Swan pleads not guilty (Aug. 6, 2011)

Kennebec Journal Staff

AUGUSTA — In a surprise appearance, former Chelsea Selectman Carole Swan pleaded not guilty Friday in Kennebec County Superior Court to all charges pertaining to an ongoing municipal corruption probe.

Swan, 53, was indicted July 28 on four charges:

* aggravated forgery, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, alleging she falsified a public record Feb. 1;

* attempted theft, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison or $5,000 in fines, alleging she authorized a $22,075 check from the town of Chelsea to pay a fraudulent invoice Feb. 3; and

* two counts of improper compensation for services, alleging she solicited or accepted money in return for promoting a contract while she was a public official.

The latter two charges are misdemeanors, each punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Swan’s arraignment had been scheduled for Aug. 9, but was moved up after the court rejected a motion by her defense attorney, Leonard Sharon, of Auburn, to continue the case, according to James Mitchell, an assistant district attorney who represented the prosecution in court Friday.

“So, instead of continuing, the court ordered the arraignment today,” Mitchell said Friday. “Courts don’t like to delay things.”

The abrupt move prevented media coverage of the arraignment. Swan’s appearance in front of Justice Donald Marden lasted five minutes, Mitchell said.

Swan’s bail conditions were left intact.

Those conditions say Swan can only have contact with Selectman Michael Pushard, former town manager Angela Gordon and former town clerk Flavia “Cookie” Kelley at official selectmen’s meetings; and is limited to visiting the Town Office once every three months to conduct personal business.

While the bail conditions remain, many are moot. Gordon and Kelley are no longer Chelsea public officials, and selectmen have been holding meetings at sites other than the Town Office in order to accommodate the public.

Swan — a selectman for 19 consecutive years — posted $25,000 cash bail after her arrest Feb. 10. The bail amount also remained unchanged after Friday’s arraignment.

Her term ended June 30, but Swan has remained active in town affairs and has been attending selectmen’s meetings with her husband, Marshall Swan, a town contractor who faces an FBI investigation into his receipt of town and federal road contracts.

At a July 27 meeting, for example, Carole Swan passed a note to Town Manager Scott Tilton asking to be paid $5,000 for her duties as an assessor.

The charges against Swan are all linked to accusations by the Kennnebec County Sheriff’s Office that she accepted kickbacks from Whitefield plow contractor Frank Monroe.

Monroe told police in February he had paid Swan $3,000 and $7,000 on separate occasions in 2010, and was being asked to inflate a bill for road sand so she could receive $10,000 more during the first week of February.

The Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office then set up and recorded a sting in which Monroe paid Swan an undisclosed sum in marked bills. Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty said Swan was later arrested with the cash in her car and admitted the scheme in a subsequent police interview.

In May, Sharon told reporters Swan’s actions were part of a municipal investigation into Monroe’s conduct. He repeated that Friday.

“There was no new discovery presented to us and, therefore, the charges are limited to the single transaction involving Mrs. Swan’s investigation into possible irregularities in the provision of sand to the city by a certain contractor,” he wrote Friday in an email to the Kennebec Journal.

Monroe, meanwhile, has threatened to sue the town to retain the plow contract he says is rightfully his.

Town attorney Stephen Langsdorf says the only valid contract on file for Monroe expired in 2010 — around the time he is said to have started paying Swan. Former town officials have said Monroe was banned from town work after improper billing for sand in 1999.

Sharon wrote Friday he will pursue a change of venue.

“We do anticipate filing motions including a motion for a change of venue based upon the prejudicial publicity generated mainly through allegations of guilt made by the town’s attorney, which have served no other purpose other than to poison potential jurors in the area served by the Kennebec Journal,” Sharon wrote.

“The allegations have sought to remove the presumption of innocence from Swan,” he wrote. “We are anxious to let 12 persons who have no preconception of Mrs. Swan’s guilt decide whether it was their selectperson or Monroe who was short-changing the city.”

In an email, Langdorf responded: “The only information I provided came from court records and discussions with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, district attorney, FBI and (Kennebec County) sheriff.

“I am pleased that the case will now be moving toward a trial,” Langsdorf wrote. “It is important to the town that justice be done and this ugly chapter in town history be relegated to the past. I am confident that the Superior Court justice will take appropriate measures to ensure a fair trial in Kennebec County.”

This story was reported by City Editor Bob Mentzinger and Staff Writer Mechele Cooper and written by Mentzinger.

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