December 6, 2012

Indicted Chelsea selectwoman claims illiteracy at hearing

Swan, who spent 19 years signing warrants and conducting other town business, is facing federal extortion charges for allegedly accepting kickbacks from a town road contractor.

By BETTY ADAMS Kennebec Journal

BANGOR — Carole Swan, who spent 19 years as a Chelsea selectwoman signing warrants and conducting other town business, testified in federal court here Wednesday that she is illiterate.

"I can't read or write," she said. "I never took minutes. I can read numbers."

Swan made the surprising statement when she took the witness stand during a pretrial hearing in U.S. District Court, where she faces federal extortion charges for allegedly accepting kickbacks from a town road contractor, as well as other crimes.

Shortly after saying that, she provided the names of four people she said witnessed her efforts to investigate that same contractor, Frank Monroe, of Whitefield, and spelled the last name of one of those witnesses.

At the hearing, her attorney, Leonard Sharon questioned two investigators as well as Swan and her son Jacob in a bid to keep her Feb. 3, 2011, statements to investigators from being used at trial.

In his written motion to suppress, Sharon maintained Swan was not given Miranda warnings, that she was in custody during the interview at the Kennebec County Sheriff's Office that afternoon, and that her statements were made involuntarily in response to pressure.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark, the prosecutor, maintained that the videotaped admissions should be used and that Swan's rights were not violated.

The judge is expected to rule later in writing.

Neither attorney presented oral arguments. They confined their efforts in the 2 1/2-hour hearing to questioning the witnesses. A court affidavit by sheriff's office Detective David Bucknam about that interview says Swan admitted receiving kickbacks from other contractors as well as Monroe and had taken money for years for "greasing the wheels" and was "the guilty one."

On the stand, Swan admitted to saying all of that and responded "yes" to Clark's question about whether she knew she was "ripping off the town" by having Monroe overbill it for sand.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk halted questioning by Clark after he asked whether Swan previously had taken bribes from Monroe.

"We're not going to try the whole case this afternoon," Judge Kravchuk said. Clark told the judge some of his questions were designed to test the credibility of Swan's testimony.

Bucknam testified Wednesday that Swan was not under arrest during the interview and was told repeatedly she could leave at any time.

Swan was arrested a week after that interview on state charges of aggravated forgery, attempted theft from the town and improper compensation for services. Those charges were dismissed later in favor of federal charges.

Swan was a selectman from 1992 until early 2011. She was indicted by a federal grand jury Feb. 29 on 17 separate charges, and her husband, contractor Marshall Swan, 55, was indicted on 10 charges. Both Swans have pleaded not guilty.

If found guilty, Carole Swan faces maximum penalties of up to 20 years in prison on some of the federal charges and Marshall Swan faces a maximum of 10 years in prison on some of his federal charges.

In a written motion filed before Wednesday's hearing, Sharon said deputies at the Feb. 3, 2011 questioning did not permit her to use her cellphone. Her son Jacob Swan also testified he was unable to reach her when he called her cellphone and the family's home phone that day to find out why she had not brought his lunch as she had promised.

"The officers did not act out the time-worn good cop-bad cop routine," Sharon said. "This was a bad cop-worse cop scenario."

In contrast, Bucknam painted a more cordial picture of the interview. He said Swan was told several times that she was not under arrest and could leave if she wished and that she was allowed to call her husband in private.

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