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Woman arrested, accused of preying on fire victims

By Sara Bush
Published On: Jun 05 2013 12:31:19 AM CDT
Updated On: Jun 05 2013 04:35:35 PM CDT

Penn Estes arrested in San Bernardino County on Tuesday morning

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -

A long, nationwide search is finally over.

Investigators with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's office arrested Penn Estes on Tuesday morning in San Bernardino County.

They said Estes targeted people who had already lost just about everything in the fires.  Estes is in jail in San Bernardino County, but local officials expect to bring her to Santa Barbara later this week.

Estes is accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from homeowners.  A Web search shows Estes was the CEO of a company called Green Building America, that manufactured an eco-friendly and fire resistant building material.

When I interviewed Estes several years ago, she said she wanted to help people rebuild after the fires.  It appeared she was doing just that.  In one video posted on YouTube, Estes is seen working with clients in Santa Barbara, as they began construction on a new home.

But according to court documents, Estes is accused of taking money from some of those clients, before she disappeared.

"I spoke with one of the victims. ...He could accept a natural disaster, and he'd do what he could to move he and his family away from the terrible tragedy, but then to be victim of a because somebody preyed upon them in times of disaster was unimaginable, and to our office unacceptable," said District Attorney Joyce Dudley.

The DA's office  spent the last six months trying to track Estes down.  They found her in San Bernardino County, and arrested her on Tuesday morning.

"We're looking forward to her being brought to Santa Barbara County so there can be a trial, and justice can be served," said Dudley.

Estes is not only being charged with grand theft, she is facing additional charges for preying on victims of a disaster.

If she's convicted, Estes faces up to 21 years in prison.

News Channel 3 reached out to the San Bernardino County jail to get in touch with Estes or her attorney, but we've not yet received a response.

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