BANGOR — Former Chelsea selectwoman Carole Swan told jurors her story today, saying she was abused, misguided and misunderstood.
Swan testified in her own defense on the 12th day of her trial in federal court, spending more than three hours on the stand and starting by describing domestic violence she said she suffered at the hands of husband, Marshall.
Swan testified that her husband repeatedly pulled her hair, punched her upper arm and kicked her, but she kept it a secret because it was embarrassing.
“He’s like two people,” she said. “When he’s nice, there’s not a better person in the world.”
Swan, 55, faces multiple fraud charges related to false tax returns and claims for workers’ compensation, as well as fraud involving a federal aid program.
She denied committing any crime and exerting any undue influence as town selectman to get road work and contracts for Marshall Swan Construction, the earth-moving company owned by her and her husband.
She also rejected the idea that she was “puppet master” of the town.
She said she suffered for years — beginning when she was in high school — from domestic violence inflicted by her husband, whom she married in 1984, and said she lived in fear of him and for her children. She said she was unable to leave him until July 6, shortly after their younger son graduated high school.
Swan described a Thanksgiving eve in 1994 when Marshall Swan took wooden apples from a bowl on the kitchen table and threw them at her so hard they left holes in the wall of the trailer where they lived. She said that scene followed her confrontation of Marshall at a restaurant, where he was with another woman and a friend.
The Swans argued in the parking lot in front of their son, then about 9 years old.
She said she hosted Thanksgiving dinner for family the next day. “I set things around on counters so people couldn’t see the holes in the wall from the apples.”
Accusations of affairs
She said Marshall accused her “constantly” of having affairs. She told her attorney, Leonard Sharon, she never had an affair.
Swan said Marshall had one affair for four years, occasionally meeting the woman at a post office in Augusta.
“I found a bra in our car that was not mine,” she told jurors.
Sharon asked her when the domestic abuse ended.
“The abuse has never stopped,” Swan testified.
She said she called police after one incident in 2006, and deputies removed Marshall Swan from the home. He moved back home after going to court, and he started counseling, she said.
Sharon has said that fraud or falsification of government documents occurred unintentionally either by mistake or because she was in fear of her husband.
“I did whatever I was told by my husband,” Swan testified, when Sharon questioned her about bank accounts and tax return preparations.
She said she tried to be accurate. “I thought we were,” she said. “We thought we had it right.” She said she did put business checks in a nonbusiness account, but did not intend to hide the money.
“We reported it wrong but I didn’t know it at the time,” Swan said.
This year, rather than keep invoices and receipts in a plastic tote in a kitchen cupboard, she said the family is using filing cabinets for records.
‘Superwoman’ in control of Chelsea
Swan also testified that she was conducting an investigation of Whitefield contractor Frank Monroe, claiming the town’s plow contractor was shorting the town of sand and using town sand for his private plowing business, confiding this only to her husband and a couple of other townspeople.
To further this investigation, she said she got friendly with Monroe and even had his wife over to the house.
“I made him believe I was like superwoman and I could control everything over (in Chelsea),” she said. She said she told him she managed it so Marshall could get all kinds of work, and she would do the same for Monroe.
“The only way I could get him at his game was to get on his level,” Swan said.
She said she confronted him about shorting the town sand and demanded $3,000 from him in January 2010.
She told Sharon she still has the money. In December, she got another $7,000, she said. Swan was questioned by detectives after she allegedly asked Monroe for another $10,000 in January 2011 and he reported it to deputies at the Kennebec Sheriff’s Office. They set up a sting, recording a series of phone calls between the two and picking up Carole Swan in Augusta minutes after the last exchange Feb. 3, 2011.
They questioned her for about two hours about her activities with regard to Monroe. According to an affidavit by one of the deputies, Swan admitted taking money from contractors for years.
The only spectators in the courtroom today were eight people connected with either the court or the government’s case and two reporters.
Lice shampoo and sensors
Before the trial started earlier this month, Swan and her husband were scheduled to face charges of fraud together. But when Sharon filed court documents showing that Swan was going to use a battered wife defense, the judge agreed to try Marshall Swan at a later date. Marshall Swan is being represented by Augusta attorney Walter McKee.
Sharon asked Swan about some color photos of the inside of her bedroom and bathroom. She testified she moved out July 6, but went back there as recently as Saturday to get some things. Swan testified that she has been living in a motel in Brewer.
On the witness stand, she talked about a bottle of lice shampoo that was in her home.
