BRENTWOOD, N.H. — Strafford County Sheriff Mark A. Brave, whose office was plagued by scandal for months before he placed himself on paid administrative leave, appeared in court on Thursday for an arraignment on felony charges.
Brave, who was arrested Aug. 17 and released on personal recognizance, came to Thursday’s hearing alone. He didn’t have an attorney, though he said he would hire one very soon, using proceeds from the sale of his home in Dover.
He wore a blue blazer and khakis and sat with his hands folded as a clerk read through the eight charges, which carry a total maximum potential sentence of 64 years in prison and fines of up to $32,000. The court entered a not guilty plea on Brave’s behalf.
Brave is charged with theft by deception for allegedly using $19,000 in public funds to cover personal expenses, including travel-related costs for airfare, hotel stays, and dinners, some of which he shared with romantic partners. He’s accused of misrepresenting the expenses to make them seem like they were incurred for legitimate law enforcement business.
Brave also faces two felony counts of falsifying physical evidence for allegedly submitting false spending justifications and altering a receipt that he submitted for reimbursement, and he faces five felony counts of perjury for allegedly lying to a grand jury.
Brave, who was elected in 2020 as New Hampshire’s first Black sheriff and reelected in 2022, has claimed to be the victim of a racist and politically motivated campaign to oust him from office. But other county officials, including fellow Democrats, have refuted his counterclaims as meritless.
Brave maintains his innocence, contending that the sheriff has discretion to decide what travel is appropriate for the office to conduct its business. He told the Globe after his arraignment that he looks forward to having his attorney present a thorough defense in court.
Although the sheriff took numerous trips at public expense, the excursion that caught the attention of third-party auditors was one he and an employee took to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in August 2022. Brave allegedly told the county administrator that a male deputy, Anthony McKnight, had joined him for the trip, but investigators discovered that he had flown first-class with a female executive assistant, Freezenia Veras, whose name was scrubbed from the receipt before it was submitted for reimbursement, according to prosecutors.
Brave told the Globe that he and Veras have been friends since childhood. He said he helped her get hired in spring 2022 then created a new position for her that fall. Their trip to Florida was “work-related research,” he said, to model her new role after a position that the Broward County Sheriff’s Office has. By his own account, however, the research was haphazard and cost-ineffective. Nonetheless, he said there was nothing criminal about their junket.
Brave faces a perjury charge for allegedly lying about their sleeping arrangements on the trip. Veras told the grand jury that she and Brave had shared a hotel room but not engaged in any sexual contact, while Brave allegedly told the grand jury that she had stayed elsewhere, according to prosecutors. He told the Globe that they didn’t engage in sexual activity.
Veras and McKnight, who have not responded to interview requests, are no longer employed by the sheriff’s office. Their names appear on the list of potential witnesses with whom Brave is prohibited from having contact while awaiting trial.
Brave, whose law enforcement certification has been temporarily suspended, is also prohibited from having a firearm or traveling outside New Hampshire, but he secured permission on Thursday to leave the state for the limited purpose of transporting his daughter to school-related functions. She attends a private school in Lawrence, Massachusetts, he said.
Brave referred to himself during the hearing as a single father. He has previously said that he and his wife were in the process of getting a divorce.
By the time county officials contacted the attorney general’s office in April with concerns about the sheriff’s spending and expense-reporting, Brave had allegedly maxed out two county-issued credit cards and borrowed another card from an employee, according to the affidavit.
Strafford County Administrator Raymond F. Bower said in August that he wasn’t happy about having to report his suspicions to outside law enforcement but did so because it was the right thing to do.
“I was a supporter of Sheriff Brave, both when he ran for the city council and when he ran for sheriff. … I took no pleasure in turning him in,” Bower said. “But I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t.”
County officials repeatedly urged Brave to place himself on leave while the investigation was pending, but he declined to do so until the three commissioners issued an ultimatum and threatened to initiate a process to remove him against his will. The county attorney and chief sheriff’s deputy said Brave’s leave of absence very narrowly averted an implosion in his office.
An investigation by the Globe subsequently revealed that Brave’s misrepresentations began well before he took office. While campaigning ahead of the 2020 election, he claimed to have recently completed a master’s degree in forensic psychology from Southern New Hampshire University. That wasn’t true, and he doesn’t hold a bachelor’s degree either. He also exaggerated certain elements of his law enforcement work history, including the length of time he spent working for the Maine Capitol Police in Augusta.
The court gave Brave a deadline, Oct. 11, to have his attorney file an appearance in the case.