Friday, September 01, 2023

COUNTY TOOK FINANCIAL HIT ON SHERIFF OFFICE $786,785 EMBEZZLEMENT: Mr. Rick Norwood, Fraud Investigator Speaks Out

Thanks to Mr. Rick Norwood, fraud investigator for reading the St. Johns County Commission Shade Meeting Transcript on the case of St. Johns County v. Carr, Riggs & Ingram, involving malfeasant 1800 employee auditing firm with operations in seven states committing professional malpractice, failing to do its job to uncover embezzlement -- five years of embezzlement, of a total of $786,785 in the Sheriff's office!

Here is Mr. Norwood's report: 

Our Saint Johns County (SJC) community recently took a final financial hit for nearly a million dollars caused by prolonged fraud(s) that happened literally under the watch of both SJC inept management and their hired auditors!  Grisham, Baldacci and even Carl Hiaasen would be hard pressed to develop a more sinister plot.  SJC’S Board of Commissioners (BOC) has been hoisted by its own petard through its at best lackadaisical oversight of internal controls and fraud recognition which came back to bite their incompetent asses big time.

The net combination of unrecovered funds embezzled by Raye Brutnell, along with attorney fees, and other case related expenses put this heavy loss well over the original theft amount of a published $786,785.00 for which an ineffective  $783,000 court ordered judgment was awarded to SJC.  How in the world can a Plaintiff lose more than the original damages by trying to recover rightful due amounts by law?

In all honesty, what brings me out of my cave to write about this is my reaction to the twisted parallels between SJC’s fraud against them and SJC’s fraud against me that became apparent in my digest of content from the Shade Meeting Transcript of June 6, 2023, recapping the Brutnell case.  I still have a huge grudge against the SJC Board of Commissioners (BOC) Chairman for publicly denying that a Public Works fraud was employed against me to the tune of at least $30,000 in direct property damages that I have been asking for over a year to be paid as reparation.

How to even wade into this narrative is confusing but perhaps the best way is to first set the stage showing the stark differences between myself, a senior homeowner and the county government.  I have a college degree in accounting with fraud audit experience while the BOC chairman has no formal higher education, nor credentials to make public (mis)representation denying any basis for my claim of SJC fraud.  I have a total, current annual income to survive on from Social Security and a VA disability benefit of $21,696.60 while SJC has an annual budget of approximately $1.3 billion.  SJC has political clout, I have Ed Slavin in my corner.  These are the weapons SJC and I each have to battle fraud by negligence.

So how did the almighty SJC go upside down financially in their Brutnell case with such massive resources available to them?  And why am I guaranteed the same exact fate?

Despite my professional fraud detection abilities being superior to most SJC employees, with the possible exception of an actual Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), Thomas Filloramo, C.F.E. who works in the County Attorney’s Office, I spoke only to deaf official ears.

I had summoned Thomas multiple times to participate in my personal commissioner meetings but always to no avail, blocked, even when listed as a scheduled attendee.

In one word, it is because justice through Florida law is “vaporware” for everyone but lawyers, crooks and deviant, undeserving political players. 

Let me gloss over the initial stages of Brutnell’s slick use of an “autopen” (a modern day equivalent of a rubber signature stamp and messy inkpad) used to forge an authorizing signature on checks paid.  Brutnell’s commandeering of this equipment, with privilege, annihilated several of the most critical internal controls in existence.  But only through the prolonged ignorance of her supervisors and fellow workers who enjoyed this perfect environment for burying heads in the sand did it prevail without interruption.

So, once uncovered, Brian Haas, State Attorney for the Tenth Judicial Circuit of Florida, was brought to recuse R.J. Larizza, and snarled at Brutnell telling her that she either repay the funds or go to jail.  Brutnell paid all she had left to pay with, $8,900.00.  The court ordered a judgment against Brutnell for $783,000, and she went to jail for 7 years.  Brutnell also had over $800,000 in her Florida Retirement System (FRS) account, but according to SJC’s Attorney Volpe, the FRS told him to “go and pound sand” while moving that FRS Forfeiture of Benefits money into the FRS general coffers.

So, turning the focus and blame now onto SJC’s accounting and auditing firm, Carr, Riggs & Ingram, (CRI), the case quickly escalates into an attorney’s wet dream of billable hours and ample money to draw from for a myriad of other services.  $500,000 later, and with another $100.000 recovered through the Sheriff’s Office Insurance fund, Mr. Volpe describes the still uncollected judgment balance of about $675.000 as THE “amount in controversy”, or the damages that still need to be be won!  What horseshit!  The real amount in CONTROVERSY to the SJC residents is now $1,175,000.00 out of pocket!  And, this is where the similarity to my own case of fraud by SJC begins to rock my world too with the reality of impossible legal costs.

