Lantana motel clerk allegedly uses hotel guest’s credit card to rent room to missing Texas man

  1. Missing Texas man, 43, shows up in Florida after Lantana motel clerk, 61, allegedly rents a room for him with hotel guest’s credit card photoMissing Texas man, 43, shows up in Florida after Lantana motel clerk, 61, allegedly rents a room for him with hotel guest’s credit card photo
  2. Lantana police officer Brian Gibson was conducting random checks of license plates at the Comfort Inn on Wednesday afternoon when he came across one from Texas.

    After investigating, Gibson found the owner of the blue Ford Focus was reported missing and endangered the day before.

    Police soon learned the owner of the car, Jeremy Varnell, left his job as a sergeant at a Texas police department and traveled to Florida. Varnell had met a man online who ended up being the Comfort Inn’s front desk clerk. Police would also learn that the clerk, Richard A. Branford, 61, used a credit card belonging to another motel guest to book the runaway cop’s room.

    Varnell, 43, left his partner and job, and drove to Florida to spend some time with his friends and reflect on some personal issues, his attorney Peter Schulte told The Palm Beach Post on Thursday.

    But now the mini-vacation has created some more ripples in the Flower Mound, Texas, police sergeant’s life. A Flower Mound city hall spokeswoman said Varnell retired Wednesday. But Schulte says Varnell never retired and still considers himself a member of the police department.

    In fact, Varnell, who has been with the police department since March 1994, hasn’t signed any retirement papers and hasn’t even returned to Texas yet.

    “Mr. Varnell was on vacation in San Antonio and he said he needed to get out of town for awhile and reflect on personal issues,” Schulte said. “He feels bad about this response but he never intended it.”

    Varnell of Dallas, Texas was reported missing to San Antonio Police on Tuesday. Family and friends told police he checked into a hotel in San Antonio on Friday, Nov. 15 and was in town to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon.

    He had dinner with friends Sunday night and said goodbye to everyone before going to his hotel room. The next morning Varnell never showed up for breakfast and calls to his phone were left unanswered. Hotel security checked Varnell’s room and found his clothes and personal items, but no sign of the police sergeant or his car, according to a San Antonio police missing persons report.

    Schulte said Varnell drove to Florida to spend some time with friends. He needed a place to stay overnight and met Branford, the motel clerk, online. Branford, who is from Boynton Beach, told Varnell he could set him up with a room.

    That’s where Varnell was Wednesday afternoon when Lantana Police found his car. Police spoke with Branford, who said he used a fake name and another guest’s credit card to book Varnell’s room. Branford said he planned on paying for the room in cash before the card would be charged. Varnell was arrested on charges of fraud, defrauding an innkeeper and theft of a credit card.

    When reached by phone Thursday, Branford’s wife Deborah Branford declined to comment about her husband’s arrest and said she didn’t know all the details surrounding the case.

    Varnell didn’t know how Branford booked his motel room, Schulte said, and has been cooperating with Lantana Police. Schulte said Varnell “had absolutely no knowledge of the alleged illegal activity by the employee of the hotel who assisted him in reserving him a hotel room…” and “has committed no wrongdoing and has not been, and does not expect to be, charged with any crime.”

    Schulte said Varnell’s family has since traveled to Florida and plans to return to Texas with him.