As of 11:10 a.m. Tuesday morning, Historic City News editor Michael Gold became aware that Raye Brutnell had surrendered to authorities at the Flagler County Jail in Bunnell. The defendant was answering a warrant for her arrest, alleging numerous crimes committed in the process of carrying out, then concealing, her theft of more than $700,000 of public funds over a period of several years.
At 7:15 p.m., a bondsman with A-A-Bail-Able Bail Bonds in Jacksonville arranged Brutnell’s release from custody in exchange for posting a $265,000.00 surety bond; insurance that she will appear for her next court hearing at a date yet to be determined. In the meantime, her attorney, the high profile attorney and director at The Bedell Firm in Jacksonville, Hank Coxe, will be preparing his case and interviewing potential defense witnesses.
By Wednesday afternoon, the sheriff, who is responsible to St Johns County taxpayers for a seemingly bottomless annual budget that grows larger and larger every year, had orchestrated a sympathetic media event in his office where he was given 27-minutes to talk his way out of responsibility for this epic failure of extraordinary financial importance. He used the occasion to begin what may be as arduous a journey for him as the prosecution of these crimes will be for his former Director of Finance.
Shoar, in his freshly starched white shirt and precisely manicured haircut, did what he has done best for the past 14-years — he posed for cameras, dazzled the reporters with plausible denials, and tap-danced around the truth like he was Fred Astaire.
You can’t investigate yourself. One lesson learned by Shoar and former “undersheriff” Joel Bolante from their botched investigation of the Michelle O’Connell homicide, is to bring in an outside agency to investigate crimes alleged to have been committed by your own employees. Although Shoar’s detectives reportedly did an initial, non-custodial interview of Brutnall and they formulated some incriminating theories, the part of this investigation that led to issuance of an arrest warrant was conducted by members of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Financial Crimes Unit. Grady Judd is a real sheriff. He had his investigators trained and prepared for the task, they got to work right away and within two days had an affidavit for the state attorney. Sheriff Judd doesn’t make any more salary than Sheriff Shoar. The only difference is that Judd is a capable, honest law enforcement officer.
The ruckus over Shoar’s failure to ethically manage public funds and conflicts of interest are wearing on the community’s patience and willingness to “forgive and forget”. Insider patronage to people like William Harriss; who, as former city manager in St Augustine and Shoar’s boss, covered for the campaigning Chief of Police on the city payroll while Shoar cloaked himself in a room and let everyone else sweat the details of his election. When Harriss finally retired, he went on the county payroll at $1,500 a month as a “consultant”.
In the case of this $700,000+ internal theft, that insiders tell Historic City News will likely reach at least a million dollars, Shoar told his media friends that he and his staff will be meeting with the independent auditors who have audited the agency in recent years in order to learn how the alleged crimes went unreported for the last five years.
Without any explanation whatsoever, to allay fears from taxpayers who have lost this three-quarters of a million dollars, Shoar would have us ignore the fact that Brutnell has about $9,000 in her bank account because “HE” says he thinks he can recover this loss. The fact that men and women who are ostensibly reporters sent to investigate a major crime against the public are willing to accept a ridiculous premise like that is unconscionable. But, Shoar says he won’t let it happen again.
Brutnell, who was still only 19-years-old and whose name, at the time, was “Raye Presby”, started work as a police dispatcher with the St Johns County Sheriff’s office on March 5, 1991, under Sheriff Neil J. Perry. She was plucked from the working staff and moved to Undersheriff Bolante’s administrator. Sheriff Perry decided he no longer wanted Carol McCullar as his administrator and wanted Raye (Tanner at the time). He gave McCullar to Bolante and made Raye Tanner his private administrative assistant. Perry was very close to the Tanner family, and Raye was married to Ben Tanner, son of Wayne K Tanner, Sr. Raye had the highest level of access to confidential information held by the leader of the department.
When Shoar took over, he commented to our editor, Michael Gold, that he didn’t fully trust Raye and she did not have the education which she later earned at Flagler College. It was Shoar’s intention to hire Becky Pomar Hesson as his confidential executive assistant. Joel Bolante, stepped in to advocate for Brutnell, but Shoar appointed her to the Director position in Finance in 2013. Those five-years, 2013-2018 will be the minimum period for the audit. Some have suggested they may have to re-examine and prove transactions even longer.
- This is a continuing story in development. Updates will continue as documents are published.