The mayor of a North Carolina town pleaded guilty to two felonies for forging a notary’s seal and signature when fixing a typo on a property deed in his capacity as a real estate attorney two years ago.
Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown accepted full responsibility for the act and will remain mayor under his plea arrangement, which will keep a felony conviction off his record.
The forgery case stems from a 20-year-old typo on a property deed. It was discovered by another attorney in the midst of a real estate closing and had to be fixed before the sale could go through. Brown drew up a new deed correcting the old typo, but his legal assistant who would normally notarize it wasn’t in the office.
Brown used a blank signed deed to draw up a new deed fixing the typo. He then delivered the new deed to the attorney who was handling the real estate closing. When the real estate attorney’s assistant noticed the new deed hadn’t been notarized, she called Brown’s legal assistant and left a message.
Instead of waiting until the next day when his assistant would be in the office, Brown took her notary stamp from her desk and stamped the deed and signed her signature. He then took the notarized deed back to the real estate attorney’s office.
When Brown’s legal assistant got the voice mail that had been left by the attorney’s assistant, she realized something was wrong. She later checked online records with the register of deeds office and saw her forged signature on the deed. The assistant felt she had no choice but to report it to the North Carolina State Bar, fearing her own notary status would be on the line if she didn’t say anything. The North Carolina State Bar opened an investigation and eventually brought professional misconduct charges against Brown alleging forgery in October 2017.
The North Carolina Secretary of State learned of the alleged violation of notary laws and opened a criminal investigation of its own, which became the basis of two felony indictments against Brown in January 2018.
As part of the condition of Brown’s plea agreement, he must complete 50 hours of community service and will have two years of supervised probation. His guilty plea will remain in a holding pattern. It won’t officially get entered on his record as a felony conviction unless he violates his probation.
Brown is also facing a disciplinary action by the North Carolina State Bar for professional misconduct for the forgery. A hearing before the bar has been on hold pending the outcome of the criminal charges. He could be stripped of his law license, but he hasn’t been practicing for over a year, due to health and personal reasons.