FORT WALTON BEACH — Former Fort Walton Beach Finance Director Brandy Ferris will serve more than four years in prison for stealing from the city.
Okaloosa County Circuit Judge William Stone sentenced Ferris on Tuesday to 55.5 months behind bars. She had pleaded no contest in January to fraud and money laundering charges.
A report filed following her Feb. 14, 2020, arrest states that Ferris, a city employee for nearly 15 years, used her position to open an “off the books” corporate American Express account that she used between May 2019 and the date she was taken into custody to ring up more than $50,000 in personal charges.
A news release issued with the arrest said Ferris attempted to avoid being caught by paying down the balance of the corporate account with more than $20,000 in funds from a separate city account.
The arrest:FWB finance director arrested, faces fraud charges
Ferris admitted she opened the account to make unauthorized purchases and that she used city funds to pay down the balance, according to her arrest report.
Documents filed with the court prior to the sentencing show Ferris was facing a maximum sentence of up to 60 years. The State Attorney’s Office dropped a charge of racketeering, which alleges the operation of a criminal enterprise, as a condition of Ferris accepting the plea agreement.
Stone’s sentence correlates with the prosecution’s penalty recommendation. Defense lawyers had filed a request for a reduced sentence, citing Ferris’s lack of a prior criminal history and the unsophisticated nature of her crime.
The request for a departure from the recommended sentencing guidelines also noted that Ferris is raising a high school student and is the primary caregiver for an elderly parent.
Ferris’s arrest prompted changes in the way Fort Walton Beach handles its finances.
Immediately after the arrest the Fort Walton Beach City Council voted to bring in the Carr, Riggs and Ingram accounting firm to conduct an extensive forensic audit of the city’s finances. A couple months later the council agreed to pay Tallahassee-based Government Services Group Inc. for financial consulting.
Julio LaCayo was hired June 1, 2020, to replace Ferris. LaCayo ran into legal troubles of his own not long after taking the job. He was arrested in February of this year on a charge of driving under the influence.