Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown pleaded guilty last week 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.
Brown was apologetic in court, accepting full responsibility for the foolish act. He will be able remain mayor under his plea arrangement, which will keep a felony conviction off his record — a deal that’s common for first-time offenders of minor crimes.
“He made a terrible mistake and did a dumb thing. If he could take it back, he would,” said attorney David Brown. “He is regretting it and will have to deal with it the rest of his life.”
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 the legal assistant who would normally notarize it wasn’t in the office.
Instead of waiting until the next day, Brown took her notary seal from her desk and stamped the deed and signed her signature.
“It was stupid, and that’s probably what bothers me the most. That killed me,” Brown said. “It was an act of hubris, I guess. That is not an excuse. Sometimes your ego gets above your good thinking.”
Brown has now spoken publicly about the charges for the first time since they came to light 10 months ago.
“I can’t ask for forgiveness so much as ask for understanding. People have to decide themselves if they want to forgive me,” Brown said.
Several factors allowed Brown to qualify for a plea deal known as a “conditional discharge,” which keeps a felony conviction off his record despite a guilty plea. Jeff Jones, the assistant district attorney who handled the case, said it didn't appear that Brown had broken the law for any sort of personal gain.
“In reviewing the 109 pages of the case file, I could not see any financial gain on his part,” Jones said.
“If he had benefited financially or there was a malicious motive, we would be dealing with a different ballgame,” District Attorney Ashley Welch added. “He was willing to take responsibility and admitted he messed up.”
As a condition of Brown’s plea, he must do 50 hours of community service and will have two years of supervised probation. At that point, he can get the charges expunged completely.
In the meantime, Brown’s guilty plea will remain in a holding pattern. It won’t officially get entered on his record as a felony conviction unless he messes up again.
Brown was represented in the case by his nephew, Attorney David Brown. In court, David Brown emphasized that Gavin has owned up to the charges from the get-go.
“Gavin has been nothing but honest from the beginning. He has never denied this happening,” Brown said.
Brown is also facing a disciplinary action by the N.C. State Bar for professional misconduct for the forgery. A hearing before the bar has been on hold pending the outcome of the criminal charges.
Brown could be stripped of his law license, but he hasn’t been practicing for over a year, anyway. Brown had allowed his license to become inactive for health and personal reasons.
“Regardless of what the bar did, I wasn’t going to practice law anymore,” Brown said.