BANGOR, Maine — The trial of a former Chelsea selectwoman began Monday, with the U.S. government claiming she knowingly defrauded government agencies, dodged taxes and ripped off her town. The defense claimed a history of abuse by her husband played a significant role in her actions and that she didn’t intentionally deceive the government or her town.
The 12-member jury with three alternates was selected Monday morning for what is expected to be a three-week trial in U.S. District Court. Jury selection lasted from about 9:45 a.m. to noon, with the trial beginning around 1 p.m.
Carole Swan, 55, of Chelsea and her husband, Marshall Swan, are accused of charging the town $130,000 for a 2007 culvert job on Windsor Road that cost only $58,000, according to court documents. The funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency allegedly were paid to Marshall Swan Construction, which is owned by the couple. They are being tried separately.
In addition to the charges she had faced along with her husband, Carole Swan, who was a selectwoman in Chelsea for 19 years, also is charged with extortion and fraud. She is accused of lying in order to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
The U.S. government, represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark opened its case on Monday by calling employees and officials from several businesses that had dealings with Marshall Swan Construction.
Most witnesses said that they had spoken with Carole Swan about business when they called the construction company, or that she worked with them on requests for proposals or signed checks and invoices.
Clark said the government would prove that Carole Swan worked for the company while receiving workers’ compensation benefits and didn’t inform the government of her ability to work from 2008 to 2011.
“You will learn that Carole Swan could work and did work,” Clark told the jury.
The prosecution also argues that Carole Swan lied about her and her husband’s income on tax forms, failing to report more than $675,000 in income between 2006 and 2010, and that she played a significant role in “engineering a scheme” to ensure that the couple’s company won the bid to repair Windsor Road.
Swan’s attorney Leonard Sharon said during his opening statements that the jury would hear about a different side of Carole Swan. He said the U.S. government was trying to portray her as a calculating criminal who went out of her way to mislead and cheat federal and local agencies.
“These are words that [Clark] used, these were not her life,” he told the jury.
“You can’t just judge the face she showed the outside world,” Sharon said.
In private, Sharon said Carole Swan lived a life of fear and repression under her husband’s roof. Sharon claimed Carole Swan faced beatings if dinner wasn’t right. According to Sharon, Carole Swan was expected to do work for her husband’s company and she did that work to protect herself, not for her own benefit.
“She got the work done to survive,” he said.
Marshall Swan has not been charged with domestic violence.
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.
If convicted, Carole Swan faces up to 20 years in prison on the extortion charge and up to five years in prison on the charges pertaining to her receipt of workers’ compensation benefits. Both Swans face up to three years behind bars for lying on their tax returns, if convicted. If convicted, each faces fines of up to $250,000 on each count.
Last week, after Carole Swan alleged in court documents that her husband had a history of abuse against her, U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock decided the couple should have separate trials because accusations of abuse might prejudice a jury against Marshall Swan if he was tried alongside his wife. Woodcock denied a similar motion made last year, but that didn’t involve any last-minute allegations.