Randall Brown gets 18 months in prison for defrauding Multnomah County to buy gold bullion, knives and survival gear.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Randall BrownOn Monday, Randall Ray Brown was sentenced to 18 months in prison for using his Multnomah County government credit card to buy gold bullion, knives and other survival gear — everything from gas masks, beef jerky and rifle scopes.

Brown was once the public face of animal control for Multnomah County. The manager had appeared on television news shows and was often quoted in articles that went viral — like when two bright pink chickens showed up on Portland's waterfront.

He was friends with Animal Services Director Jackie Rose, as well as a star member of her band used for the agency's fundraising events, The Strays. For a time, he even served as the interim co-director of the entire division.

His indictment, alleging a stunning 58 separate crimes, shocked his coworkers and friends, some of whom reacted with disbelief, saying he was a devout Christian who would never do such a thing.

Now, interviews and records obtained under Oregon Public Records Law show how the former high-ranking county manager got away with it for a year — and ultimately how he got caught.

The only remaining mystery is why he did it.

Brown, married with four kids, told detectives he had no mistresses on the side and no drug habit. He didn't seem to have a pressing need for the money, admitting to spending money on lottery tickets and even handing out costly items he'd embezzled using county funds to coworkers as gifts. Other items he showed his sons, who were appeared to be military and police fans, according to photos and investigative records.

"His family has been embarrassed and harmed deeply," the prosecutor, Brian Davidson, said at the hearing Monday.

Brown declined to comment at the hearing, but to detectives he gave a concise description of what he'd done: "stupid," adding "I was dumb, dumb with money."

Brown, who'd worked in a county animal control unit in Tennessee near Nashville, was hired in 2014 based on a resume that turned out to be a lie.

He wrote that he served in Iraq and Afghanistan, became a member of the elite Army Ranger unit and received a Purple Heart for being wounded in combat.

That identity was core to his service at the county, where he signed his emails with an Army Ranger insignia, including with the public.

In August 2016, when an animal control activist complained it was frightening, he responded, "My Ranger insignia is something that I earned in my service to the Country."

He showed his coworkers his box of commendations and other insignia.

But questions about his background were not raised until 2017, when a spot-check of receipts by a county financial analyst on Aug. 24, showed that Brown had made large purchases using his government credit card, called a purchasing card — including one from a company called "SD Bullion" and several others from a company called AMPEX, an online company that deals solely in precious metals.

A closer look at his other expense documentation triggered additional questions, and the officials who head the Department of Community Services, which oversees animal services division, asked for a full audit of Brown's expenses.

Auditor Steve March, the county's elected watchdog, tasked two of his staffers to review Brown's expenses and found improper expenditures dating back to September 2016 of more than $52,000.

They turned that over to detectives, who requested information about Brown's military record among other things.

As it turned out, Brown did not serve in combat zones, was not a Ranger, and never received the Purple Heart medal that he'd claimed, county officials concluded. He was an engineer who did not really see combat.

His expenses didn't hold up either. It took detectives just five days to do enough investigation to bring Brown in and execute a search warrant on his home — disrupting plans for a family barbecue.

Brown had posted pictures of some of the items on his Facebook page, and even posted pictures of himself river rafting the day before, a day he was paid to work, according to the investigative reports.

Multnomah Sheriff's deputies let him call his wife to usher his kids across the street to avoid scaring them during the police search. He told her it was an audit and nothing to worry about.

Meanwhile, he quickly confessed everything to the detectives, saying he'd forged the signature of Jackie Rose, the animal services director, on his monthly expense reports and occasionally falsified entries while purchasing an impressive array of items.

They included switchblade knives, a bow and archery equipment, a personal water filter, a bulletproof vest, gas masks, a spy camera, rifle scopes, cameras, tree-climbing gear, a sleeping bag, beef jerky, a night-vision monocular, military grade backpack and hunting shoes, targets, a gun holster, a gun-cleaning kit, and survivalist books like "The Bushcraft Bible." There were even camouflage "scent control" shirts to "keep your scent signature down when it counts for an added advantage."

There were also more humdrum items like $401 in detailing for his personal truck.

But the big-ticket item was the gold: he bought more than $24,000 worth of gold bars in chunks of $4,000 online, only to sell them at a local Portland store that buys precious metals, usually taking a loss.

As part of his negotiated sentence, Brown agreed to reimburse the county..

"Mr. Brown is very remorseful for the conduct," said his lawyer, Mark Cogan.

County makes changes

The Department of Community Services has made changes to how it tracks and oversees expense accounts, requiring weekly supervisor sign-off instead of monthly, according to Tom Hansell, a financial services manager who helped direct the county's internal investigation.

He said he couldn't comment on why Rose, Brown's boss, did not pick up on the irregularities sooner. In an email, the county said that Rose was never sent records showing the fishy purchases for approval. "During the months that inappropriate purchases were made, Ms. Rose never received an expense statement."

But Hansell said the county's spot-checking system works. "You will get caught. It's just how fast you catch them."

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