A veterans organization was having a fundraiser at Publix. Then a man took off with their money

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office donated $500 to a local veterans organization after a Sarasota man stole cash donations during the organization’s fundraiser over the weekend.

Deputies first responded to the Publix on Fruitville Road in Sarasota on Saturday for a report of a theft.

According to the victim, a man exited the grocery store, approached the Veterans Outreach fundraising table and stole $240 in cash.

Surveillance video coupled with investigative techniques led deputies to identify the man as 34-year-old Bryon Watt, the sheriff’s office said.

About two hours after Sarasota detectives launched the investigation, deputies with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office initiated a traffic stop on Wyatt on Cortez Road in Bradenton.

Wyatt, deputies said, was showing signs of impairment and fled from deputies, eventually stopping near the intersection of U.S. 301 and 63rd Avenue East.

A search ensued that resulted in deputies finding Wyatt in possession of a mixture of heroin and fentanyl.

In Manatee County, he was charged with fleeing to elude, possession of a controlled substance and DUI.

Sarasota County detectives charged Wyatt with a single count of Petit Theft.

According to deputies, Wyatt has several prior arrests in Sarasota and Manatee counties for crimes including dealing in stolen property, vehicle theft, burglary and multiple drug offenses.

He remains in the custody of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office awaiting extradition back to Sarasota.

On Thursday, Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight presented Bob Graham of Veterans Outreach with a check for $500 using unclaimed cash to reimburse the organization for the stolen funds.

“This is a unique opportunity for us to give back to an organization that fell victim to a terrible crime,” Sheriff Knight said in a news release. “The sheriff’s office is founded on values of integrity, service, fairness and respect; all of which are also ingrained in members of the armed forces. We are so pleased to support this organization and help them get back on their feet. As for any other criminals who think they can take advantage of our community, let this be a lesson to think twice before you act.”

Follow Samantha Putterman on Twitter @samputterman.