Police investigate guardian case

Police investigate guardian case
December 24
00:00 2015
Above: Attorney Bryan C. Thompson

By Cash Michaels

For The Chronicle

A police report has been filed against a prominent Winston-Salem attorney alleging that he committed “fraud” after receiving the “large sum” estate of a ward “… 6 months prior to [the attorney] being appointed guardian.” The Winston-Salem Police Department is now reportedly investigating.

As The Chronicle exclusively reported two weeks ago, attorney Bryan Thompson was accused of “felony theft by fraud …” in a Nov. 24, 2015 motion filed in Forsyth County Superior Court for allegedly taking over $44,000 left to Steven Epperson prior to being appointed Epperson’s estate guardian. The motion primarily sought to have Thompson removed as guardian.

That motion, which was heard in a Dec. 16 hearing in Superior Court, was filed by Winston-Salem attorney Reginald D. Alston on behalf of Epperson’s siblings, Susan and Kelvin Epperson.

They alleged that the money in question came from the estate of their deceased father, John W. Epperson, and was due to be paid to Steven. A “Final Receipt” from the Forsyth Clerk’s office dated Nov. 15, 2009 for  “cash” in the value of $44,180.68, listed as the  “personal representative/trustee” for John W. Epperson’s estate responsible for distributing the funds as  “Bryan C. Thompson.”

And the “undersigned beneficiary” receiving that money, according to the signed and witnessed receipt, was also “Bryan C. Thompson,” who was also listed as “Guardian of Steven W. Epperson.” Thompson signed the document.

But it is not until April 15, 2010, court documents show, that attorney Bryan Thompson was allegedly appointed by assistant clerk Paula Todd as “Successor Guardian of the Estate” for Steven Epperson, allegedly replacing Susan, the sister.

The Epperson siblings’ motion alleged that attorney Thompson “…  committed a felony theft by fraud in withdrawing in excess of $44,000 from an estate in which he, acting as fiduciary and without legal authority, taking possession of that money based upon the fraudulent assertion of guardianship of Steve Epperson at least 6 months prior to his appointment.

At the Dec. 16 hearing, Thompson’s attorney, Molly Whitlatch of Greensboro, countered that the November 15, 2009 date on the receipt is a “typographical error,” and that Thompson did not take control of the funds until months later, after he was appointed estate guardian.

Whitlatch said that she had documentation to back up her client’s assertion, but attorney Reginald Alston, representing the Epperson siblings, countered that there were two notarized documents confirming Thompson’s receiving the money when stated.

Alston then told the court that the Winston-Salem Police Department had been asked to investigate the matter.

According WSPD “Incident/Investigation Report” #1567012 that The Chronicle has obtained and reviewed, on December 10, 2015, attorney Alston did render an investigative complaint, taken by “Officer J. A. Henry.”

Officer Henry writes in the report that on that date, he met with attorney Alston at the Public Safety Building to get the details.

“He advised that he is an attorney representing a family in reference to what he felt like was fraudulent representation of guardianship in the dispersal of a deceased person’s estate,” Henry wrote, adding that attorney Alston alleged that the Forsyth County Clerk of Court appointed Thompson “… to be guardian of different estates … in violation of current laws that pertain to Estate law.”

Henry continued to outline the crime Alston was alleging, writing that “Mr. Thompson received the estate 6 months prior to being appointed guardian. This is where Mr. Alston alleged that fraud had occurred.”

“Mr. Alston’s next contention was that an incompetent son of the last person mentioned was supposed to receive money from the father. Instead Mr. Thompson became guardian of the son and dispersed his money to different areas associated with the care of the incompetent son,” Officer Henry wrote. “Mr. Alston advised that there were different family members that could have been appointed a guardian but were not.”

The significance of that last allegation was that Thompson “received a large sum for being guardian.”

Officer Henry continued that another officer, “Detective Workman was already looking into this case prior to this report.”

In a Dec. 17, 2015 letter to The Chronicle, Bryan Thompson’s attorney, Molly Whitlatch, wrote, “As I stated in court, Bryan Thompson did not take possession of any funds of Steven Epperson’s prior to the time he was appointed as guardian in April 2010. There is a typographical error on the receipt, but the financial records show that no transfer was made until June of 2010. There was certainly no finding of fact by the court that Bryan Thompson wrongfully obtained any funds, or obtained funds prior to his guardianship appointment.”

What attorney Whitlatch did not say is that the reason why Judge J. Mark Pegram, the Rockingham County Clerk of Superior Court who presided over the Dec. 16 hearing, did not issue a “finding of fact” about the alleged fraud is because that was not the primary matter before him. Nor was another allegation from attorney Alston regarding Thompson’s collection of $9,000 in commission for his work as estate guardian, also referred to in the police report.

Even though, as attorney Alston pressed the case, Judge Pegram offered to allow Bryan Thompson to take the stand and testify in his own defense, also confirming any evidence proving his innocence of the allegations, which never happened.

So the only defense offered was an unproven claim of a typo on the receipt and alleged financial records that were not entered into evidence during the hearing, according to observers.

Judge Pegram only determined that the Eppersons’ motion to have attorney Thompson “immediately” removed as estate guardian for Steven Epperson and replaced by his sister Susan was essentially moot because Thompson had been “… discharged as guardian after a final account that was audited and approved,” according to attorney Whitlatch.

In other words, Thompson was no longer guardian anyway.

All other issues argued before Judge Pegram pertaining to the Epperson case were dismissed.

But the WSPD probe into the complaint filed against attorney Thompson is ongoing, attorney Alston confirmed Monday.

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