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Elder neglect suspect arrested on felony theft charge

UPDATED: Tue., Aug. 2, 2011, 4:07 p.m.

COLVILLE – The man charged with mistreating a 106-year-old Kettle Falls woman was arrested today at a hearing initially set to allow him to appoint a new attorney to represent him in his criminal matters.

When John H. “Herb” Friedlund, 78, appeared before Superior Court Judge Al Nielson, he was arrested on nine felony theft charges. The charges allege he raided the retirement accounts of Frances T. Swan, who was discovered May 26 begging for food in her Kettle Falls home, which was riddled with dog feces, rotting food, guns and ammunition.

“This is completely ridiculous,” Friedlund said as a Stevens County Sheriff’s detective placed him in handcuffs. “I probably won’t be alive tomorrow morning.”

Friedlund had the power of attorney over Swan’s affairs for the past decade. Timothy Tesh, a Seattle attorney representing Swan’s family, filed a civil petition today seeking to remove Friedlund’s legal access to Swan’s affairs. In that document, Tesh alleged that Friedlund removed more than $800,000 from Swan’s retirement account and sent by wire transfers to individuals living in Texas, California and England.

Friedlund’s attorney, Bevan Maxey, told the judge he feared for his client’s health. After the hearing, Maxey had a letter from Friedlund’s physician indicating that the suspect suffers from a history of congestive heart failure, has a pacemaker that needs replaced and pulmonary hypertension.

The doctor “is concerned whether (Friedlund) will be able to physically survive in jail,” Maxey said. “We have a situation here where an elderly person with extensive medical problems is doing his best to take care of an even more elderly person.”

Maxey said his client befriended Frances Swan, and her late husband Severt Swan, years ago. County records show that the Swans sold Friedlund 134 acres fronting the Kettle River in 1985 for $6,000.

Then in 2001, Friedlund obtained the legal power attorney over Swan’s affairs, which gave him access to all of her bank accounts.

Care providers paid to help Swan previously told The Spokesman-Review that Friedlund paid them out of Swan’s checking account and they also saw him buy personal items with her money. The care providers also complained about Friedlund’s treatment of Swan to state Adult Protective Services five years ago.

Tesh, the Seattle attorney, said last week that even though Friedlund had control of Swan’s accounts, he was bound by law to spend that money only for her benefit.

Detectives discovered Swan on May 26 when they went to arrest Friedlund on five counts of animal cruelty after neighbors reported starving horses on the 134 acres north of Kettle Falls.

During that arrest, Friedlund asked to retrieve his medicine from the home, which was so squalid a detective described it as almost unbearable. It’s then Detective James Caruso asked to check on Swan. When Caruso opened the back bedroom door, Swan said: “Please feed me. He hasn’t fed me since yesterday.”

Swan has since been placed in the Buena Vista nursing home in Colville, where she has thrived, prosecutors have said.

Detectives then charged Friedlund in June with criminal mistreatment. On June 21, an agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives paid the $25,000 to bond Friedlund out of jail and provided a place for him to stay in the agent’s home south of Spokane.

Nine days later, Friedlund sold the Kettle River property to ATF agent Carl “Rich” Jessen for $33,610, which the family’s attorney said was far below market value.

Jessen issued a statement last week to The Spokesman-Review saying he befriended Friedlund in 2006 and did not observe any criminal activity.

“I was not aware of any financial investigation related to Swan and Friedlund when I posted Friedlund’s bond and purchased property from Friedlund,” Jessen wrote.

Stevens County Sheriff Kendle Allen said Wednesday that he notified federal authorities about the transactions but said he knows of no laws that were broken.

Asked whether he was concerned about the relationship, Allen declined to comment. “Any problems would be dealt with by his agency.”

Calls placed to the Spokane office of the ATF were forwarded to an agency spokeswoman in Seattle, who did not immediately return the message.

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