St. Augustine, FL – The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office fired its finance director on Tuesday, after it was discovered that she allegedly embezzled nearly $700,000 from the county’s operating funds and officers’ benevolent fund.
Raye Annette Brutnell, 47, had worked for the sheriff’s office since Mar. 5, 1991, according to the Historic City News.
In January of 2013, she was named as the department’s finance director, which placed her in control of the agency’s budget, accounts payable, payroll, purchasing, and other related duties, The Florida Times-Union reported.
She allegedly began embezzling from the department nine months later.
According to court documents, two employees in the budget and finance office alerted administrators about the suspected theft on Nov. 14, after they discovered Brutnell had written 63 checks to fictitious vendors over a five-year span, WJXT reported.
The cumulative amount of the checks totaled $673,422.
St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar immediately placed Brutnell on leave, and asked the Polk County Sheriff’s Office’s financial crimes division to investigate the allegations against her, The Florida Times-Union reported.
“We were able to take immediate and corrective action,” Sheriff Shoar said. “We feel confident that at the conclusion of this case, any monies taken inappropriately will be recovered.”
Investigators discovered that Brutnell made many of the checks payable to individuals whose names varied slightly from those of some of her family members.
She allegedly took $24,350 from the department’s benevolent fund, including $899 in car payments, $4,436 for her mortgage, and $3,145 to her father’s retirement community, among others.
Brutnell allegedly told Polk County investigators that she had created fraudulent vendor accounts and instructed her employees to set them up.
“She advised her employees wouldn’t question her because they assumed she was doing what she was supposed to be doing,” the warrant said, according to The Florida Times-Union. “She advised if something came up, she would claim it was per the sheriff so no one would question it.”
Brutnell said Sheriff Shoar was unaware of the offenses she was committing.
"This is a very difficult time for our agency," Sheriff Shoar told reporters on Wednesday. "It's profoundly disappointing when it's [someone] you know and love and care about."
"We had two women in this organization that worked for the suspect in this case [who] adored her, like we all did," he said. "They did the right, morally courageous thing, and they came to me."
Brutnell allegedly admitted to having stolen the funds “because of the financial strain her family is going through,” court documents read, according to The Florida Times-Union.
According to the Historic City News, Brutnell was receiving a salary of $108,885 per year when her fraudulent activities were discovered.
Her husband, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Supervisory Special Agent in charge of the Tampa Regional Operations Center Mark Brutnell, was earning an annual salary of $116,000.
Brutnell also claimed that “she did not realize the magnitude of this fraud until she was provided with the dollar amount,” the warrant read, according to WJAX.
She said she “did not realize she has a spending addiction,” investigators noted.
Investigators determined that Brutnell’s husband was unaware she was stealing from the sheriff’s office, WJAX reported.
“Of the money she embezzled, only $9,000 remains,” the warrant read, according to The Florida Times-Union.
Police believe that additional stolen funds may be discovered as the investigation continues, The St. Augustine Record reported.
“[The investigation is] in the beginning stages and additional fraud can be expected to be uncovered pending a forensic audit of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office financial records during the time the suspect, Raye Brutnell, was employed,” the affidavit read.
On Tuesday, Brutnell turned herself in at the Flagler County Jail, and currently faces 163 counts, including grand theft, fraud, and forgery, WJAX reported.
She was immediately fired from the sheriff’s office.
Brutnell was released later the same day, after posting $265,000 bail.