Ex-St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office finance official accused of embezzlement takes plea deal

Raye Brutnell, now 49, was arrested in 2018 on a warrant accusing her of embezzling more than $700,000 from the Sheriff’s Office over at least five years.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – A former finance director for the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office accused of stealing from the agency has pleaded guilty to multiple charges in a plea agreement with the State Attorney’s Office that could put her in jail for more than seven years, court records show.

Raye Brutnell was arrested in 2018 on a warrant accusing her of embezzling more than $700,000 from the Sheriff’s Office over at least five years. Brutnell, an employee since 1991 and the agency’s finance director since 2013, was placed on leave once the investigation began and fired immediately after her arrest.

According to the plea agreement filed last week, Brutnell entered a guilty plea for three charges including grand theft of $100,000 or more, grand theft of $20,000 or more and executing a scheme to defraud a financial institution.

Brutnell, 49, also pleaded guilty to criminal use of personal identification information, a charge that carries a three-year mandatory sentence. Six other charges were dropped, records show.

According to the terms of the deal, the recommended sentences vary based on how much she is able to repay by her sentencing date of Aug. 17, though it’s worth noting that judges have discretion over whether a plea deal is accepted.

If Brutnell can repay nearly $860,000 in restitution to the Sheriff’s Office, the benevolence fund and the Florida Sheriff’s Risk Management Fund by her sentencing date, she would face a three-year sentence followed by five years of probation, records show.

If none of the money is repaid by then, that sentence could balloon to more than seven years followed by 10 years of probation.

Brutnell also can not be employed or be engaged in any activity in which she has fiduciary duties, according to the agreement.

An arrest warrant indicated two budget and finance employees came forward 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.

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.

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