Caretaker convicted of theft from centenarian, now 107
October 5, 2012
A Stevens County jury on Thursday convicted a caretaker of raiding nearly $1 million from the retirement fund of a Kettle Falls woman who was then 105 years old.
The jury deadlocked, however, on the charge of criminal mistreatment of the woman, Frances Swan, who was found in May 2011 living in squalid conditions and asking for food.
The jury convicted 79-year-old John “Herb” Friedlund of first-degree theft with two aggravating circumstances, Stevens County Deputy Prosecutor Lech Radzimski said.
Superior Court Judge Al Nielson scheduled Friedlund’s sentencing for 1 p.m. today; Friedlund faces up to 10 years in prison, the deputy prosecutor said.
Friedlund also faces federal charges – 11 counts of money laundering and five counts of failing to file income taxes on the money prosecutors claim he drained from Swan’s accounts.
Court records say Friedlund spent the money on tractors, snowmobiles, horse trailers and between 300 and 400 guns. In addition, he wired large sums to young men he met on a website for “gay sugar daddies,” according to Swan’s attorney.
Friedlund took the stand this week in his own defense and claimed that Swan, now 107, made the decision to send money to the young men.
“He said that when he purchased the computer from Wal-Mart that the … chat page came up on the screen when he turned it on,” Radzimski said. “He also said that Frances enjoyed talking to people on the website and that’s how the money laundering started.
“He also stated that Frances had an interest in what made people gay and straight, so she was doing research on those various websites to educate herself.”
The complicated case was discovered last spring when the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office arrived at Swan’s Kettle Falls home to take Friedlund into custody on animal neglect charges after neighbors reported there were starving horses on his property. Friedlund asked to go back into the home to retrieve his medications, and a detective asked about Frances Swan.
Detective James Caruso walked into the home, which was littered with rotting food, dog feces and guns, and found Swan in a back bedroom. Swan said, “Please feed me” and said Friedlund hadn’t fed her since the day before.
That discovery prompted officials to move Swan to a nursing home, where she remains. Stevens County prosecutors charged Friedlund with several counts of theft. Radzimski said he later consolidated all the charges into a single charge of first-degree theft for the trial, which started Monday.
In an interview earlier this year with The Spokesman-Review, Friedlund claimed that Swan authorized all the payments he made to young men he met – and sometimes invited to come live with him – in chat rooms.
“She really didn’t know what she had where,” Friedlund said of Swan. “She had chunks of money. I don’t know if I found it all or not.”
The hundreds of guns bought by Friedlund were still in the possession earlier this year of Friedlund’s friend, Rich Jessen, a special agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
After his arrest, Friedlund sold a 134-acre ranch owned by Swan to Jessen for $33,610. A Swan family member said the property had been appraised at more than $200,000 and had several thousand dollars more worth of marketable timber.
In June 2011, Jessen bailed Friedlund out of jail and allowed him to live with him for a time in Jessen’s home south of Spokane. In a recent deposition, Jessen explained that he met Friedlund a few years ago after he reported some stolen guns.
A federal source, who spoke Thursday only on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Jessen remains employed as an ATF special agent in the Spokane office.