BANGOR, Maine — Carole Swan, a former Chelsea selectwoman, will face charges of extortion, stealing federal funds designated for the town, tax fraud and workers’ compensation fraud without her husband at her side, a judge ruled Friday, just three days before jury selection.
Swan, in her July 1 trial brief, led off with a series of allegations of spousal abuse, including claims that her state of mind at the time of the alleged crimes was affected by the “chilling” behavior of her husband, Marshall Swan, whom she describes in the document as “controlling and physically abusive.”
Marshall Swan was taken aback by the allegations, according to court documents, and his attorney argued that those claims drastically changed the defense of the case, would prejudice the jury, and that he was not prepared any defense against those allegations. Marshall Swan has not been charged with domestic violence assault.
His attorney, Walter McKee of Augusta, filed a motion to sever their ties in the case and have the court hold separate trials on July 3.
Two days later, U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock, who last year denied a motion for a separate trial, decided this time to grant the request in light of the last-minute abuse allegations.
“The Court agrees with Marshall Swan that Carole Swan’s allegations of spousal abuse raise the likelihood that a joint trial would be highly prejudicial to him,” Woodcock wrote.
Woodcock wrote in his decision that if Marshall Swan were tried alongside his wife, the potentially prejudicial allegations of abuse would force Marshall Swan to “defend himself not only against the prosecutor’s case against him, but also his wife’s case against him.”
There would be a risk that the jury would convict Marshall Swan of federal fraud crimes because they believed he committed uncharged spousal abuse crimes, the judge argued. Ensuring a fair trial was worth the cost of having two separate proceedings, Woodcock decided.
The couple is accused of charging the town $130,000 for a culvert job on Windsor Road that cost only $58,000, according to court documents. The funds to fix the culvert from the Federal Emergency Management Agency allegedly were paid to Marshall Swan Construction, which is owned by the couple.
The extortion charge stems from Carole Swan’s alleged use of her position as a town leader to extort money from an area construction company by overpaying and getting kickbacks that totaled $20,000. She had the town overpay the construction company — a plowing contractor — and received a kickback from him for $3,000 in January 2010, and another $7,000 in December 2010, according to the indictment. In the third extortion count, she allegedly asked the contractor to inflate his bill for road sand so she could get $10,000.
The tax fraud charges allege the couple underreported their taxable income between 2006 and 2010. Carole Swan is accused of lying about her sources of income to obtain workers’ compensation.
The Swans have pleaded not guilty to all charges and remain free on personal recognizance bail.
Carole Swan’s trial is scheduled to begin Monday. A date for Marshall Swan’s trial has not yet been set.
If convicted, Carole Swan faces up to 20 years in federal prison on the extortion charge and up to five years on the workers’ compensation fraud charges. She and her husband each face up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the charges of fraudulently using federal funds meant for the town and up to three years on the tax fraud charges.
Both Carole and Marshall Swan also could be ordered to pay fines of up to $250,000 and restitution of nearly $400,000.
BDN reporter Judy Harrison contributed to this report.