Ex-CEO Pleads Guilty In $5M Fire Fraud

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) -- The former CEO of a company that made fire-resistant building blocks has pleaded guilty to scamming nearly $5 million from people who lost their homes in two wildfires.

The Santa Barbara News-Press reports (http://bit.ly/19iQVrl) 64-year-old Penny Estes entered her plea to 28 counts on Thursday. She could face nearly 40 years in prison when she's sentenced.

Authorities say Estes attended meetings following the wildfires and talked about her company. Prosecutors said she collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in advance fees before doing any work. Some of the homes were left unfinished.

Authorities believe Estes used construction funds she collected to cover hotel stays, department store purchases and travel expenses.