Brutnell says “not guilty” in sheriff’s department embezzlement scandal

On Wednesday November 21st, when St Johns County Sheriff David Shoar called a make-shift, 27-minute press conference in his private office, inviting reporters he felt would be sympathetic to his predicament, he talked about how his Director of Finance, Raye A. Brutnell, was a “good person”, and, when asked, he said, “From everything I know remorseful to look like, yes.  She was remorseful.”

In the documents released by Shoar from the Polk County sheriff’s investigators, the public was to believe that Brutnell admitted having embezzled as much as $700,000, or more, in public funds.  The investigators say, according to the affidavits, that Brutnell did it because of the “financial strain” her family was facing.

Arraignment was originally set after the first of the year; however, Historic City News discovered that on Monday December 17th at 4:30 p.m., Jacksonville attorney Henry M. Coxe III, on behalf of the defendant, Raye Annette Brutnell, entered a plea of “not guilty” to the offense(s) charged and waived arraignment, reserving the right to file a Motion to Dismiss the Information.  The defendant waived the right to be present at all pretrial conferences.  She remains free on bail in exchange for posting a $265,000.00 surety bond with a Jacksonville bail bondsman.

Former undersheriff Joel Bolante advocated for Brutnell to take on the Director of Financial Services position that was formerly held by local CPA Mark Simpson.  Brutnell was not qualified for the position, given her education and experience, and, she is not a CPA.  Shoar agreed to give her the job, and the $108,885.00 per year paycheck that goes with it.  However, under a private contract said to allow Simpson to transition into his own private accounting practice, Shoar would continue paying Simpson to remain and better train Brutnell for her new senior management responsibilities.  Shortly after assuming the role, Simpson has been heard to say publicly that Brutnell called him and cancelled the agreement, leaving him without income he felt he was due.

In his own inimitable style, Shoar used his “press conference” as a first attempt to “rally the wagons” as we’ve seen and reported so many times over the past 14-years.  The day after the arrest, Shoar is mansplaining to female television reporters how Raye’s husband wouldn’t have known what she was doing.  “I am 100% sure of it,” Shoar went on the record.  He backstepped and clarified that is his “personal opinion”.  His reason?  Because, he said, after 30 years of marriage, even he has no idea what his wife Laura does with money.  “I guess I should find out,” he said, condescending to the reporter.

Before Shoar knew that Brutnell was going to defend herself, he described her as, “someone I trusted my pension and my family’s savings to.”  He wanted to make sure everyone felt that he was a victim here, too.  Afterall, we know that the alleged ongoing fraud began about October 2013.  Sheriff David Shoar claims to be unaware of the $700,000 embezzlement taking place over the past five years, right under his nose.

Shoar also made a point in the interview to emphasize to reporters that he “was the first” to make himself available to the detectives to answer questions or turn over documents.  “There are no indications that there is anybody else involved,” Shoar attested, even though he admits the investigation is not over.  “We hired external auditors.  We haven’t had any comments on our last three audits,” Shoar said. 

On Monday, December 10th, Historic City News made a request for the name of the private forensic auditor retained by the sheriff along with the contract for audit.  The Sheriff’s Office has yet to respond to our inquiry or provide that information.

What do you think he’s hiding?