July 24, 2013

FBI specialists copy town's computer hard drives

They didn't want to take computers so government could still function

CHELSEA -- A team of FBI forensic computer specialists searched the Town Office on Thursday and copied information stored on the hard drives of the town's seven computers as part of an ongoing graft investigation into selectman Carole Swan.

click image to enlarge

Kennebec County Detective Dave Bucknam, right, opens the door Thursday at the Chelsea Town Office for selectman Michael Pushard, second from right, and three employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The federal investigators copied the hard drives of town's computers during a search conducted in the afternoon.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

Standing in front of the town office, Chelsea Selectman Mike Pushard answers questions about about the new security measures being taken at the building on Thursday morning.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Det. Dave Bucknamof the Kennebec County Sheriff's Office, who is leading the Swan investigation, accompanied the FBI investigators on Thursday. He said it was decided to copy the hard drives rather than seize the computers.

"We're making sure the integrity of the hard drives in the computers haven't been compromised," Bucknam said. "We'll just copy the hard drives. That way the town can continue to function."

Swan, 52, was arrested Feb. 10 for allegedly soliciting a $10,000 kickback from a town plowing contractor. She is currently free on bail.

Stephen Langsdorf, the attorney for the town of Chelsea, said the FBI specialists arrived in Maine on Thursday afternoon, but could not comment specifically on the purpose of their visit.

"When you have forensic computer experts like that they can tell when documents were changed and when things were deleted," Langsdorf. "Things you or I wouldn't be able to find."

Changed locks

Also Thursday, Chelsea Selectmen Michael Pushard was at the Town Office early to distribute keys for new locks on the building.

Upon the urging of residents and the town's attorney, Pushard changed the locks after Justice Robert Murray on Tuesday amended Swan's bail order to allow Swan to conduct personal business at the Town Office once every three months and also to attend "official noticed meetings."

Swan has not resigned her seat as chair of the Board of Selectmen. In turn, some concerned residents took shifts guarding the Town Office overnight Tuesday to prevent her from entering the building.

Pushard had the locks changed on Wednesday.

"I handed out keys to staff," Pushard said. "And we're in the process of changing the panel on the security system so we'll know who's coming and going. We want to see if there's money available to spend on modifying the old system."

Each Town Office employee will have their own code for entering the building.

"So when they enter we'll know exactly who came and when," Langsdorf said. "I think the security system would be a very good thing. And I'm happy they changed the locks."

So is Sherrill Hallett, who serves on the Chelsea school board. Hallett said she is appalled at Judge Murray's decision to allow Swan access to the Chelsea town office, again.

"What was he thinking?" Hallett said. "This person has admitted to the officers that arrested her to stealing from the people of Chelsea, for at least the past ten years, and the judge saw fit to let her re-enter what is effectively a crime scene. I can't wait to read his justification."

Kennebec County District Attorney Evert Fowle said Thursday the criminal investigation continues.

"The FBI have joined with us in making sure that every stone that can be unturned is unturned," he said.

And he repeated his call for aid from the public.

"We encourage anyone with information about activities at the Town Office to contact investigator Bucknam or this office," Fowle said. "People are coming forward. They're just ordinary citizens and not all of their concerns suggest criminality. That's fine. We want to hear from anyone who has information."

Swan's case is the third time in recent history that the town of Chelsea has come under investigation by law enforcement.

Doris Reed, a former assistant town manager and assistant tax collector, was arrested and charged with stealing more than $142,000 in auto excise taxes from the town between 1990 and 1992.

Reed was indicted by a Kennebec County grand jury in November 1995 on a class B felony of theft by unauthorized taking.

Robert Stolt, who represented Chelsea in that investigation and during attempts to recover the money said the thefts had been going on since the early 1980s. He estimated the town lost as much as $600,000.

Then, in April 1998, the town's computers were seized, but for a child pornography case.

Town Manager Paul Beattie was arrested by federal agents on charges of possessing and receiving child pornography over the Internet. Beattie committed suicide four months after his arrest on the day he was to appear in court to enter a plea.

Mechele Cooper -- 623-3811, ext. 408

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