SAN BRUNO (CBS 5/ KCBS / AP) – Four people are accused of posing as victims of a gas pipeline explosion in a San Francisco suburb in an effort to get free food and other aid, authorities said Thursday.
Niesha Taylor and Deonte Bennett, a couple from San Francisco, were arrested Tuesday at a San Bruno assistance center. Sonya Smith and Lisa Justin, who live three miles from the devastated neighborhood, were arrested later in the day.
Authorities said the four went to the assistance center and submitted false addresses of homes affected by the explosion to Department of Motor Vehicle officials.
They were seeking new drivers licenses that would make them eligible for benefits reserved for explosion victims, said Calvin Woo, a supervising investigator for the DMV.
“Some of the flags were that they couldn’t remember who their landlord was,” Woo said.
Victims of the blast are eligible for free cellular telephones, food and clothing store and supermarket gift cards, among other items.
“There are people out there that are just very bad,” Woo said. “If there’s any opportunity to take advantage of situations like this, they’ll do it.”
Smith, 44, and Justin, 42, both of San Bruno, were arraigned Thursday on five felony counts, including commercial burglary, perjury and filing false documents. Both pleaded not guilty, said San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney John Wilson.
Smith and Justin were being held on $100,000 bail. Both will be represented by an attorney who has yet to be assigned, according to Wilson.
Bennett and Taylor, both 25, have not yet been charged and are free on $25,000 bail, according to San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.
Bennett’s attorney, Joe O’Sullivan, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he believes there was a mistake and that his client would be absolved of any wrongdoing.
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