Man broke into accused embezzler's home before her arrest, deputies say

Sheriff's Office finance director took $700K over 5 years, warrant says

By Corley Peel - Reporter

Booking photo of Jason Pierce

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office finance director accused of embezzling nearly $700,00 over five years was the victim of a break-in less than two weeks before her arrest, News4Jax has learned.

Raye Brutnell, 47, who now faces multiple felony charges of her own, reported a burglary to her St. Augustine home Nov. 10. According to a police report, the thief took jewelry, two gift cards, a computer, lawn equipment and a driver's license and prescription medication belonging to Brutnell's husband.

Jason Pierce, 48, has been charged with burglary and grand theft in the case.

Deputies said he was caught on neighborhood surveillance video driving near the house and then walking to the front door carrying a backpack and measuring wheel, “portraying a salesman or laborer.”

According to Pierce's arrest report, he admitted to prying open the French doors in the back of the home and going inside three times to steal items. He said he pawned the stolen goods in St. Augustine and Orlando or threw them out.

Deputies found Pierce's car days after the break-in with the driver's license, prescription medication and jewelry still inside, the report said. Deputies said they also found heroin.

Brutnell confirmed the stolen jewelry that was found was hers.

She was arrested herself Tuesday after being accused of embezzling from the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, where she has been employed for 27 years. 

Brutnell started as a dispatcher at age 19 and worked her way up the ranks to finance director in 2013, Sheriff David Shoar said.

Brutnell's arrest warrant reveals 63 checks were issued to bogus vendors during a five-year span.

Shoar said he enlisted Polk County deputies to investigate and not the Florida Department of Law Enforcement because Brutnell's husband is a special agent for FDLE, which creates a conflict.

The money came from the department's general and retirement fund, and a fund that was used for employee functions.

Shoar said he is now looking into new internal and external control options. He believes the stolen money will be paid back to the department.

According to real estate records, Brutnell and her husband put the house that was burglarized up for sale Monday with an asking price of $469,000.

Neighbors said they never expected Brutnell would be arrested for a financial crime and it has been a shock for the entire neighborhood.

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