Former Chelsea selectwoman guilty of taking kickback from plowing contractor

Carole Swan (left) leaves the federal courthouse in Bangor recently with her attorney Leonard Sharon.
Carole Swan (left) leaves the federal courthouse in Bangor recently with her attorney Leonard Sharon.
Posted Sept. 17, 2013, at 10:09 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 17, 2013, at 10:47 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — After deliberating for 5½ hours, a jury of five men and seven women found a former Chelsea selectwoman guilty Tuesday on three counts of extortion.

Carole Swan, 55, of Chelsea was accused of demanding kickbacks from Frank Monroe, a Whitefield contractor who plowed and sanded the town’s roads. Swan maintained that she was conducting a sting operation and planned to take the $10,000 in cash she allegedly had received from Monroe to prosecutors.

Swan showed no emotion as the verdict was read.

The jury’s decision was announced about 10 p.m. Tuesday after more than five days of testimony. The trial began Sept. 10.

U.S. District Judge John Woodcock ordered that Swan remain free on personal recognizance bail. He said Tuesday that her sentencing date would be set after U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services files a presentencing report.

Defense attorney Leonard Sharon of Auburn said after the verdict that Swan “got a fair trial.”

“It was obvious from the length of time the jury was out that they considered all the evidence,” he said. “We knew it would be difficult to overcome the statements she made to the police. By all appearances, that’s what prevailed.”

In a 90-minute interview in February 2011 with Kennebec County sheriff’s detectives, Swan confessed that she had accepted kickbacks from Monroe.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark, who prosecuted the case, left the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building, where federal court is located, without talking to reporters.

Monroe testified Sept. 10, the first day of the trial, that his firm had the plowing contract in Chelsea between 2006 and 2011. He said that typically his firm had to bid in even-numbered years on two-year contracts.

Monroe testified that in 2008, he talked to Swan but no other selectmen about the possibility of extending the contract by negotiating it rather than by having to bid on it.

“Carole was the one that ran the show,” Monroe said in response to a question about why he dealt only with Swan. “She was the one that handled it all.”

Monroe told jurors that he paid Swan a total of nearly $10,000 to keep the contract but went to investigators at the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office when she told him to overbill the town for sand and then pay her the $10,000 overpayment.

Swan testified that she was gathering evidence as she had in the 1990s against someone she believed was cheating the town. In 1997, Doris Reed, a former Chelsea tax collector, was sentenced to four years in prison for embezzling more than $250,000 from the town between 1988 and 1992, according to the Bangor Daily News archives. Reed stole the money from the town’s automobile excise taxes.

On Tuesday morning, Swan’s friends testified that Swan had told them she was investigating Monroe. David Libby, a Pittston man who has lived with Swan’s sister Sharon Nichols for 30 years, told the jury that Swan told him about her sting on New Year’s Eve 2010.

“She said that she had a lot of trouble with Frank Monroe in town and was trying to put an end to it,” Libby testified. “She said she was trying to trap him a little bit but needed over $10,000 to go to the authorities with.”

Libby said he started the conversation that led to that revelation by asking how Monroe’s plowing for Chelsea was going. The Pittston man said that Monroe also had the plowing contract in his town.

Friends of Monroe testified as rebuttal witnesses for the prosecution that they knew him to have a reputation for honesty.

Swan’s sister-in-law Roberta Rood of Kissimmee, Fla., who testified for the prosecution, described her brother’s wife as a “chronic, pathological liar.” Rood testified that one evening after a family dinner at a local restaurant, Swan said she had to go home to work on the sand and salt books for the town so “no one else could figure them out.”

Swan testified Monday that she endured years of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of her husband. She said that she told the police what they wanted to hear.

Through his attorney, Walter McKee of Augusta, Marshall Swan has denied the abuse allegations. He has not been charged with a domestic violence crime.

Because Swan was a selectwoman when she allegedly received kickbacks from Monroe, she was charged under the “color of official right” section of federal statute, according to court documents.

Earlier this year, Woodcock severed Swan’s trial on the extortion charges from her trial on tax and workers compensation fraud charges. He also ordered the husband and wife be tried separately after the abuse allegations surfaced.

Marshall Swan is to be tried Sept. 30 on tax fraud charges. His trial originally was set to begin Oct. 8.

Carole Swan was found guilty Aug. 23 after nine hours of deliberations by a federal jury in July on five counts of tax fraud from 2006 to 2010 and two counts of lying in 2008 and 2010 about her income and work history to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

The jury rejected Swan’s contention that she was justified in breaking the law because of alleged abuse at the hands of her estranged husband.

Swan was found not guilty on two of four counts of workers’ compensation fraud and not guilty of the illegal use of federal funds to pay for a culvert with Federal Emergency Management Agency money.

Woodcock ruled in her second trial that the jury could be informed of her convictions but not her acquittals. The judge found the law did not allow for jurors to be told of not-guilty verdicts but several witnesses Tuesday morning mentioned while testifying that Swan was acquitted on some counts.

Carole Swan faces up to 20 years in federal prison on the extortion charges. Swan also faces up to three years in prison for tax fraud and up to five years for workers’ compensation fraud.

In addition to prison time, she could be ordered to pay fines of up to $25,000 on each count and to repay workers’ compensation funds she illegally received.

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