On one form, Robert Swesey checked the 'married' box instead of the 'common law' box.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Robert Swesey held and kissed his wife's hand as the two sat in court waiting for the last phase of a civil trial that could end with his owing nearly $23,000 to Poland Township.
Swesey and Ida Lewis have been legally married since August 1996.
But they contend that they shared a common law marriage bond as far back as 1988.
But Poland Township officials say Swesey perpetrated fraud when he listed himself as "married" on applications for health benefits from 1988 to 1996.
As such, he owes Poland taxpayers $22,913 -- the difference between the cost of individual health insurance and the amount the township paid for the family policy, said David Shepherd, the Poland attorney representing the township.
But Swesey's attorney, Ted T. Macejko Jr., says township officials are the ones who should pay up. Swesey, a road worker, was fired over the issue in 1998, after 21 years of service. Macejko claims that the firing was wrongful and that Swesey is owed $110,000 in lost wages.
It's now up to a jury in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to sort it all out.
The panel heard closing arguments in the case Monday before Judge Robert G. Lisotto. The group began deliberations and continued until late in the day.
Shepherd said Swesey was inconsistent with his claims of marriage, at times listing himself as single and others claiming Lewis as his wife. He said Swesey was married only when it was convenient for him or Lewis.
On a 1993 health insurance policy change form, he checked the "married" box instead of the "common law" box.
Shepherd said Lewis, who worked at Eat 'N Park, had an insurance policy through her employer but received better coverage under the township's plan.
Swesey filed single income tax returns from 1988 to 1995, and the couple owned no property together, claiming two different addresses -- with Swesey in Poland and Lewis in New Springfield -- when they were married by a judge in 1996, Shepherd said.
"He perpetrated a fraud on Poland Township. ... He accumulated benefits he wasn't entitled to," said Shepherd, asking jurors to return a verdict siding with Poland, "so we can recover that for the taxpayers of Poland Township."
But Macejko said Swesey's arrangement met the criteria of the legal definition of a common law marriage. He said the couple made an agreement to marry followed by cohabitation and accompanied by actions that made others regard them as husband and wife.
He said the couple has lived together since 1984. In 1988, Swesey asked Lewis to marry him but she said she wanted to put it off until her children were grown. Macejko said they promised, at that time, to "be together forever as man and wife."
If Swesey was intending to defraud the Poland community, he would have listed Lewis as his wife four years earlier, or also claimed her children, the attorney said.
Macejko said several witnesses testified that the couple was known as husband and wife and that they were announced as such during a wedding reception for Lewis' daughter.
He asked jurors to review work documents and other insurance policies in which Lewis claims to be married and lists Swesey as a beneficiary.
He also referred to cards, letters and mementos, notes to customers on a Vindicator paper route that are signed "Bob and Ida Swesey" and wedding guest books and a Poland Seminary High School alumni book that list the couple as married.