St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office Finance Director arrested for $700,000 fraud scheme

The Finance Director of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office has been arrested on dozens of charges in connection to a scheme that defrauded the Sheriff’s Office and associated Benevolence Fund of more than $700,000.

SJSO says 47-year-old Raye Brutnell admitted to the fraud and claimed she did it because of the “financial strain” her family was facing.

The alleged fraud dates back to October 2013. The arrest warrant affidavit says Brutnell created several fake vendor accounts and put funds deposited in to these accounts from the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, in to her personal accounts. She allegedly forged signatures and even told employees she was working at the direction of the Sheriff, if they questioned the activity. In one instance, Brutnell is accused of directly defrauding a bank, by instructing an employee to try to “remedy” an issue that surfaced when it was learned Brutnell had deposited funds in to her account, which she claimed at the time was an accident.

Investigators say the names and addresses on the vendor accounts were derivative of her family members’ names and addresses, although Brutnell told investigators she acted alone. The affidavit says one of the accounts used to be a vendor, but was not at the time of the transactions. In all, more than $700,000 is alleged to have been stolen, and the affidavit says only a few thousand dollars remain. The majority of the money is from SJSO’s General Fund- or taxpayer funded budget- although some also came from SJSO’s Benevolence Fund. That fund is used to aid retirees.

While investigators say not much of the stolen money remains, a statement from St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar says they’re confident the funds will be recovered. The affidavit says it’s likely the total amount of money stolen will rise, as their investigation in to the possibility of more fraud and a full audit of SJSO’s books moves forward.

The investigation started last week, when SJSO says two employees came forward with suspicions about some transactions. In a statement, Shoar credited those employees with “moral courage” in alerting the agency about the improper transactions.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office was called in under a mutual aid agreement to conduct an independent investigation, which has now led to these charges. SJSO says the Governor has assigned 10th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brian Haas to prosecute the case. The affidavit says they’ve recovered several documents Brutnell created to track the transactions.

She says she used the money for car and mortgage payments, her father’s nursing home, and daily spending, according to the affidavit. Brutnell allegedly told investigators she did not realize her “spending addiction” or the “magnitude of the fraud”.

Brutnell is facing 52 counts each of forging bank checks, uttering a forged bank check, and official misconduct, in addition to a charge each of grand theft, organized scheme to defraud, criminal use of personal identification, scheme to defraud a financial institution, and unlawful use of a two-way communication device. She also faces two counts of criminal use of personal identification information.

Brutnell has been with SJSO since 1991 and has served as Finance Director since January 2013. SJSO says she was placed on leave when the allegations came forward, and has since been terminated.

Shoar says corrective action has been taken, but he did not provide additional detail about that at this time. A St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson declined to give WOKV any further insight on that or what kind of review of financial controls they are conducting, citing that it’s early in the investigation. He says they will be able to speak more to that in the coming weeks, when the full scope of this crime is understood.

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