A prominent fishing guide from Southwest Washington has again found himself in hot water in the courts for crimes related to his paid angling endeavors.
On March 29, Bill Jim Swann, 53, of Rainier was convicted in U.S. District Court on charges related to a disability fraud scheme. After a three-day trial, Swann was found guilty of perjury, wire fraud, and Social Security fraud over an eight-year period.
In 2016, Swann, proprietor of Swanny’s Guided Fishing, pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Endangered Species Act, and was fined $7,500. That guilty plea came after Swann was accused of illegally harvesting two wild coho salmon on the Cowlitz River while he was out on a paid guide trip. After video and photos of the fish surfaced on the internet, Swann was accused of cutting off the adipose fins of the fish to make them appear as if they were clipped hatchery stock, which is legal for harvest.
Swann did not return a phone call from The Chronicle seeking comment on the most recent convictions. Last August, when the most recent round of charges was brought forth, Swann told The Chronicle that he felt unfairly targeted by law enforcement and the courts.
“I’m on their radar and they’re trying to get me for any little thing that they can get me for,” he said at the time.
“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. 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.”
A news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office noted that the fraud scheme was uncovered during the 2016 investigation into the wild coho incident.
The charges that Swann was found guilty of last week alleged that he 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 contended that he netted more than $750,000 between 2006 and 2016 through his guided fishing service.
Swann denied making that much money, or working as much as he was accused. However, the U.S. Attorney’s office argued in court that Swann’s profitable outfit was detailed in newspapers, magazines, online and on the radio at the same time he was claiming to be disabled.
Court case files show that Swann applied for Social Security disability benefits in 2006 and claimed that his disability had prevented him from working since 2003. When that application was denied Swann appealed and swore before an administrative law judge that his only employment was as a volunteer for a few weeks in the summer at an Alaska fishing camp.
After that appeal was denied, Swann filed a new appeal in U.S. District Court, which the U.S. Attorney’s office also argued was full of falsehoods about disabilities he claimed left him unable to walk, climb stairs and use his hands. Swann claimed that an accident in 2003 also impaired his cognitive function.
Although Swann was not successful in his attempts to receive disability benefits, the U.S. Attorney General’s office noted that Swann and his family would have received more than $200,000 in benefits if his scheme had been successful.
In August, Swann argued that since he wasn’t receiving any money, he had no choice but to work. He also wondered how he could be guilty when he never received any payments from Social Security.
“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 told The Chronicle.
Perjury and Social Security fraud carry a maximum prison term of up to five years, while wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Swann is set to be sentenced on June 22.