1.  The general rule (with few exceptions) is that attorney fees and costs are not awarded to the plaintiff even with a full courtroom victory.  In this case however, of the two consecutive contracts between SJC and CRI, the later contract did expressly allow for SJC to recover attorney fees.  But that becomes a real dicey net benefit to define because of the lower dollar amount of embezzlements during the period of the second contract, and also because of the arbitrary allocation of justified billable hours to be argued on the attorney’s clock as applicable to those specific crimes.

In my own SJC fraud case I flat out cannot recover attorney fees unless by some miracle I could file an “inverse condemnation” case by finding an attorney to take it on a contingency basis that is actually allowable for this type of fraud.  Good luck to me with only $30,000 damages at stake vs the customary millions that it takes to motivate eminent domain attorneys to do any work.

2.  ALL NEGLIGENCE CASES filed in Florida after March 24, 2023, are now subject to a Desantis, revised Comparative Negligence law, once known as “pure”.

HB 837 Revision    (This Bill also Included a Reduction of the Statute of Limitations for most negligence claims from 4 to 2 years.)

In pure form the plaintiff and defendant both split the damages award by a jury determined percentage of each others blame in the cause.  Example:  A $675,000 award is hypothetically requested.  But with SJC found to be 45% to blame and CRI 55%, that would result in a reduced award of $371,250 to SJC, without any other considerations.  No punitive damages are allowable in these cases.  As of March 24, 2023, should SJC’s filing be determined by a jury to have a comparative negligence over 50%, there will be NO award whatsoever.


In a opening display of legal maneuvering, CRI tossed out a $200,000 settlement offer that was soundly rejected by SJC.  That action brings us into the essence of the June 6, 2023 Shade Transcript where future legal alternatives and outlooks are discussed in private with Mr. Volpe, Mr. White, the SJC BOC and the attending County Attorneys.

Bottom line, trial or mediation?  Allowable damages still outstanding of $675,000.00.

Already CRI is gearing up its defense to shuffle blame onto SJC and would love to see a fickle jury assess SJC with 51%, blame.  If as a juror myself, I would not find that unreasonable given the total absence of fiscal responsibility, accountability and community resolve I’ve witnessed first hand at Public Board meetings over the last year while pitching my case to apathetic commissioners and insouciant county attorneys during my scant 3 minute patronizing, podium time slot.

1.  Materiality:  Per CRI’s logic, the total amounts embezzled are too insignificant to bother with in the overall scheme of things, even with CRI’s emphatic responsibility to have discovered the frauds.  In one viewpoint that stretch of imagination actually has merit in an arguable way.  The million dollar net loss to SJC is but 2 100ths of 1% of SJC’s annual budgetI relate to this with my case as damages to me being 138% of my total annual income to pay out attorney fees at 400-500 per hour.  Also of note, $30,000 of property damages equates to 15% of my homestead’s fair market value.

2.  Enforcement:  SJC employees had the PRIMARY responsibility for constantly following and enforcing all established internal controls in house.  Separation of duties being the giant, and mandatory breaks from sensitive tasks that place new eyes on all the data in play an essential role too, et al, .

Ultimately SJC got a $325,000 mediated settlement from CRI, but the actual associated legal costs to do so as related to Mr Volpe’s last pitch for $200.000.00 more to battle with are undefined.  Interestingly, that by using the percentage of blame formula CRI effectively admitted to 48.1% negligence.  However, I assume that had the $325k not been accepted that CRI was prepared to go to trial seeking to limit their percentage to 39% or less which may have been doable given SJC’s financial mismanagement.

So, to wrap this travesty up, the last point I would like to make, personally tormented as an unrecognized fraud victim, is that an almost overwhelming urge arises to throw all common sense to the wind and blast ahead for court with every last dime that can be liquidated from personal and real estate assets, begged, borrowed or displaced from funds informally intended for heirs.  Several Commissioners expressed a desire in the Shade Transcript to set an example for future fraudsters by going to court just on principle, AND at whatever the cost to illustrate the commitment (ie the rage).

The overwhelming disparity of SJC resources, to my own for legal employ, and the relative cost of damages have provoked me into that realm of damn the torpedoes which is tearing me up in my last few years to peacefully pursue the enjoyment of my hard earned homestead.  And there is not a thing I can do about it.  Without the “justice for all” that these political monsters swear to, hands on heart to the flag that I once served under,  all that I helped do was to give them the freedom to now ghost me, but more importantly yet, the freedom to speak my mind.

Rick Norwood, the invisible SJC victim

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