“I was supposed to wash with it every day because (Marshall said) I was giving him bugs all the time,” she said in a voice that broke. “I used to dump it down the sink and tell him I used it every day.”
Then there was a bottle of disinfectant spray.
“I had to spray all the time. The spray is still there in the bathroom.”
She broke down in tears and wiped her eyes and nose with a white tissue.
Swan — and the others in the court — saw one photo from inside her bedroom showing a sensor under her white bureau. It was across from the bed, which had a white metal frame, and a pink coverlet over a white eyelet dust ruffle.
She said the sensor was to track her movements while her husband was asleep.
“I couldn’t get out of bed at night unless I woke him up first,” Carole Swan said. “He said I used to go out and see boyfriends. He could smell them.”
Other sensors were mounted outside the front door, and crude noise-making barricades erected in front of other exits, she said.
Black eyes hidden by sunglasses
Also today, Swan described the family’s early years.
“I always worked a lot because Marshall spent a lot. I’d spend a lot of time home with (older son) Jacob in the evenings because (Marshall) would go out with friends. He’d come home mad at me because he’d been drinking.”
She testified she had frequent black eyes — which she hid with sunglasses. She said her husband pulled her hair and kicked her.
Swan’s voice broke as she described one night.
“The worst thing he ever did was he said he was going to kill me,” she said. “He made me leave Jacob in his crib and we went down the road.”
She said they came back to the house, where Marshall Swan hit her again and Jacob was crying.
Earlier today, the judge warned Swan’s older son about not speculating or assuming things as he testified about his parent’s relationship.
“You’re not here as an advocate for your mother,” Chief Judge John A. Woodcock told Jacob Swan after the jury was told to leave the room briefly. “You’re under oath to tell the truth, only what you’ve seen, not guess, and not try to influence things by saying things you don’t really know.”
Jacob Swan, 28, who lives in a home adjacent to his parents’ property, said he heard his parents arguing in the basement and heard the banging of his mother’s head on the basement floor.
“This is a very volatile area of examination,” Woodcock told attorneys. “It’s important the witness testifies to what he knows rather than what he’s speculating about.”
Then he asked the witness how he knew what was happening.
“I heard body parts that sounded like that,” Jacob Swan said. “I’m pretty sure it was her head. I saw black and blue on her head when she came up.”
Sharon said Jacob Swan earlier told him he witnessed domestic abuse between his parents but would not give specifics until he was on the witness stand.
In front of the jury shortly afterward, Jacob Swan said he saw bruising on his mother’s normally light-colored scalp a day or so after he was awakened by the sounds from his parents in the basement.
‘A wife writing out checks’
Swan is accused of falsifying federal income tax returns for five years, falsifying claims for federal workers’ compensation and defrauding a federal program that funded the town’s Windsor Road culvert replacement project.
She described her role in the construction firm: “I was a wife writing out checks paying bills.”
She testified about paperwork on auto loan applications indicating she is a co-owner of Marshall Swan Construction.
“I am guilty of just signing my name and not looking,” she said.
With regard to the workers’ compensation claims, Swan said she was a rural carrier working from the Gardiner post office when she was injured on the job in 1994. She used her left arm to gesture to jurors when talking about sorting the mail.
“I was unloading box of encyclopedias out of my SUV,” she said. “I always hurried and worked hard.”
She said she hurt herself when pulling the box toward her. She said no one was home, but she was able to get the box up on the house steps.
But she went home after returning to the post office. “I didn’t put my afternoon mail up.”
She said she couldn’t move her neck or lift her arm.
She started to receive workers’ compensation following that injury.
She was injured again in 1997 and later in 2003 after returning to work briefly on light duty in the Hallowell post office. Five of the charges accuse her of falsifying claims forms for federal workers’ compensation benefits August 2008 to May 2011.
She said she’s in pain all the time.
She is charged with failing to disclose her work for Marshall Swan Construction, the extent of her work for the town of Chelsea, and her ownership in an Ohio-based harness horse racing business operated by her brother.
Swan testified she did banking, some ordering and answered phone calls, but little else for the company. She said she cannot type or operate a computer. “I only have a dumb phone. I don’t even text.”
She said she did not report her work for the company on the worker’s compensation forms. “I didn’t think I needed to.”
She also said she did not report all the work she did as a selectwoman, even though town office staff or residents would call her sometimes every day.
“I was laying on the couch,” she said. “I had nothing better to do.”
Betty Adams — 621-5631