I have never been drunk at a wedding, or a wedding rehearsal. Anyone who knows me knows I’m dead set against drinking while I’m working.” Bemis hasn’t been reached for comment.
Best comment award goes to John Spike Ivins who posted a meme of Bemis’ face with the words, “Believe in something, even if it means stealing from everyone.” Above the picture, Ivins commented, “Just donate.”
If you donated to Bemis, OCSD encourages you to reach out to them to aid in the investigation.