Waynesville mayor indicted for forgery

A North Carolina State Bar complaint filed against Waynesville attorney and Mayor Gavin Brown Oct. 11, 2017, that had accused him of violating the organization’s rules of professional conduct has now generated a pair of indictments from District Attorney Ashley Welch.

The bar complaint, filed with the North Carolina State Bar Disciplinary Hearing Commission, isn’t related to Brown’s duties as Waynesville mayor but does accuse him of common law forgery and the unauthorized use of someone else’s notary seal.

N.C. General Statute 10B-60(f) states that “Any person who without authority obtains, uses, conceals, defaces or destroys the seal or notarial records of a notary is guilty of a Class I felony.”

Allegations outlined in the bar complaint arose out of a 1998 transfer of real property from Bennett-Piper Enterprises to Kathleen Curl.

When the property was about to be sold by Curl in 2016, the buyer’s attorney noticed an error in the deed, and contacted Brown, who had prepared the deed back in 1998.

According to the bar complaint, Brown then prepared a corrective deed and allegedly forged the signature of his law partner’s notary public, Kendra M. Smathers, on it, also allegedly utilizing her notary seal without her knowledge.

Normally, that seal would have asserted that President of Bennett-Piper Enterprises James P. Bennett had “personally appeared before Smathers and executed the deed,” the complaint states.

The bar complaint also alleges that Bennett wasn’t aware of the problem until several months after the corrective deed was prepared in 2016, and that Brown had used one of several deeds — pre-signed by Bennett for unrelated transactions — to make the correction.

That corrective deed was then used for Curl’s transaction.

Bar association Deputy Counsel Mary D. Winstead states in the complaint that by allegedly forging Smathers’ signature, Brown violated the bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct and should be subject to discipline for misconduct.

“Brown committed a criminal act that reflects adversely on his honesty, trustworthiness or fitness in other respects … involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation,” the complaint reads.

A second, similar charge is directed at Brown for his alleged use of the notary’s seal.

Brown answered the complaint Nov. 3, admitting some — but not all — of the allegations contained therein.

According to Katherine Jean, general counsel of the N.C. Bar Association, parties then conferred to ascertain the scope of the issues and the extent of the discovery process, and then set a hearing date for April 12, 2018.

The website also shows that Brown, who has been a member of the N.C. Bar since August, 1972, has never been the subject of a disciplinary order by the bar’s Grievance Committee, Disciplinary Hearing Commission or any state or federal court.

Attorneys judged to have committed misconduct can face varying levels of punishment, from a written admonition, reprimand or censure on up to suspension or disbarment.

When reached by phone about the bar complaint on Oct. 24, Brown declined to comment; Brown also declined to comment on the two indictments, handed down by a grand jury on Jan. 9.

Welch also did not return calls seeking comments as of press time.

Those indictments mirror charges contained in the bar complaint, namely felony forgery of a deed, and felony use of a notary seal/stamp without authority.

Brown has no prior criminal record. A hearing on the matter has been scheduled in the Haywood County justice Center for 10 a.m. on March 5, 2018.

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