A federal judge has rejected former Chelsea Selectwoman Carole Swan’s efforts to keep statements she made to police out of her upcoming fraud trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk’s recommended decision was issued in U.S. District Court in Bangor and was made public Friday.
Swan is accused of extorting money from a town contractor while she was a Chelsea selectwoman and of fraudulently inflating the cost of road project awarded to her husband, Marshall Swan, as well as fraud charges relating to income tax returns and federal worker compensation benefits.
The recommended decision and any objections filed by attorneys go to U.S. District Court Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. for review.
Carole Swan, 54, of Chelsea, testified under oath during a Dec. 5 motion-to-suppress hearing in Bangor that she could neither read nor write. That unexpected claim, which is expected to be a key component of her defense at trial, appears to be at odds with the recollections of officials who served with her and available documentation. She had a 19-year tenure as selectwoman in Chelsea, and for some of those years as chairwoman of the three-member board.
In her rejectiopn of Swan’s request, Kravchuck commented twice in footnotes about Swan’s credibility in connection with her description of how the deputies approached her in a parking lot after a sting they set up with the aid of the road contractor, Frank Monroe, of Whitefield, on Feb. 3, 2011.
“I do not credit Swan’s testimony that she was crowded by the deputies or that they trapped her between themselves and the open door of her vehicle,” Kravchuck wrote, adding shortly afterward, “I found her testimony about most events highly strategic in nature and less than reliable.”
Shock and laughter
Richard Danforth, who spent 16 years as a Chelsea selectmen, much of his time overlapping with Swan’s terms, said his initial response to learning about Swan’s illiteracy claim “was the word ‘shock,’ and then I just started laughing.”
He said some of the items handled by selectmen, including dealing with state statutes, practically require a law degree.
“You would need a higher degree of literacy than first grade,” Danforth said.
He specifically recalled Swan writing a response to him on his paperwork during one of his final meetings as selectman in June 2009.
“There was a discussion going on the floor about the town raising funds for the revaluation. I leaned over to Carole and questioned why the individual was lowering the amount. It was a citizen of the town who wanted to stop revaluation process, but it did not wipe out the total amount.
“She reached across and wrote on my paper: ‘It has something to do with compensation ? raise.'”
Danforth said she was referring to a possible increase in the stipend selectmen receive when they function as assessors.
In May 2005 nomination papers kept at the Town Office and reviewed by the Kennebec Journal, Swan printed her name and the name of the town legibly.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of skepticism with regard to her claim that she can’t read or write,” said Stephen Langsdorf, attorney for the town of Chelsea since February 2011.
Langsdorf said her recent illiteracy claim is at odds with how she acted while as a selectwoman.
“I observed her appearing to read papers, conduct a meeting by use of a written agenda, appear to review and sign selectmen’s warrants,” Langsdorf said. “If it’s true she wasn’t able to read those warrants, that opens another set of problems.”
During a selectmen’s meeting in July 2011, Swan offered to donate land to fix a municipal road job by her husband’s construction company that had the town facing financial penalties because it didn’t obtain proper permits. During that meeting, the Kennebec Journal reported that Carole Swan “took meticulous notes, while Marshall Swan toted a calculator,” and the two whispered often.
Swan’s term expired in June 2011. She had been arrested and charged previously but refused to resign from her seat.
Published records show that Swan — then Carole Jean Blodgett — is a 1976 graduate of Gardiner Area High School. Her photo is among the seniors in the 1976 Quill, the high school yearbook, as well.
She also holds a Maine driver’s license, which is acquired after a written examination and a road test.
In a related ruling made public Friday, Kravchuk recommended a separate trial for Carole Swan on the three charges of Hobbs Act extortion.
That would allow Swan to testify about her claim that she was conducting her own investigation into contractor Frank Monroe, Kravchuk wrote.
“There can be little question but that the government will subject Carole Swan to cross-examination concerning her alleged sting operation if she testifies,” Kravchuk wrote, “and that if the other charges were joined in the same prosecution, Swan might well forgo her defense on the extortion charges to avoid the risk of incriminating herself on the other charges.”
However, Kravchuk also recommended that Carole and Marshall Swan be tried together on the remaining fraud charges.
“We are carefully reviewing the decision and expect to appeal the recommended decision,” said Walter McKee, the attorney representing Marshall Swan. McKee had sought a separate trial for Marshall Swan.
Leonard Sharon, the attorney representing Carole Swan, did not respond to a request for comment on the suppression decision.
The Swans have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Carole Swan faces three counts of Hobbs Act extortion related to dealings with Monroe (the Hobbs Act covers extortion or robbery that affects interstate commerce); five counts of tax fraud and false statements, allegedly for failing to report $600,000 in income to the Internal Revenue Service over a five-year period; fraud involving the Federal Emergency Management Agency for work Marshall Swan did on a Windsor Road culvert project; and four counts of making false statements to gain federal employee compensation.
At one point, she worked for the U.S. Postal Service at the Gardiner Post Office.
Marshall Swan faces the same five counts each of tax fraud and false statements and of aiding and abetting fraud on a program receiving federal money.
Betty Adams — 621-5631