BANGOR — Jurors got a different picture of former Chelsea selectwoman Carole Swan on Thursday as her trial on federal fraud charges neared an end.
Instead of a weak, battered woman baffled by government forms and beaten by her husband when she failed to do his bidding, Swan was described by her sister-in-law as sometimes angry, self-assured and highly competitive.
Roberta Jean Rood, the older sister of Marshall Swan, Carole Swan’s husband, was a rebuttal witness called by Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark. Swan faces five counts of tax fraud, four counts of false statements with regard to workers’ compensation benefits, and one count of fraud on a federal program in U.S. District Court.
The trial is to resume at 10 a.m. Friday.
Rood had lived in Chelsea in the late 1980s and then returned to stay at a Windsor Road home near the Swans in 2010-2011, when her bedroom window faced their house.
“I could hear them fighting outside,” Rood testified. “I heard a lot of talking and a lot of screaming and calling him names.” She reluctantly repeated them after the prosecutor asked twice.
She said Carole called Marshall “a cheap s-o-b” and another obscene name.
Earlier Thursday, Carole Swan herself testified that she and her husband fought constantly, and she would yell at him up until a few years ago.
“I smashed his windshield that I paid for when he took someone else out when I was 18,” she said. She stopped fighting back, she said, deciding, “It’s not worth it.”
Rood said she and her late husband used to go out together with the Swans, and Marshall would be polite, opening the door for his wife. She said both Swans drank maybe one or two drinks and sometimes had no alcohol.
“For the most part, they seemed very happy,” Rood said.
She also said she had heard Carole threaten Marshall. “She said she would kick him out of the house and he would walk down the street with nothing but his underwear.”
Rood testified that Carole controlled the money.
“Carole told me herself that the equipment they owned for the business was in her name,” she said. “Whenever we went out to dinner, the money always came out of her purse.” Rood said she saw Carole hand the cash under the table to Marshall so he could pay.
Rood talked of competition between her and Carole Swan.
“She bought many diamonds, bracelets, earrings, rings, necklaces, brand new cars,” Rood said.
Swan several times had her furniture reupholstered and the interior of her home repainted, and she hired someone to do the garden and wash the vehicles, Rood said.
Rood said when her dying husband bought her a 2.5-carat diamond solitaire, Swan bought herself a 3-carat solitaire.
When Rood bought a five-diamond channel ring, “she went and bought the same exact one,” Rood said.
She said Carole Swan always bought new white GMC Denalis. “She didn’t want people in Chelsea to know how often they were trading in vehicles.”
When the prosecutor asked her to describe the Swans’ lifestyle, she told him, “They lived very, very well — better than I did, and I won the lottery.”
Rood still was being questioned by defense attorney Leonard Sharon when the trial ended for the day on Thursday.
Can’t remember details
Carole Swan started the day being cross-examined by the prosecutor, then answered more questions from both Sharon and Clark.
Swan testified she could not remember specifics about the bid opening for the 2007 Windsor Road culvert project awarded to her husband.
“I’m sorry, sir. I take a lot of medication,” Swan told the Clark. “I’m sorry, sir. My children tell me I repeat myself all the time. I remember some things.”
The former Chelsea selectwoman spent almost two full days testifying in her own defense.
Swan, 55, faces 10 charges of defrauding the federal government, including one that alleges she defrauded the Federal Emergency Management Agency by inflating the cost of the culvert for the project and another that she failed to report as income money she said contractor Frank Monroe paid her.
On Thursday, Clark closely questioned Swan about her role in both the bidding and payment processes, asking her if it concerned her that she signed warrants “authorizing $220,000 for Marshal Swan on or before July 17, 2007, four or more weeks before the culvert was ordered.” The plans and specifications called for the town to make its first payment on the project after the multiplate culvert was delivered.
“Nobody cared,” she responded. “If they cared, they would have done something at the time.”
She said she filled out the invoice from Marshall Swan to the town seeking the payment. “I did it as his wife,” she said.
