PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — An animal control manager used Multnomah County funds to buy survival gear, gas masks, military grade knives and gold bullion, the Portland Tribune has learned.
Randall Brown of the county Animal Services Division used his county purchasing card — essentially a debit card — to make numerous purchases that the county later found to be improper. He also stands accused of altering receipts to disguise what he’d bought and forging his supervisor’s signature on them, according to records obtained by the Tribune.
In addition, he was found to have lied about his military service, claiming 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. In reality, he did not serve in combat zones, was not a ranger, and never received the prized decoration, county officials recently concluded. He also left the Army in 2004, not 2008 as he claimed in his job application, according to the county.
The details about Brown for the first time give insight into why he was fired on Sept. 12 and indicted by prosecutors last week for an astounding 58 counts of alleged crimes, ranging from fraud to aggravated theft and identity theft. The charging document filed in court gave little to no details of the allegations, 51 of which are felonies — meaning each is punishable by a year or more in prison.
Brown and his attorney, Mark Cogan, have declined to comment to the Portland Tribune, but Brown has pleaded not guilty in court.
Not the type, friends say
Brown’s indictment shocked his friends and former coworkers, one of whom called him “extremely charming, extremely charismatic.”
His longtime friend, Rick Barbarossa of Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee, said, “This guy is a total straight-arrow … He’s just not the kind of guy who would do any of this.”
Brown worked in a county animal control unit in Tennessee near Nashville before he was hired in 2014 by Multnomah County as a supervisor in the County Animal Services division. He soon was promoted and given new responsibilities.
In 2015 Brown took over the 13-person animal control unit that responds around-the-clock to calls about dangerous, sick or abused animals as well as animal-related nuisance complaints.
The following year he was assigned a total of 20 staff, including dispatchers, legal aid and veterinary care personnel. His annual salary was $73,510.
With frequent media appearances, he became the public face of the county Animal Services Division, quoted in news coverage ranging from the mystery of the two bright pink chickens that showed up on Portland’s waterfront two years ago, to, in July, the investigation of Button the black cat, who was found decapitated in Southeast Portland (Brown concluded the culprit was an automobile as opposed to someone acting intentionally).
In July, Brown appeared on KGW’s “Portland Today” show, talking about animal abuse, holding a kitten, and soliciting donations from the public for a kitten care program.
A musician, he also played public gigs to raise money for animal control in a band called The Strays with his director, Jackie Rose.
The allegations against Brown surfaced during a review of his purchases between January and August of this year, according to a Sept. 12 letter to Brown obtained under Oregon’s records law.
The letter, signed by the county’s Community Services director, Kim Peoples, details the reasons for his firing and says that Brown declined to respond to the allegations when offered the opportunity.
Some of Brown’s friends told the Tribune they believe, having spoken to Brown and his wife, that he is innocent of wrongdoing. They say he thought he was authorized to make the purchases, which they believe were connected to a grant having to do with emergency services.
“He is a total stand-up guy,” said Katie Barbarossa. “He was maybe stepping on too many toes.”
County documents released to the Tribune show Brown had access to a $26,000 grant from the state Office of Emergency Management to fund the purchase of “Animal Shelter Disaster Response Equipment” such as trailers, pet carriers and litter boxes.
It’s unclear how the purchase of gold bullion would fit in with that. According to the termination letter to Brown, the receipt bearing the item number for one ounce of gold was altered by Brown to appear that he’d purchased a net gun that can be used to capture animals.