CONCORD, N.H. — Strafford County Sheriff Mark Brave, who has been under investigation by New Hampshire’s public integrity unit, was arrested Thursday afternoon on felony charges that he used public funds for himself and then lied about it.
Brave turned himself in to New Hampshire State Police in Epping a few hours before Attorney General John M. Formella held a press conference in Concord to announce the criminal charges.
Brave is accused of one felony count of theft by deception for stealing about $19,000 in Strafford County funds by submitting personal expenses for reimbursement with fraudulent justifications, Formella said. He also faces two felony counts of falsifying physical evidence for the paperwork he submitted and five felony counts of perjury for allegedly lying to a grand jury.
Those expenses at issue included airfare, hotel stays, and dinners during allegedly personal trips to Boston, Florida, and Maryland, where he claimed to be conducting official business but actually met with “paramours,” Formella said.
One perjury charge alleges that Brave lied to the grand jury about a trip he and a female employee took to Florida. Although the woman had previously told investigators that she and Brave didn’t share a hotel room, she admitted to the grand jury that they did, but Brave allegedly repeated her earlier story to the grand jury, Formella said.
Another charge alleges that Brave submitted reimbursement requests for his supposed attendance at events for a “fictitious law enforcement organization,” Formella said.
A third charge accuses Brave of lying to the grand jury about a trip he took to Maryland, when he was purportedly scheduled to meet with US Representative Chris Pappas. Brave testified that Pappas canceled the meeting and, as an apology, gave him a flag that had flown over the US Capitol, but records from the congressman’s office show that no such meeting was ever scheduled and no such gift was given, Formella said. Investigators allege that Brave actually used the trip to meet up with a romantic partner who lived in the area.
Brave also faces perjury charges over a dinner cruise and hotel stay in Boston. He told the grand jury that he bought the tickets in advance for himself and a male deputy to attend a charity fundraiser, but investigators concluded that he bought the tickets on the day of the event, that it was another paramour’s birthday, and that Brave spent the night with his guest for romantic and sexual purposes, Formella said.
If convicted on all counts, Brave could face a maximum sentence of 31 1/2 to 64 years, with up to $32,000 in fines, Formella said.
“The decision to charge an elected constitutional officer was not made lightly,” Formella said. “However, no person is above the law, and the evidence in this case required action.”
“It is my hope that the public will be reassured that there will be equal justice under the law for every person in this State – including public officials,” he added.
After he turned himself in, Brave wrote in a post on Facebook that he would defend himself against the charges.
“I will continue to serve the people of Strafford County to the best of my ability and will sit before a jury of my peers,” he wrote.
Brave has not responded to the Globe’s interview requests in recent months, and he could not immediately be reached Thursday afternoon for comment, but he has spoken about the investigation to other outlets, including Foster’s Daily Democrat and WMUR. He has reportedly said he believes political motivations and racial bias in Strafford County prompted the investigation — which local officials have denied.
Brave became New Hampshire’s first Black sheriff when he was elected in 2020. He was reelected in 2022, and he has vowed to run for reelection in 2024.
Brave told The Associated Press that he’s not stepping down.
“I believe this is unfair. This is just an attack on me politically,” he said. “The commissioners wanted me to step down from the get-go. I know I am not guilty of anything, and I refuse to give the commissioners what they wanted from the get-go.”
Formella said Strafford County officials reached out to his office in April with concerns about Brave’s conduct. After an initial review, his office notified Brave with a letter on June 2 that a criminal investigation had been opened. At that time, county officials asked Brave to take a leave of absence, but he declined to do so. He’s an independent constitutional officer and has continued to execute the duties of his office.
“There is a process that county officials could undertake to remove him,” Formella said Thursday, “but whether to initiate that is up to them.”
All three Strafford County commissioners — George Maglaras of Dover, Bob Watson of Rochester, and Deanna Rollo of Rollinsford — are Democrats, as is Brave. Maglaras, the commission’s chair, told the Globe that he is consulting with the county attorney to determine the commission’s options and next steps. He said he wants to review the particular bail conditions that will be imposed as the sheriff awaits trial.
Strafford County Attorney Thomas P. Velardi, who will soon join the attorney general’s office and oversee the public integrity unit, referred questions to that office. His current team in Strafford County deferred to the state on this investigation, so he hasn’t been involved, he said.
Major Steven Bourque in the Strafford County sheriff’s office referred all questions to the Strafford County commissioners and New Hampshire Department of Justice.
Brave was released by a bail commissioner Thursday on personal recognizance. He’s expected to be arraigned in the coming days. A trial date has not yet been set.
This story has been updated with additional information about the charges against the sheriff.