Sheriff: 'Difficult' to 'comprehend' arrest of financial director

Nearly $700K vanished from St. Johns County Sheriff's Office budget over 5 years

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - A day after the arrest of his financial director, St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar says he doesn't know how his auditors overlooked nearly $700,000 that vanished from the budget over five years.

Shoar, who said the blame lands on his shoulders, entrusted his own pension and paychecks to Raye Brutnell, 47, who now faces multiple felony charges. He said Brutnell started as a dispatcher at age 19 and worked her way up the ranks to finance director in 2013.

"If the top person in your financial organization, OK, somehow acquires larceny on their heart, that's difficult to deal with or figure out or comprehend," Shoar said.

Two women who worked under Brutnell, Shoar said, detected discrepancies in her accounting. They noticed three to four mystery vendor accounts, and they had no idea who was being paid.

"There (were) addresses used on the checks that looked remarkably similar to family members' addresses that they knew because of the relationships they had with her, and there were occasions that they said, 'The sheriff said do it this way,'" Shoar said.

An arrest warrant reveals that 63 checks were issued to bogus vendors during the five year span. Shoar says he enlisted Polk County deputies to investigate and not the Florida Department of Law Enforcement because Brutnell's husband Mark is a special agent for FDLE, which creates a conflict.

"There is no indication that he (Mark) knew," Shoar said. "I've known for my wife for 35 years, and I don't know where she spends her money. Maybe I should. But I don't think Mark did for the last year he was in Tampa."

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 their house up for sale on Monday with an asking price of $469,000.

Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.