BANGOR — Carole Swan never meant to defraud anyone; she was just doing what she had to do to survive in an abusive marriage, her lawyer told the jury Monday, the first day of Swan’s fraud trial.
Swan, 55, a former Chelsea selectwoman, is charged with 10 counts of defrauding the federal government. The trial, which is expected to last about three weeks, began this afternoon in U.S. District Court.
Whether Swan will testify in her own defense remains in doubt. Her attorney, Leonard Sharon, said in his opening statement that she would tell jurors about her life and how she loved her work as a rural postal carrier until she was hurt on the job and loved her work as a selectwoman for 19 years because that allowed her to get out of her abusive home.
However, when the judge questioned him, Sharon said neither he nor Swan had decided if she will take the stand.
Chief Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. warned that if Swan testified, she could be questioned about all the government’s fraud accusations and would waive her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The defense has more than a week to make that decision.
“The government has stood here and told you that every aspect of her life is a fraud: deceiving the IRS, deceiving workers’ compensation and engineering a fraud on FEMA, contractors and the town,” Sharon told the jury during opening statements, which started around 1 p.m.
Sharon said Swan moved in with Marshall Swan — “a big, strapping man with a smile” — three years after she graduated from high school.
“Behind the closed doors of the Swan home, that smile disappeared,” Sharon said.
The government has charged Swan with five counts of fraud for allegedly under-reporting more than $675,000 in income on 2007-2011 federal tax returns.
Clark said Marshall Swan Construction had $2.4 million in income during those years and paid almost no income tax because Carole Swan claimed huge losses for a harness horse racing business. In court filings, Sharon said the business was actually her brother’s, but the horses were bought in her name because of his bad credit.
Carole Swan is also charged with four counts of making false statements to obtain more than $205,000 in federal workers’ compensation benefits; and one count of defrauding a federal program, in 2007, by inflating the cost of a culvert so Marshall Swan Construction, which she and her husband own, could win the project bid from the town of Chelsea.
Marshall Swan, 56, also of Chelsea, faces one count of aiding and abetting in that alleged fraud. He is also accused of income tax fraud.
He was scheduled to go to trial with his wife until Woodcock ruled on Friday that Carole Swan’s claims that domestic abuse affected her decision-making and behavior would deny him a fair trial. As a result, Woodcock separated the trials, and Marshall Swan’s trial has yet to be scheduled.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark, the prosecutor, said during opening remarks he will bring witness testimony and evidence to show Swan was “lying about her income, her business associations and her work capacity.” He said Carole Swan engaged in a scheme to be sure Marshall Swan Construction would win the Windsor Road culvert project, and signed checks to pay for it on behalf of the town.
Both Swans have denied all the charges.
Swan, wearing a white sweater over a blue-and-white-print dress, occasionally leaned over to whisper to her attorneys, Sharon and Cayleigh Keevan. Sitting with Clark at the prosecution table was Rodney Giguere, a special agent with the Internal Revenue Service.
The process of narrowing a jury pool of 69 people to 15 — including three alternates — began about 9:45 a.m. and lasted until noon. Eight men and seven women were chosen. Once opening statements concluded, six witnesses testified about their dealings with Marshall Swan Construction, either for snowplowing contracts or other work as well as gravel purchases.
Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk, who supervised jury selection for Woodcock, warned jurors the trial would end no later than Friday, July 26. Kravchuk had a number of questions for prospective jurors, including whether they knew any of the more than 100 potential witnesses.
“I’ve been doing this for 27 years,” Kravchuk told them. “This is the longest list I’ve ever read.”
Some 33 potential jurors were also asked to respond to a questionnaire regarding domestic abuse.
The trial has been a long time coming. Carole Swan was arrested Feb. 10, 2011, and charged in state court with trying to extort money from a contractor in return for giving him town work.
Those extortion accusations will be heard at a later trial, also in federal court.
Five representatives of the media and several lawyers — including Marshall Swan’s attorney, Walter McKee — were among the 21 people watching the start of the trial.
Witnesses were sequestered and not permitted to watch the proceedings. More than a dozen waited in the anteroom just outside the courtroom.
Betty Adams — 621-5631