Anatomy of a scam: How a crime-fighting office became a crime victim

0

Anatomy of a scam: How a crime-fighting office became a crime victim

For more than four years, David Bruns was regularly stealing from his employer, funneling money into a house-flipping business and spending the rest on guns, hunting gear, a TV set and frequent lunches.

He hid it from other employees in the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s office where he worked, and even from his wife Julie, who is an assistant prosecutor in the office.

When he was finally caught, Bruns had stolen roughly $90,000.

Records obtained by the I-Team document how Bruns kept his crime from his crime-fighting employers — and his wife — and how he used his position to manipulate the foreclosure process to pilfer public funds.

“No system that involves money is immune from theft, as victims from private companies, both large and small, non-profits, and public entities can attest,” said Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Greg Flannagan. “However, we have added more controls and procedures to avoid any future misappropriations.”

Bruns, 48, is serving a four-month sentence in the Montgomery County Jail for theft in office and tampering with government records, both third-degree felonies.

Visiting retired Judge Linton Lewis of Perry County suspended 32 months of a 36-month sentence provided Bruns paid back the money. Bruns took nearly $40,000 out of his Ohio Employee Retirement System account to complete restitution.

The records, criminal case files obtained using Ohio open records laws, show Julie Bruns twice transferred large sums of money from the family’s bank account into an account her husband set up for Skyfall Properties LLC, a business he created in April 2015 to flip houses.

Julie Bruns, who is a second cousin of Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. and chief of the office’s juvenile division, knew nothing of the thefts, according to the records. When she asked her husband on occasion where he was getting excess money he made up an explanation, including hitting it big gambling, he told investigators.

He also convinced a family friend to loan him $20,000 in a last-minute effort to repay the stolen money, the records show.

“There were a couple times when Julie would ask, because I’d be like, I’d have some money and then say, ‘Oh, you know. I made some bet on a football game,’ in which I didn’t,” David Bruns told investigators. “That was an excuse I could say to have the money. But I wasn’t like flashing it around or anything.”

Heck: ‘I am stunned’

Bruns worked as a delinquent tax and assessment collection unit (DTAC) agent before his firing last August.

“I am stunned and appalled that one of my employees violated his responsibility to me, this office and the community, and the trust that I put in him,” Heck said in a statement at the time. “I take his transgressions very seriously and he will be prosecuted for his actions.”

Bruns’ pay was $27,140 last year, according to Montgomery County payroll data obtained by this newspaper. He was paid $40,034 in 2015, including a $4,090 longevity bonus. He was paid $36,334 in 2014, including a $1,494 bonus.

From early 2012 until August 2016, Bruns was able to steal $89,976.46.

About 15 times, he skimmed a few hundred dollars off of money people deposited in foreclosure proceedings. About three or four other times, Bruns said, he would set up Skyfall to be reimbursed $2,000 from foreclosure sale overages he wasn’t due.

Victims included numerous area residents, businesses and a church-backed community development corporation, the investigation found.

“I don’t know why I… did it,” Bruns told investigators in a 55-minute, recorded interview. “There’s no bookies, no drugs, none of that stuff.”

How he got caught

The theft that would get Bruns caught was a 2015 foreclosure against a property in Kettering owned by a South Carolina man named Mark Halliwell.

Part of Bruns’ job was to prepare court entries for assistant prosecuting attorneys who work in the DTAC unit. This gave him access to the court orders. As he was processing the foreclosure against Halliwell, he inserted his own company’s name as one of the entities owed money from the sale of the property.

The house sold at sheriff’s sale for $115,800. After taxes and fees were paid, Bruns set it up so his company received $40,116. This left the rest of the sale proceeds at $52,546, placed into an unclaimed fund owed to Halliwell.

Halliwell hired an Ohio law firm in mid-2016 to get the funds for him, and the firm reviewed the paperwork and asked the county why money was distributed to Skyfall.

The week of Aug. 8, 2016, civil division chief Mary Montgomery asked Bruns, who handled the paperwork in the case, about the distribution. He emailed her on Aug. 12, 2016, saying he had spoken to Skyfall and they said they made an error and would return the money. Montgomery said she asked Bruns who he spoke to at the company and he said he didn’t get a name.

But Bruns still had a problem: He only had about $20,000 of the stolen money remaining — far short of the $40,116 that went to Skyfall.

A confession

That Sunday, Bruns sent a series of text messages to a family friend in Centerville saying “he is in trouble, needs help, cannot go to anyone else, and he needs $15,000,” the friend told investigators.

The next day they spoke on the phone and he upped the request to $20,000, saying he would pay her back from rent proceeds from property he owns. She took out a bank loan.

On Aug. 16, 2016, they met for lunch at Dewey’s Pizza on Brown street, then went to Fifth Third Bank in Oakwood and got a cashier’s check payable from Skyfall for $40,116.

