Theft charges likely in 106-year-old’s neglect case
Family’s lawyer also questions suspect’s sale of property
The neglect case involving a 106-year-old woman found begging for food in her squalid Kettle Falls home has morphed into a records hunt by law enforcement and others who say up to $1 million is missing from the woman’s retirement accounts.
The chief suspect is her former caretaker, 78-year-old John H. “Herb” Friedlund, who had power of attorney over her financial affairs for the past decade and who already is facing animal abuse and criminal mistreatment charges.
Deputy Stevens County Prosecutor Lech Radzimski declined to give specific amounts of how much Friedlund is believed to have taken, but an attorney representing the family of 106-year-old Frances T. Swan put the figure at well over $800,000. Much of the money was removed through a monthlong series of wire transfers to individuals across the country and in Europe, according to documents compiled by the Swan family’s attorney.
“The investigation into the criminal mistreatment has revealed that there was financial exploitation and our office will be filing charges as a result of that investigation,” Radzimski said.
In another twist, authorities discovered that the man who bailed Friedlund out of the Stevens County jail and provided Friedlund a place to stay is a Spokane-based agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Nine days after posting the $25,000 bond, the ATF special agent, Carl “Rich” Jessen, bought 134 acres fronting the Kettle River from Friedlund at what the Swan family’s attorney said was a lower-than-market price.
Seattle attorney Timothy Tesh, who has been retained by Swan’s family, said it appears that Friedlund sold the Kettle River property for less than its full value to avoid civil and criminal legal proceedings that are currently under way. The acreage is also where neighbors discovered five starving horses, which led to both the animal cruelty charges.
“If the property had been marketed for sale, presumably, it would have netted market value,” Tesh said. “The fact it wasn’t marketed, and it was sold nine days after (Friedlund’s) arrest, makes it appear this transaction was solely made to avoid creditors. My client is the only creditor.”
Jessen, reached by The Spokesman-Review, said in a brief conversation that “as far as I know, there is no criminal investigation against me,” and that he remains on active status with the ATF.
In a later written statement, Jessen said he became friends with Friedlund in about 2006.
“I have not observed Friedlund to be involved in any criminal activity,” Jessen wrote. “I was not aware of any financial investigation related to Swan and Friedlund when I posted Friedlund’s bond and purchased property from Friedlund.
“I allowed Friedlund to live with me for a short term after he became homeless by court order, without means for support,” Jessen continued, adding that he was worried that Friedlund’s “disabilities, the stresses associated with Friedlund’s criminal charges, and his ever worsening circulatory failure will contribute to his demise.”
According to a federal law enforcement source, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, Stevens County law enforcement officials recently held a meeting with federal prosecutors to discuss Jessen. At that time, the matter of Jessen’s involvement with Friedlund was forwarded to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General in San Francisco.
“Although it may have been forwarded to them, I don’t believe they are investigating it,” the source said of Office of Inspector General. “It’s not a crime to bail someone out or let a defendant live with you. Where the investigation lies, I don’t know.”
Stevens County Sheriff Kendle Allen was out of town last week and could not be reached for comment. Multiple calls placed to the local office of the ATF were not returned.
Spokane attorney Bevan Maxey, who is representing Friedlund, said “it’s important that people remember that this gentleman is presumed innocent.”
As for Friedlund’s relationship with Jessen, Maxey added: “Even ATF agents have the right to have friends.”
The friendship with Jessen surfaced after Stevens County deputies responded to Swan’s Kettle Falls home on May 26 after investigating reports of starving horses on the property Friedlund later sold to Jessen north of Kettle Falls.
Before deputies took Friedlund to jail, he asked to retrieve his medicine from the home, which was strewn with firearms, ammunition, dog feces and rotting food. Detective James Caruso asked to check on Swan and soon after found the woman in a back bedroom. When he opened the door, Swan said: “Please feed me. I haven’t eaten since yesterday.”
Swan was removed from the home and by all accounts is doing well at the Buena Vista nursing home in Colville. The Spokesman-Review was not able to obtain permission from an appointed legal guardian to interview Swan.
Radzimski, the deputy prosecutor, filed a charge of second-degree criminal mistreatment against Friedlund for the conditions in which Swan was rescued. On June 21, Jessen paid $25,000 to bond Friedlund out of jail.
Then on June 30, according to Stevens County property records, Friedlund sold Jessen his 134 acres north of Colville for $33,610.
Tesh, Swan’s attorney, said he’s not yet obtained an appraisal for the property, but that he has been told by a federal prosecutor the value of the land and timber is closer to $300,000.
According to a search of property records, the 42 acres adjoining Friedlund’s parcel, but situated farther from the Kettle River, sold in 2007 for $80,000.
“It appears to be a far less than an arm’s length transaction between Friedlund and Jessen,” Tesh said. “It would appear, given the legal description, that it’s worth many times, maybe 10 times, what (Jessen) paid.”
Tesh has commenced a legal history going back decades to piece together how and when Friedlund, who is not a relative, came into Frances Swan’s life.
According to county records, Swan’s late husband, Severt Swan, and Frances sold the 134 acres to Friedlund in 1985 for $6,000.
Then in 2001, Friedlund – who had befriended Severt Swan – obtained power of attorney over Frances Swan’s affairs. That gave him access to her bank accounts. But Tesh said that under law, Friedlund is bound to use those funds only for her benefit.
Tesh said Swan had more than $801,000 in her retirement accounts in April 2007. In less than a month, Friedlund transferred all but about $2,300 from the account. He also purchased a tractor, horse trailer and other items that Tesh argues provided Swan no benefit.
Tesh said he’s found where Friedlund has sent large transfers, mostly $35,000 at a time, to people living in Texas, California and England.
“We don’t know why he was wiring them money from (Swan’s) account,” Tesh said. “Having the power of attorney does not mean you can send $35,000 to Texas without accounting for it. We would like to know the benefits, if any, Frances Swan received from those wires.”
Maxey, the Spokane-based attorney representing Friedlund, said caring for an elderly person takes a lot of time and commitment.
“This gentleman has been trying to care for this lady for a long time and has seen to the fact that she has received in-home care on regular basis,” Maxey said. “There were a lot of mandatory reporters coming into the home over a number of years who were obligated to report if they saw anything inappropriate.”