BANGOR — Town politics took center stage Thursday at the trial of former Chelsea Selectwoman Carole Swan on multiple federal fraud charges.
Richard Danforth, who served on the three-person board of selectmen from 1993–2009, along with Swan, and was re-elected last month, testified he had concerns about her involvement in the town’s road projects.
Danforth described his working relationship with Swan on the fourth day of trial in U.S.District Court.
“Early on, it was cordial,” he said. “She had a lot of good ideas for the town. Later on it got a little contentious.”
He said Swan described herself as an owner of Marshall Swan Construction, which was operated by her husband, Marshall.
Danforth testified he was concerned about the ethics of Carole Swan’s company doing town work and that he wanted transparency. “That was not always easy,” he said.
Marshall Swan Construction won a $396,880 contract for the Windsor Road culvert project after the road was washed out during a storm around in April 2007, and Swan and Danforth, as selectmen, signed the town warrants that allowed the town to pay for those projects, according to town records displayed for jurors on monitors.
Swan recused herself from voting to award that project, Danforth testified.
Among the charges Swan faces is that she committed fraud on a program that got federal money “by deceiving town employees and officials and other potential bidders on the contract about the cost of the culvert and causing Chelsea to pay $130,000 for the culvert when, she then and there knew, the culvert cost only about $58,000.”
Documents showed the town paid $30,000 as a down payment for the culvert and later paid the remainder.
Danforth testified that he would not have authorized paying $130,000 for a culvert if he had known it cost $58,000. The project was funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Danforth also testified that if anyone other than Marshall Swan was given the town’s road projects, he got frequent calls at his workplace from Carole Swan complaining about how the work was being done.
He said he directed her to contact the road commissioner — typically the town manager — and remaining issues would be handled at selectmen’s meetings.
Marshall Swan is charged with aiding and abetting fraud on a federal program, and an indictment against both Swans seek forfeiture of all $396,880 paid for the project.
The Swans also face five counts of falsifying federal income tax returns for tax years 2006–1010, and most of the witnesses up until Danforth’s testimony Thursday morning involved payments by private individuals and companies made to Marshall Swan Construction.
Chief Judge John A. Woodcock split up the husband and wife’s trials after Carole Swan’s lawyer, Leonard Sharon, told the court Swan was a victim of her husband’s domestic abuse and did not intend to commit fraud.
Danforth testified that he heard rumors about abuse in later years but did not investigate them.
At a pretrial hearing, Carole Swan testified she could not read or write except for names and numbers.
In response to a question by the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark, Danforth said he did not notice Swan having any difficulty reading or writing English in the 16 to 17 years they served together as selectmen.
Among the charges Carole Swan faces are five charges of making false statements to obtain federal worker’s compensation August 2008 to May 2011.
She wrote on benefit claim forms that she was totally disabled, unable to work and unable to use her right arm.
Danforth testified that he was aware in the early 1990s that Carole Swan had suffered an injury to her right shoulder, but saw no evidence of impairment later.
Swan is additionally accused of misstating the hours she worked for the town and for failing to report her ownership of, and work for, Marshall Swan Construction, as well as a harness horse-racing business.
Carole Swan also faces three charges of extortion under the Hobbs act for allegedly seeking $20,000 in kickbacks from Frank Monroe Construction of Whitefield for giving him town work. Those charges, too, will be heard in a separate trial.
Betty Adams — 621-5631