Clark then moved on to the four charges Swan faces of falsifying documents she filed with the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, leafing through a number of forms and displaying some of them on monitors in the courtroom.
Clark asked her whether it was fair to say that on the 2008-2011 forms, Swan denied working, being self-employed and being involved in any business enterprise.
“That’s fair to say because I didn’t believe I was,” Swan said. Swan received — and there’s was some indication by the prosecutor Thursday that she still receives — about $3,500 a month for a disability resulting from a right shoulder injury Swan suffered in 1997 while working as a rural mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service.
“I felt they were truthful. I wasn’t working anywhere,” she said.
Clark maintains she should have listed her employment and income as a town selectman and assessor — about $4,000 a year.
“I’ve wrote on it that I’ve been a selectman forever,” Swan said.
Clark also noted Swan didn’t report $99,000 in income in 2006 from the harness racing horses she owned when she included it on her tax returns, as well as the $140,000 in expenses.
“If you were writing off that much money, don’t you think that’s the sort of business enterprise OWPC might want to know about?” he asked.
“I didn’t understand it that way, Mr. Clark,” Swan replied. “I’m sorry.” Swan has maintained repeatedly she was the owner on paper only and did not work with the horses, which are stabled in Ohio and trained by her brother.
Another rebuttal witness, Wendy A. Ireland, executive director of the Maine Harness Horse Association, testified that Swan attended an association banquet in 2004 when one of her horses, 14-year-old Freestate Adieu, won a Senior Citizen Award that year.
David Libby, of Pittston, said Swan told him on New Year’s Eve 2010 that she was conducting an investigation of Frank Monroe, who had the Chelsea plow contract, to show he was dishonest.
“She intended to get payments from Frank Monroe to exceed a $10,000 mark,” Libby said. “She needed that amount to go to the (district attorney).” He said she retrieved money from her garage.
“She showed me what she told me was $10,000,” he told the prosecutor. “I didn’t count it.”
Swan is also accused of failing to report that income.
More allegations of abuse
Swan’s face reddened and she cried on the stand when she said her husband of 29 years, Marshall Swan, checked her in bed each night to be sure she wasn’t having affairs with other men. “He smells his hand to see if I’ve had any activity,” Swan said, under questioning from her attorney.
Sharon has said that if Swan made mistakes on her income tax form or federal workers’ compensation claims, it was unintentional and likely the result of years of domestic abuse Swan says she suffered from her husband.
Swan testified that she once set off a sensor her husband had placed near the bed in 2010. When the alarm woke Marshall Swan, he dragged her by the hair to the bathroom, Swan said.
She said he forced her to spray the bed every day with lice and tick spray and to place dryer sheets between the sheets and the mattress.
Swan said she moved out of their Chelsea home and checked into a Brewer motel July 7, the day before the trial started.
Swan’s younger son John, 18, testified Thursday about his parents’ relationship, saying he witnessed his father restrain his mother over the years.
John Swan seemed to choke up, at one point taking a deep, loud breath to calm himself. The jury appeared to watch him closely as he testified.
He wore a blue shirt, a blue-and-white striped tie and a dark suit. He has been carrying boxes of documents into the courtroom each morning and returning each afternoon to retrieve them and drive his mother away from the courthouse.
“I have seen him restrain her physically in a room,” he said. “I’ve seen him hold her by the hair of her head and grab her arm to restrain her.”
Swan said he’s seen 20 to 30 bruises on his mother over the years, and that sometimes his mother would leave home.
“I’d pack a bag and go with her,” he said. “I never wanted to stay with my dad.”
They would always return, and he asked her why they didn’t stay away.
“She said she intended to get me through school before she did anything like that,” John Swan said.
There have been many references during the trial to allegations of extortion and domestic abuse, and the prosecutor on July 23 asked that the jury get the following instruction from the judge:
“You are here to decide whether the government has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crimes charged. The defendant is not on trial for any act, conduct, or offense not alleged in the superseding indictment. Neither are you called up to return a verdict as to the guilt of any other person not on trial as a defendant in the case.”
Betty Adams — 621-5631