Strafford County Sheriff Mark Brave is charged with crimes related to his hookups with women, allegedly paid for with public money. But on Thursday, Brave was alone, representing himself during his arraignment hearing in a Strafford County courtroom.
Brave, who is accused of stealing taxpayer money to fund his secret love life and then lying about it to a grand jury, still does not have a lawyer. That may not matter much yet, as the hearing in Rockingham Superior Court was more of a formality to get the case started.
The Strafford County Democrat entered pleas of not guilty to the eight felony charges brought against him, and he remains free on bail with the same restrictions imposed when he was arrested last month. Brave, who is on paid leave from his sheriff’s job, is prohibited from contacting numerous Strafford County employees, including several members of the sheriff’s office staff.
The only minor change in his bail was Brave has moved out of his Schooner Drive home in Dover, and he will be allowed to leave the state when he drives his daughter to a private school in Lawrence, Mass.
“I’m a single dad,” Brave said in court.
Selling the Schooner Drive home is key to Brave’s legal defense. He said this week he plans to use the sale proceeds to hire an attorney. The home was listed on real estate websites for $1.1 million, with indications that a sale is pending.
It has been a steep fall from grace for Brave, once a rising star in the New Hampshire Democratic Party. Brave, the first African American elected sheriff in state history, had backing from the party’s mainstream and progressives in the Black Lives Matter movement.
His endorsement in the Democratic primary race for governor was a big enough get that Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington (D-District 2) put his backing on her website. The campaign later removed his name without comment.
The criminal probe into Brave came to light because he started talking to the press. In June, he disclosed the existence of the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Public Integrity Unit investigation and used the opportunity to preemptively deny the allegations. He also accused Strafford County Commissioners George Maglaras, Robert Watson, and Deanna Rollo of creating the accusation as a game of dirty politics. Maglaras, Watson, and Rollo are all elected Democrats.
As the investigation was heating up behind the scenes, Brave went to the press again and accused Maglaras of racism. According to Brave, Maglaras called him a “token.”
In fact, County Administrator Ray Bowers went to County Attorney Tom Velardi this spring when he found suspicious purchases Brave made with his county-issued credit card, according to records made public in the investigation. Verladi did not investigate Brave due to the potential conflict of interest but instead contacted the attorney general.
According to the affidavit written by New Hampshire Attorney General Investigator Allison Vachon, Brave repeatedly used his position and public money to fund his romantic trysts. There were plane trips, hotel stays, meals, and even a family vacation to Great Wolf Lodge, though it is not clear if the Great Wolf Lodge weekend was with his family or the family of a woman he was dating.
County officials had been concerned about Brave’s spending outpacing his budget for months when an audit found Brave had “maxed out” his county credit card. According to Vachon’s affidavit, the audit also turned up suspicious receipts for an August 2022 trip to Fort Lauderdale.
While Brave would give Bowers and, later, investigators multiple rationales for the Florida trip, it turned out to be an excursion with female Strafford County Sheriff’s Office employee Freezenia Veras.
Brave hired Veras for a new position he created just for her in March 2022. Veras’ new title as chief of support services/public information officer didn’t come with a job description, but it did come with a $79,000-a-year salary. Those wages made Veras higher paid than the certified deputies in the office, the ones qualified to engage in law enforcement. Brave would eventually have Veras sworn in as a special deputy, giving her the power to arrest people.
Veras would eventually tell Vachon she and Brave went to Florida to research her new job with other law enforcement agencies. Veras told investigators Brave claimed the meetings were canceled at the last minute, and she spent her time shopping and hanging out by the hotel pool, the affidavit stated.
Brave allegedly used taxpayer funds for trips with multiple women, and then repeatedly lied about it, the affidavit stated. He is charged with eight felonies, including theft, perjury, and falsifying evidence for stealing at least $19,000 from the county. Brave could be sentenced to up to 64 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
Brave remains Strafford County Sheriff, at least until the next election. He is currently on paid leave from his job. Veras no longer works for the sheriff’s office.