Grand jury: Clarkston councilwoman stole from center

A federal grand jury Thursday indicted Clarkston City Councilwoman Joan Swaney for allegedly embezzling more than $50,000 from the Clarkston Community Center.

Swaney, 68, used the money to help pay for family vacations, medical bills, personal car repairs, a boat charter and other personal expenses, the indictment said. At the time, she served as the community center’s office manager, a position she held from 2003 until the end of last year.

The community center, a non-profit that gets most of its money from government grants, identified the missing funds during an internal audit last year, the indictment said.

Swaney, who did not return phone calls seeking comment, was indicted on 10 counts of bank frand.

Swaney was elected to the city council in 2010. Her term expires at the end of this year. She was Clarkston’s vice mayor in 2012.

The city council website says Swaney is a retired executive assistant who has lived in Clarkston for 35 years. Her personal motto: “Live with purpose, act with character.”

Clarkston’s mayor, Emanuel Ransom, was stunned when told by a reporter of the indictment.

“She did not,” he said. “Oh, my God. That has knocked me off my feet … Right now, I’m too flabbergasted to speak. She’s been a very good friend of mine for years.”

McKenzie Wren, the community center’s executive director, could not be reached for comment.

Beginning in 2010, Swaney began to write checks to herself from the community center’s bank account, the indictment said. She also forged the signature of the community center’s director and deposited those forged checks into her personal account, the indictment said. Swaney then allegedly used those funds to pay personal expenses and credit card bills.

At the same time, she used the community center’s debit card to make unauthorized cash withdrawals from the center’s bank account, the indictment said. Generally, Swaney would withdraw between $300 and $600 at a time and made the unauthorized debit withdrawals at least once or twice a month, the indictment said.

The Clarkston Community Center, founded in 1994, serves one of the state’s most diverse communities. Its programs include a food pantry, a food co-op, a farmers market, education classes for refugees, sports programs and a city youth initiative aimed at teenagers. Last year, it served more than 35,000 people, according to the center’s website.

The center’s total expenses were $278,000 in 2011, the most recent tax record available. Swaney earned $13,215 as a part-time office manager for the center in 2011, the foundation’s tax returns showed.

Staff writer James Salzer contributed to this article.