Bill Swann says he feels like a fish in a trout pond that can’t stay off the hook.
In November 2016, he pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Endangered Species Act after he was found to have helped customers at his fishing guide business illegally harvest wild steelhead on the Cowlitz River while also attempting to conceal their native origin by cutting the adipose fins from the fish. He was ultimately fined $7,500 in that case. Now, he’s facing numerous charges of fraud and perjury from the federal government related to attempts to receive early Social Security and disability benefits.
In federal court in Tacoma on Wednesday, he pleaded not guilty to charges of wire fraud, mail fraud, Social Security fraud and perjury. The charges allege that Swann, known as “Swanny” to his Swanny’s Guided Fishing customers, applied for disability benefits and claimed he could not work regularly, all while guiding up to 300 fishing trips a year in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. The charges contend that he netted more than $750,000 between 2006 and 2016 through his guided fishing service.
“What they tried to do is attach what’s going on right now to the previous illegal killing of wild coho,” insisted Swann on Thursday. “I’m on their radar and they’re trying to get me for any little thing that they can get me for.”
Swann, of Rainier, says that he never received any of the contested benefits since his applications were denied, so he doesn’t see what all the fuss is over.
“We’re going to fight this all the way. It’s just ridiculous. If there’s a way they can make a pebble into a mountain, they will,” said Swann. “It would be a different story if I’d received Social Security and disability benefits, but they’re saying I was planning a scheme … There wasn’t no scheme being planned out whatsoever!”
Swann says that his doctors signed off on his partial-disability claim but that he was subsequently denied on three separate applications. When it comes to the contested workload from his guide business, Swann says he worked substantially less than the charges against him claim. As for the three quarters of a million dollars he supposedly made over the past decade, Swann would like someone from the government to show it to him.
“Yeah right! Show me that money. I just laughed. My lawyer laughed. It was unreal,” said Swann. “They say I did this, this and this, and I didn’t.”
Swann noted that the mail fraud charge was likely tagged on because his attorney submitted the benefit applications on his behalf by mail. In all, he’s been charged with two counts of wire fraud and one count of mail fraud for allegedly filing false documents with the Social Security Administration, a single count of Social Security fraud for allegedly concealing his work history and perjury. Swann says that the most serious charge carries a sentence of about 20 years, but he’s not entirely sure how much time he is facing or how large a fine he could wind up liable for. He says he’s confident in his innocence and isn’t going to let the latest allegations weigh him down.
“Hey, it’s innocent until proven guilty, right? That’s what the feds do is try to pile it on and stick as many things to you as they can so that you'll plead down to something smaller. That’s just what they do,” said Swann. “I’m still working. I just got back from Alaska. I just completed all my hours of community service from last time. I’ve got my ticket paid way down, but they don’t tell you that part. That’s what I’m doing. Local guiding on the Cowlitz and the Columbia.”
Swann’s trial was set to begin on Oct. 2 with U.S. District Court Judge Robert Bryan presiding.