SBI widens investigation involving mayor

Jul. 25, 2013 @ 05:27 PM

The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation has broadened its inquiry into the handling of an estate by High Point Mayor Bernita Sims.
After completing an investigation in April involving an allegation that Sims passed a worthless $7,000 check to a family member as part of the settlement of her sister’s estate, SBI agents have gone back into the case to gather more information.
The ongoing investigation was disclosed in a July 1 letter from SBI Special Agent Gerald Thomas to a Maryland court requesting records pertaining to the estate of Virginia Sims, a retired school administrator who died in 2008. The High Point Enterprise obtained a copy of the letter from the Prince George’s County, Maryland Register of Wills, where the estate is based. Her sister, Bernita Sims, is personal representative and trustee of the estate and is responsible for distributing its property and funds to about 25 relatives.
Thomas’ letter states that the SBI is looking into possible “misuse and misappropriation of funds” from Virginia Sims’ estate.
“As part of our investigation we are requesting a copy of the complete file pertaining to (the estate).”
The findings from the April investigation, which focused solely on whether the check was bad, were delivered to the Guilford County District Attorney, who asked that the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office handle the matter going forward.
During the review of the evidence by the Attorney General’s Office, SBI agents were asked to conduct some additional follow-up work to determine if the scope of the investigation should be expanded to include allegations of misuse or misappropriation of funds, according to Jennifer Canada, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Justice.
Once agents obtain copies of the estate file and complete their investigation, the information will be added to other evidence under review by the prosecutor, who has not decided yet whether to bring charges.
Sims has declined to comment on the case since the Enterprise first reported the initial SBI investigation in May. She could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The estate of Virginia Sims remains open. Her will gave Bernita Sims control of her estate, which included a house in Maryland and another property in Washington, D.C., as well as two cars and a checking account with $100,000 in it at the time of her death.
The will also directed Bernita Sims to distribute assets to the heirs “as soon after my death as is practicable.” In November 2012, a Maryland judge ordered Sims to advance one of the heirs, Annie Ponce of High Point, a partial distribution of her share of the estate in the amount of $10,000.
That month, Sims gave Ponce a check for $7,000. Ponce, who is Bernita and Virginia Sims’ sister, has said she discovered there were insufficient funds in the bank to cover the full amount of the check shortly after Sims gave it to her, but that she delayed depositing it to try to give her sister a chance to prevent the check from bouncing.
She deposited the check in February and reported to High Point police in March that the check was returned due to insufficient funds. A copy of the check shows it was returned because it was written on a closed account at First Bank in High Point.
Since Ponce’s allegation involved the mayor of High Point, police turned the matter over to the SBI. While the estate is based in Maryland, the $7,000 check made the estate an issue in North Carolina, where a worthless-check case involving an amount of money more than $2,000 is considered a felony.