St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office sues former finance director

Lawsuit asks judge to place lien on Raye Brutnell’s property, trust over her financial assets

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office is suing a former employee suspected of embezzling more than $700,000 while she oversaw the agency’s budget and finances.

In a seven-page lawsuit filed Jan. 14, Sheriff David Shoar alleges that former finance director Raye A. Brutnell defrauded the agency by making dozens of payments totaling over $700,000 from bank accounts controlled by the Sheriff’s Office to a series of accounts created for fictitious vendors.

The suit seeks damages exceeding $15,000. The complaint further asks the court to impose a trust over Brutnell’s assets and accounts, along with a lien on her personal property, to prevent anyone from financially benefiting “as a result of Brutnell’s fraud.”

DOCUMENT: View the lawsuit

The lawsuit claims Brutnell carried out the scheme by creating bank accounts for vendors that did not exist and then submitted fabricated invoices in their names. It goes on to say that she deposited the proceeds into bank accounts controlled either by herself or her family members.

Attorney Hank Coxe, who represents Brutnell, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Brutnell, 48, faces criminal charges of grand theft, fraud, forgery, criminal use of personal identification, official misconduct, and unlawful use of a two-way communication device stemming from her November 2018 arrest, according to a search of St. Johns County court records. She is due in court on Feb. 11 for a pretrial hearing.

Even though an agency spokesperson said she was making nearly $100,000 at the time of her arrest, Brutnell told investigators she “committed the fraud because of a financial strain" on her family, according to her arrest warrant. She said she did not realize the magnitude of the fraud until confronted with the dollar amount.

Brian Haas, the state attorney for Florida’s 10th Judicial Circuit, is prosecuting the criminal case at the request of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who extended a previous executive order issued by his predecessor, then-Gov. Rick Scott.