Sheriff Mark Brave announced Monday night that he will go on paid leave.
By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
DOVER – The Strafford County Commissioners gave Sheriff Mark Brave until Tuesday at noon to decide if he will agree to go out on paid leave or face a petition to remove him from elected office after being charged last week with stealing $19,000 from the county.
At a special meeting Monday, the commissioners voted unanimously to offer Brave paid leave until the criminal charges against him are resolved, which could take many months or even years.
Or they will initiate a petition for removal that is rare and not yet known exactly how that will play out, according to Strafford County Attorney Tom Velardi.
Brave has proclaimed his innocence and said the charges against him are politically and racially motivated. He is the only Black county sheriff elected in New Hampshire.
Last Thursday, Attorney General John Formella held a news conference detailing alleged crimes against Brave who lives in Dover.
Brave has been charged with eight felonies as part of an ongoing investigation by the Attorney General’s Office into his alleged misuse of Strafford County credit cards. Formella accused Brave of theft, falsifying evidence and perjury.
The commissioners do not have the authority to force Brave to take paid leave, which they have offered twice already, but Brave has refused, Velardi said.
Brave being an elected official complicates the process, Velardi said.
The commissioners do have the authority to petition the 37 members of the Strafford County Delegation to remove him, but before that could happen there would be a full hearing resembling a trial, Velardi said.
And it will be decided in the coming days how the hearing would be handled and whether the vote to remove Brave would require a simple majority or two-thirds of the delegation votes to decide whether he stays or goes, Velardi said.
The petition for removal is spelled out in RSA 661:9;4, Velardi said.
The law allows a majority of the commissioners, the county attorney or a Superior Court judge to file the petition. On Monday the commissioners were unanimous in filing the petition for removal if Brave again refuses paid leave.
Because his bail order requires Brave to have no contact with many in the sheriff’s department, it would be impossible to do his job, commissioners said.
There are 37 House members who sit as the county delegation.
Still to be decided is how the hearing will be conducted and what evidence both sides can present, Velardi said.
“He has until noon tomorrow” to decide, Velardi said.
Attempts to reach Brave for comment were unsuccessful through his work Facebook page. Some of what Brave previously posted appeared to have been taken down last night.
Brave turned himself in to State Police in Epping last Thursday to be fingerprinted and photographed before Attorney General Formella announced the charges against him later in the day.
Before the post was removed from Facebook, Brave said, “I will keep you all updated, thank you to all who continue to stand with me, my family, and my office during this trying time. 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.”
Brave is charged with one count of theft by deception for stealing approximately $19,000 in Strafford County funds by submitting personal expenses for reimbursement with fraudulent justifications; two counts of falsifying physical evidence – one for submitting false reimbursement justifications, and one for altering a receipt submitted for reimbursement; and five counts of perjury for lying in his testimony before the Strafford County Grand Jury during the course of the investigation, according to a news release issued by Formella.
The affidavit alleges that Brave spent approximately $19,000 on personal expenses – including airfare, hotel stays, and dinners for personal trips to Boston, Florida, and other locations.
Brave was released on personal recognizance bail.
Brave is accused of deceiving Strafford County officials and attempting to hide the personal nature of purchases by falsifying one receipt to remove the identity of a female companion, and by submitting numerous false justifications for reimbursement. The false justifications included attending conferences and meetings that he did not attend, that did not exist, or for organizations that did not exist, Formella said.
Brave is facing up to 31½-to-64 years in prison and fines of up to $32,000 if convicted on all counts.