Formal charges filed against ex-Sheriff's Office finance director

Special prosecutor charges Raye Brutnell with grand theft, fraud, more

By Frank Powers - Assignment manager

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - A special prosecutor investigating allegations of embezzlement against a former St. Johns County Sheriff's Office employee has filed formal charges in the case.

Raye A. Brutnell, 47, is charged with two counts each of grand theft, fraud, forgery and criminal use of personal ID. She also faces one count each of unlawful use of a two-way device, failure to properly apply charitable contributions and official misconduct. 

Brutnell, the former finance director for the Sheriff's Office, was arrested in November on a warrant accusing her of embezzling $700,000 from the agency in recent years.

Brutnell, an employee since 1991 and the agency’s finance director since 2013, was placed on leave once the investigation began. She was fired immediately after her arrest.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office is running the investigation into Brutnell and Gov. Rick Scott has assigned the case to Brian Haas, the state attorney for Florida’s 10th Judicial Circuit.

Haas filed the 11 charges against Brutnell, who is currently free on bond.

Her arraignment is set for Jan. 7.

An arrest warrant indicates two budget and finance employees came forward Nov. 14 after they uncovered 63 checks totaling $673,422 issued to bogus vendors during a five-year span.

According to her warrant, Brutnell used variations of relatives' names to create bank accounts for phony vendors, forged signatures on checks to vendors and deposited the checks into her own account.

She said she was motivated by "a financial strain on her family and that she did not realize the magnitude of this fraud until she was provided with the dollar amount," according to the warrant.

"She further stated she did not realize she had a spending addiction until earlier today when she was reviewing her bank records and noticed the amount of money she was spending," the warrant states.

Money taken from the agency's general and benevolence funds was used to pay for the cost of Brutnell's father's stay at a nursing home as well as her own car and mortgage payments.

An agency spokesperson said Brutnell was making just shy of $100,000 at the time of her arrest.

According to the warrant, Brutnell said she acted alone. She said her husband, who is a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent, had nothing to do with the scheme.

A job description listed on the agency's website says Brutnell reported directly to the sheriff. Her duties included overseeing the agency's budget, payroll, inventory, internal controls, grants and purchasing.

Brutnell is represented by Hank Coxe, a high-powered Jacksonville defense attorney who has handled several high-profile cases, including the murder trial of Cristian Fernandez.

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