Defense rests in extortion trial of ex-Chelsea official; case to go to jury Tuesday

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 7:51 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 17, 2013, at 1:55 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The defense rested at about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday in the extortion trial of a former Chelsea selectwoman in U.S. District Court.

After a brief break, the prosecution is expected to call rebuttal witnesses.

The case is expected to go to the jury Tuesday afternoon after closing arguments and instructions.

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

Swan’s friends testified Tuesday morning, the sixth day of her trial, that Swan had told them she was investigating Monroe. David Libby, the 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 the plowing Monroe was doing for Chelsea was going. The Pittston man said that Monroe also had the plowing contract in his town.

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 $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, 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 4 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.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark, who is prosecuting the case, described Swan, 55, of Chelsea, as a “corrupt elected public official” in his opening statement. He said that the other selectmen agreed in 2008 to extend Monroe’s plowing contract for one year. but Swan switched the paperwork and surreptitiously had selectmen sign a two-year contract.

Defense attorney Leonard Sharon of Auburn has described his client as a woman who endured years of abuse at the hands of her husband, Marshall Swan. Sharon said in his trial brief, filed Aug. 30, that “the defense will ask the jury to consider that the domestic abuse created in Carole a propensity to tell male authority figures what she believed they wanted to hear and to accept personal blame for events when being accused of wrongdoing, even when she was without fault.”

Swan confessed to paying Monroe kickbacks when interviewed by deputies with the sheriff’s office. Investigators wired Monroe so he could record his interactions with Swan.

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 the federal statute, according to court documents.

Earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge John 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 hand 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.

If convicted of extortion, the most serious charge of which she has been accused, Carole Swan faces up to 20 years in federal prison. On the charges of which she has been convicted, Swan 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.

Watch bangordailynews.com for updates.

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