Fire relief scammer delays arraignmentBy Heather Murtagh
A San Francisco woman charged with trying to scam relief aid by posing as a San Bruno fire victim has delayed her arraignment until this afternoon, days after she failed to show up for her court date because she was already behind bars.
Niesha Marie Taylor, a 26-year-old San Francisco woman, was in that county's jail Monday when she was due to appear in San Mateo County Superior Court for initial arraignment on the charges, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. She had been stopped on a traffic violation and jailed for a warrant related to her charges here. Yesterday, attorney D.L. Rencher's request to reduce the $100,000 bail was denied.
Judge Rosemary Pfeiffer did allow for a one-day continuance for Taylor's family to decide if they could afford bail and the attorney's fee. Taylor, who remains in custody, will appear in court to enter a plea this afternoon.
Her alleged accomplice, Deonte Jerome Bennett, 25 of Oakland, remains at large. A $100,000 arrest warrant was issued for him.
Bennett, Taylor and two San Bruno residents who do not live in the neighborhood decimated by the Sept. 9 explosion and fire were arrested together for allegedly lying about their addresses to secure aid like money and goods for fire victims.
Since then, two others have also been arrested in unrelated scam cases.
Bennett, Taylor and Sonya Smith, 44 and Lisa Justin, 42, both of San Bruno, are charged with felony counts of commercial burglary, perjury, identity theft, welfare fraud and filing false documents. The four individuals allegedly went to the disaster assistance center in San Bruno and submitted applications under penalty of perjury in which they claimed to live in the disaster area.
After a representative from the Department of Motor Vehicles grew suspicious, Bennett and Taylor reportedly told police officers they had rented a room from the actual owner but couldn't identify who that person was.
While Bennett and Taylor posted bail, the other two appeared in court and prosecutors successfully had their $25,000 bail increased to $100,000. Each pleaded not guilty.
Copyright ©2010 San Mateo Daily Journal. Published 10/28/2010.