Sullivan County jailer says he stole money to buy college books

Rain Smith • Dec 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM

A former Sullivan County corrections officer says he stole money from a jailed inmate to buy textbooks for college.

On Thursday Bryan Ruffo, 25, was charged with two counts of theft by the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office. According to Sheriff Wayne Anderson, Ruffo stole $931 from an inmate's account on Nov. 30, then dipped back in for an additional $51.35 on Dec. 6.

The sheriff's office was alerted to the crimes after the inmate was released.

"The inmate thought he had some money with him (when booked into jail) and when he asked some people in his family they said, 'No, they didn't give it to us,'" Anderson explained. "So he called and made a complaint on it. As a result of that complaint we started an internal investigation."

That investigation began on Monday, with detectives interviewing Ruffo numerous times throughout the week. Anderson says Ruffo denied the thefts until Thursday, when a warrant was obtained through the district attorney's office.

"We didn't have any problem with him, he was on duty," Anderson said of the arrest. "When he was at work we told him to come over to the administrative side, he did, and there he was arrested. He then confessed to it."

Anderson says video evidence and statements from other SCSO employees were used to pinpoint Ruffo as the thief. He was booked into jail according to normal procedure but held away from other inmates until his release on a $2,500 bond.

"I put three detectives working (the case) because we're just not going to tolerate that type of behavior here," Anderson said. "We've got a lot of good officers, but occasionally this will happen. It all comes down to character."

Ruffo faces a felony charge for the initial theft of $931, and a misdemeanor for allegedly stealing $51.35 a week later. Anderson believes Ruffo is a student at East Tennessee State University, and says he cited cash for school books as his motive.

"He claimed that he was in college studying to be a vet, that the military was paying his schooling, but he had to buy his books," Anderson said.

GlobalSecurity.org quotes a Bryan Ruffo, of the Army's 1-509th Infantry, in an October 2004 story from Camp Liberty Iraq. Additionally, a Bryan Ruffo of Johnson City is listed as a recipient of the 2006 Horatio Alger Military Scholarship, eligible only to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The association's Web site says the scholarships are awarded to distinguished Americans who, "demonstrated integrity and perseverance in overcoming adversity, strength of character, financial need, a good academic record, commitment to pursue a college education and a desire to contribute to society."

"He regretted it, but it still doesn't matter," Anderson said of Ruffo. "It hurts the whole department when something like this happens. He seemed to be a good employee that you felt like you could trust, but it turned out we couldn't. It always comes down to character.

"We always have ethics courses that we provide in our in-service training, so there's no excuse for him to do something like this. We won't tolerate it."

The sheriff's office expects no further charges to be placed against Ruffo.

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