Bruns asked her to deliver it to the sheriff’s office, which she did. But later the same day, he admitted to Montgomery that he was Skyfall.

Before escorting him out of the office on suspension, investigators questioned Bruns and he confessed to stealing the $40,116.

“He stated that he created Skyfall Properties, as he had started a business in which he intended to purchase homes in foreclosure, rehabilitate them, and sell them for profit,” investigator Tom Shaw wrote.

Bruns said the lender is a family friend and neighbor who wanted to help fix the issue to save embarrassment to the family.

Hidden activity

Investigator Kerry Smoot interviewed Julie Bruns and concluded she had no knowledge of her husband’s activities, motive or what he was doing with Skyfall.

“She explained that David always wanted to flip homes,” Smoot wrote. “She was first initially reluctant but finally approved to do so.”

Her husband didn’t gamble often, Julie Bruns told Smoot, but “on occasion he would say he hit it big gambling,” Smoot’s interview notes say.

Julie Bruns has worked for Heck — a cousin of her mother — since 1994. She is currently chief of the office’s juvenile division and was paid $101,674 last year, including a $12,900 longevity bonus. 

On April 8, 2015, Bruns and attorney Michael Miller Incorporated Skyfall Properties LLC, intended to help Bruns buy, fix and flip homes under foreclosure.

Montgomery County Auditor’s office records show that in June 2015, Skyfall purchased a 1,080-square-foot home in Huber Heights at 5232 Fishburg Road. The company’s listed mailing address in property records is Miller’s law firm.

County recorder’s records show the home was sold at sheriff’s sale to Skyfall for $12,000. The home is appraised for tax purposes at $57,630.

Contacted for comment, Miller said he was contacted by Bruns to incorporate the business with the state but that he had no involvement in running Skyfall and no knowledge of its activities. If mail came for Skyfall, he would give it to Bruns as he did for all clients he had such an arrangement with.

“He came to me and asked that I form an LLC,” Miller said. “That is the extent of all I know.”

According to the investigation, Miller said a signature with his name on it was not his and presented investigators with his own signature. When asked about a possible forgery charge, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, who was brought in to prosecute the Bruns case, said that activity was handled by the tampering with records count.

O’Brien said Bruns won’t lose the house.

“The house would still belong to him,” O”Brien said the day Bruns was sentenced. “As far as our investigation showed, no proceeds from the thefts were used to buy the house.”

On two occasions, Julie Bruns told Smoot she transferred money from the family’s bank into the Skyfall account to help fund the remodeling for the house. Work stopped, she said, when mold was found.

‘It’s probably spent’

In one exchange with a prosecutor’s office investigator, David Bruns was asked where he kept the money.

Bruns responded, “In my pocket … no.”

The investigator said, “You’ve got big pockets.”

Bruns responded: “I have a little safe downstairs.”

As for what he spent the money on, Bruns estimated $9,000 on six guns, about $1,000 on hunting gear, $500 to sponsor a team in a golf scramble, $2,000 on a television, and so on.

“It’s probably spent,” he said of the rest, adding that he often went out to lunch.

He said he also spent $1,600 as a class trip sponsor — not for his children, but for five other kids.

“Unfortunately,” Bruns said, his voice cracking. “That’s probably about the only good thing that’s going to come out of this.”

MORE FROM THE I-TEAM:

TIMELINE

July 2009: David Bruns hired at Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office.

Feb. 29, 2012: First suspected theft of David Bruns

March 31, 2015: Foreclosure filed on Kettering home owned by Mark Halliwell

April 8, 2015: Skyfall Properties incorporated by Bruns

June 2015: Skyfall purchases house in Huber Heights

Aug. 26, 2015: Court orders distribution of foreclosure sale proceeds, including to Skyfall

Sept. 1, 2015: County issues $40,116 check to Skyfall from Kettering foreclosure

June 8, 2016: An attorney representing Halliwell seeks excess from sheriff’s sale

August 2016: Montgomery County Civil Division Chief aks Bruns why Skyfall received proceeds from that sale.

Aug. 12, 2016: Bruns tells Montgomery he spoke to Skyfall and they said it was a mistake and will pay money back.

Aug. 14, 2016: Bruns borrows $20,000 from a family friend.

Aug. 16, 2016: Bruns asks his family friend to deliver a check for $40,116 to the county for him. Later that day he confesses to the theft. Prosecutor’s office investigators begin investigation.

Aug. 30, 2016: Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck requests Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien be appointed as special prosecutor “due to a potential appearance of a conflict of interest,” according to court records.

Dec. 29, 2016: Bruns pleads guilty to theft in office and tampering with records.

Feb. 28, 2017: Bruns sentenced to four months in Montgomery County jail.

Source: Investigative records, court records, county records

View Comments 0

Weather and Traffic