ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A former St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office finance director was sentenced Tuesday to more than seven years in prison for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the agency.
Circuit Judge R. Lee Smith ordered Raye Brutnell to serve that prison sentence followed by 10 years’ probation after she pleaded guilty in May to two counts of grand theft, a count of executing a scheme to defraud a financial institution and a count of criminal use of personal identification information.
As part of her sentence, Brutnell was ordered to repay approximately $783,000 to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, its benevolence fund and the Florida Sheriff’s Risk Management Fund. Until her sentence is completed, she is barred from holding a job with a fiduciary duty.
Brutnell did not speak during Tuesday’s sentencing hearing. She was led away by bailiffs after the judge handed down her sentence.
Under the terms of her plea agreement, Brutnell could have gotten a more lenient sentence had she paid back some of the restitution amount by Tuesday’s hearing. Because none of the money was repaid, she received the maximum recommended sentence.
“Prior to taking office, I made it one of my main priorities to promote transparency and proper oversight in agency finances. Since taking office, I have implemented new checks and balances to ensure this type of incident never happens again,” St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick said in a statement following the sentencing. “I agree with the outcome in this case. The men and women of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office work tirelessly every day to gain and maintain our public’s trust. Through her actions and misconduct, Ms. Brutnell violated this trust which is unacceptable and her sentence is appropriate.”
Brutnell, an employee of the Sheriff’s Office since 1991, was elevated to the role of finance director in 2013. She was fired in the wake of her 2018 arrest on a warrant charging her with embezzling more than $700,000 from the agency over a five-year span.
Brutnell became the subject of an investigation in November 2018 after two colleagues came forward, saying they found 63 checks totaling $673,422 issued to bogus vendors over a five-year span. Investigators determined Brutnell used relatives’ names to create bank accounts for fake vendors, forged signatures on checks and deposited the checks into her own account.
Brutnell, who was making nearly $100,000 at the time of her arrest, said the thefts were fueled by financial strain, according to charging documents. Some of the money paid for her father’s stay in a nursing home, while some went to her car and mortgage payments.
Attorney Randy Reep, who has no ties to the case, said Brutnell’s mistake was stealing from her employer, but what made things worse is that her employer happened to be the taxpayers of St. Johns County.
“It’s really the worst of all worlds and there wasn’t going to be a lot of tolerance for that,” Reep told News4Jax.
He said Brutnell will have to make strides following her prison sentence to pay restitution while completing probation.
“That restitution is going to be one of the things that brings down the sentence,” Reep said. “And I’m sure her lack of doing it is her lack of ability, not lack of want.”