Cherchez la femme.
Sheriff Mark Brave, caught in a lie before the grand jury looking at his alleged embezzlement, may have accidentally told the truth for the first time in months, according to the affidavit released late last week.
Confronted by surveillance video of himself and the woman he spent a romantic weekend with in Boston, including a harbor dinner cruise, the married Brave was unable to come up with her name.
“Her name, her name is … um … Let me see, I forget which one this is. I’ve been dating a lot of people,” Brave testified before the grand jury.
Brave, the Strafford County Democrat who became New Hampshire’s first Black sheriff, faces up to 64 years in prison and not simply a painful divorce. Why? He allegedly paid for his affairs with taxpayer funds. According to the affidavit written by New Hampshire Attorney General Investigator Allison Vachon, the May weekend trip in question was paid for with public money stolen from Strafford County residents.
Brave lied when he used his county credit card for the trip, claiming he was going to a New Hampshire Accreditation Commission celebration dinner in Boston and the dinner cruise was connected to his volunteer work for the Special Olympics.
Like most of Brave’s cover stories that Vachon investigated, the May trip lie was easily disproved with a couple of phone calls. There was no celebration dinner for the New Hampshire Accreditation Commission that weekend in Boston, and the Special Olympics were not hosting a dinner cruise, either, according to Vachon.
What Vachon did learn, though, is that the woman seen kissing Brave in hotel surveillance video and going on the dinner cruise with him was celebrating her birthday that weekend. At least Brave was able to remember that.
That woman, known as Y.F. in Vachon’s affidavit, is just one upon whom investigators say Brave used taxpayer money to lavish with trips and meals. Her name is Freezenia Veras.
Veras had been working for the department’s prosecutor when Brave created a new position for her in March 2022 as chief of support services/public information officer. He reportedly did so without county approval. Her new $ 79,000-a-year salary made Veras better paid than most of the sworn deputies with police certifications, a professional qualification Veras lacks. Brave also had Veras sworn in as a “special deputy,” giving her the power to arrest people in the county.
Now, fed-up county commissioners, who Brave has accused of racism over the investigation into his spending, are scheduled to meet Monday to possibly terminate his command.
County Administrator Ray Bower told investigators Veras’ new job and high salary created a hole in Brave’s budget. NHJournal found that Brave started running out of money for salary and overtime with six more months left in the fiscal cycle.
Veras’ job as chief of support services initially did not have a description, so Brave put her in charge of tasks like reconciling his purchases with the county credit card. One such purchase she reconciled was the trip to Fort Lauderdale that she and Brave took together a few months later, in August 2022.
Though they both initially lied about not sharing a hotel room, Veras later admitted she spent the night in the same room with Brave. She also claimed they did not have sex. Brave persisted in front of the grand jury that Veras stayed with friends in Florida and not the hotel room.
Veras did not respond to a request for comment.
Like many of the trips Brave charged to the county, he claimed he went to Florida with Veras for a function hosted by a law enforcement organization. Vachon could find no evidence to back up that claim.
Brave claimed many trips were connected to meetings and conferences hosted by an organization called the New England Sheriff’s Association. Vachon reported that despite Brave’s insistence the group is real, she could not find any proof that the New England Sheriff’s Association actually exists.
Brave often involved other people in his web of lies, creating facts that were easy to disprove, according to Vachon. In one instance, he went to Maryland this February on the pretense of meeting with U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas (D-Manchester). Brave told investigators that Pappas canceled the meeting at the last minute but gave the sheriff a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol by way of apology.
Vachon called the congressman’s office and was told there was no scheduled meeting between Brave and Pappas. Instead, it turned out Brave was meeting with a Maryland woman he met online. Kenisha Epp-Schmidt contacted the police on her own and told investigators about the romantic relationship she had with Brave. Epp-Schmidt also did not respond to a request for comment.
County officials contacted the Attorney General’s Office in April after becoming alarmed when Brave maxed out his county credit card and then quickly maxed out the county credit card of a subordinate to buy airline tickets and book hotels, according to Vachon.
Brave is charged with eight felonies, including theft, perjury, and falsifying evidence for stealing at least $19,000 from the county. He remains out on bail and on the job for now, though the County Commission is meeting at 11 a.m. to discuss Brave’s future employment as sheriff. Brave is due in Rockingham Superior Court next month for his arraignment.