Exclusive: Guardian accused of ‘theft’

Exclusive: Guardian accused of  ‘theft’
December 10
00:00 2015
Above: Attorney Bryan C. Thompson
By Cash Michaels
For The Chronicle

A prominent Winston-Salem attorney who routinely serves as an estate guardian and public administrator through the Forsyth Clerk of Superior Court’s office is being accused of committing “… felony theft by fraud …” for taking over $44,000 he allegedly had no legal authority to do so.

As part of its continuing series of articles about allegations of a continuing “pattern and practice” of fraud and mismanagement at the Clerk’s office involving the assets and properties of elderly African-American Forsyth County residents, The Chronicle has secured and reviewed a copy of a motion filed in Forsyth County Superior Court on Nov. 24 in the matter of the estate of Steven W. Epperson.

The motion, filed by Winston-Salem attorney Reginald D. Alston on behalf of Epperson’s siblings, Susan and Kelvin Epperson, seeks a court order to “immediately” remove attorney Bryan C. Thompson “… from acting as guardian of the Estate of Steven W. Epperson and to allow Susan Epperson to resume as Guardian of …” her brother’s estate.

According to the motion, there are no court documents on file proving that attorney Thompson – who has been prominent in many of the cases The Chronicle has reviewed and reported on in recent weeks – was ever legally appointed as estate guardian to Steven Epperson prior to April 2010, and yet there is a witnessed court document showing that Thompson received $44,180.68 on behalf of Epperson as his “guardian” on Nov. 15, 2009.

The motion not only seeks Thompson’s “immediate removal” and Susan Epperson’s reinstatement as guardian of the estate, as indicated before, but also, “… such other and further award as the court deems justified,” meaning damages may be warranted.

Per the motion and accompanying court documents, Steven Epperson was legally determined to be incompetent in July 1982 and his father, John W. Epperson, was then appointed guardian of his person, managing whatever personal areas involving health and well-being.

By February 2004, according to an April 15, 2010 court order, John Epperson had died, so Steven’s sister, Susan, was appointed his guardian of person. A few months later in June 2004, Susan was then also appointed guardian of Steven’s estate, thus allowing her to manage his financial affairs.

Reportedly, Steven had a 1/14th interest in the sale of real estate that his deceased father apparently owned, and was “… due about $44,000.00 in distribution … ”

For reasons the court order does not detail, Susan was “… discharged” as estate guardian on Nov. 2, 2004, and there was no “supporting documentation … found in the court file” confirming it or explaining why, according to the new motion.

In fact, almost five years later, when asst. clerk Paula Todd sent a “Notice of Hearing” to Steven Epperson’s family members regarding their father’s estate on Sept. 16, 2009, she addressed one of the notices to  “Steve Epperson, c/o Susan Epperson, Guardian ….”

If Susan Epperson had indeed been removed as estate guardian almost five years earlier, then how could that happen, the new motion inherently asks. But the alleged fraud goes even deeper.

A “Final Receipt” from the Forsyth Clerk’s office dated Nov. 15, 2009 – just two months later – 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 was also “Bryan C. Thompson, Guardian of Steven W. Epperson,” the document The Chronicle reviewed showed.

Attorney Thompson listed himself as both the one authorizing the funds as the alleged legal representative of the father’s estate, and the person receiving it as the alleged legal estate guardian for the son, Steven, even though there was no court documentation proving that status.

Thompson’s signature is not on the court receipt from the Clerk’s Office, but a signature next to the typewritten name of witness “Amanda H. Jones” is.

That Clerk’s office receipt was not file stamped, meaning legally, according to previously noted state appellate court opinion, it was invalid and not properly entered into the court record.

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

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

The motion also alleges that assistant clerk Todd did not give the family “… proper notice … prior to issuing an order appointing …” Thompson as estate guardian, and that “failure to notify [the family] … was intentional and an effort to cover up Bryan Thompson’s felony theft.”

Attorney Thompson, through his attorney, has consistently maintained that in his role as estate guardian in various cases, he did nothing wrong, and followed the directives of the Clerk’s office.

At press time Tuesday, no hearing date had been assigned for the motion.

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