BANGOR — A jury late Tuesday night convicted former longtime Chelsea selectwoman Carole Swan of taking kickbacks from Frank Monroe, who held the town’s sand and plow contracts.
The verdict, delivered just before 10 p.m., came at the end of a six-day trial and 33 months after Monroe went to Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office deputies complaining that Swan was demanding $10,000 from him.
Richard Danforth, a Chelsea selectman who served a number of years with Swan and testified at her trials, said the town was “turned upside down” by Swan’s actions.
“The town is healing and today the healing process continues,” Danforth said after the verdict.
Monroe’s claim triggered official investigations into Swan’s other activities with the town as well as reviews of her personal finances.
It resulted in her being charged with three counts of extortion under color of official right — in other words, using a public office to illegally take money – in violation of the federal Hobbs Act. The trial on those charges began Sept. 10 in U.S. District Court.
The jury was out for almost five and a half hours Tuesday, and the verdict was delivered with Swan’s two sisters and two sons sitting behind the defense table.
Swan remains free on post-conviction bail, and her family looked disappointed as they left the courtroom.
Danforth thanked Chelsea town officials Mike Pushard, Ben Smith and Linda Leotsakis “for putting the town right side up.” He also pointed out that Chelsea has since adopted a charter that outlines circumstances and protocol for removing public officials from office — rules that were not in place when Swan initially continued to serve on the select board after she was charged in the extortion case.
“The town now has a charter that hopefully will prevent future Chelsea public officials from misusing their authority for personal gain,” Danforth said.
A separate jury in the same courtroom convicted Swan July 26 of falsifying five years’ worth of income tax returns by failing to declare $650,000 in income while defrauding the federal workers’ compensation program in 2008 and 2010.
However, that jury cleared her of two additional charges of federal workers’ compensation fraud and of fraud on a federal program that paid most of the cost of the 2007 Windsor Road culvert replacement project done by her husband, Marshall Swan.
His trial on charges of falsifying income-tax returns and aiding and abetting federal program fraud related to the culvert project begins Sept. 30 in the same court.
Carole Swan testified she was conducting a sting to prove that Monroe was shortchanging the town of sand he was contracted to deliver.
She said she thought she had to get more than $10,000 from him to bring her suspicions to authorities.
In his closing argument Tuesday, however, prosecutor Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark, argued that Swan “wasn’t investigating Frank Monroe, she was extorting money from him.”
Clark interspersed his argument with clips from recorded phone calls between Monroe and Swan and from her 90-minute interview with Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office deputies in which Swan didn’t mention an investigation.
Swan’s attorney, Leonard Sharon, said Swan’s “intent was not to extort, but to investigate.”
He said she confessed to deputies in the video because she felt intimidated by them, reminding jurors that Swan had testified about abuse she says she suffered at the hands of her husband.
Swan, 55, has said Marshall Swan abused her over the 29 years of their marriage, dragging her by the hair, punching her and holding her head in the toilet, among other things.
She testified she left him in June after their younger son graduated from high school, but has not filed for divorce.
As the judge, Justice John A. Woodcock Jr., read final instructions to the jury, five of Swan’s family members watched with investigators, U.S. Marshals, reporters and Danforth.
Earlier in the day, Clark questioned Roberta Jean Rood, Marshall Swan’s sister, who attested to her sister-in-law’s poor character.
“I sincerely cannot believe anything that comes out of her mouth,” Rood said. “She is a chronic pathological liar.”
Swan, from the defense table, shook her head as Rood spoke.
Monroe testified earlier that he had paid Swan $3,000 and $7,000 in separate installments in 2010 in return for her renewing his contracts without going out to bid.
He said he understood that giving her money was wrong, but he thought it would ease the number of her complaints about his work.
However, he said he balked when she told him to inflate his bill to the town winter sand delivery and kick back $10,000 to her.
At the deputies’ direction, Monroe recorded phone calls between Swan and himself about the final exchange, which took place Feb. 3, 2011, on a snowy street in Augusta.
There, Monroe leaned out of his sand truck door and handed Swan, in a white pickup truck, a sting package of $450 arranged to seem like $10,000. Deputies caught the exchange on camera and then followed Swan to a parking lot blocks away.
They confronted her, got the cash back and interviewed her at the sheriff’s office, less than a minute away.
While clips from the interview were played during the trial, Clark told jurors they would have the entire interview in the jury room with them to watch if they chose.
Several defense witnesses testified that Swan had shared her plan to investigate Monroe with them. David Libby, of Pittston, said Swan showed him an envelope around New Year’s Day 2011 that she said contained $10,000 in money she had gotten from Monroe.
Flavia Kelley, a former Chelsea town clerk, said she asked Swan at a community Thanksgiving dinner in 2010 whether Swan intended to run for office again the following spring.
“She said the only way she would run was if she didn’t get all the goods on Frankie Monroe to nail him,” Kelley said.