Famous local case: The Dollar fraud

By Richard Sheldon
| July 24, 2020 1:00 AM

On Oct. 29, 1907, The Coeur d’Alene Press announced the United States District Court in Moscow had started the trial of Coeur d’Alene resident William Dollar, who was the owner of the Exchange National Bank in Coeur d’Alene. Along with Mr. Dollar as defendants were St. Maries residents George E. Preston and A.F. Swisher, land locators for those seeking to file homestead claims.

The government alleged that from 1901 to 1903, the defendants had conspired to defraud the United States government in their acquisition of three parcels of 160 acres each of valuable land covered with excellent grade Douglas fir, ponderosa pine and western larch timber located near Clarkia in the southwest corner of Shoshone County.

In the pretrial hearing the defendant’s attorney, John Gray, believed the case should be thrown out of court on technicalities and lack of merit. He argued the jury selection was going to be done improperly. He also asked that the trial be postponed until January 1908 due to the limited hotel accommodations needed to house the jury.

Judge Dietrich ruled the jury listing was proper and there were ample accommodations in Moscow. He ordered the court’s marshal to make a canvas of the situation and report. Ultimately a jury was impaneled and the trial was not postponed. It began Nov. 5, 1907, and would last seven days.

After opening statements, the government’s prosecuting attorney called Elma Peterson to the stand. It was known that Elma Peterson was to marry George Preston, one of the co-defendants, but he married another woman. Elma sued George for damages and breach of promise but lost at trial.

This drama brought about a pretrial “rupture” between the defendants William Dollar and George Preston. Now, being the scorned woman, she made known what she believed to be the fraudulent activities of her ex-fiancé, Preston. She failed to give clear testimony connecting the defendants to anything fraudulent.

The second witness also failed to give convincing testimony that would convict the defendants.

The third witness was the star witness for the prosecution, Gilbert E. Preston, the nephew of George Preston. Nephew Gilbert Preston gave little evidence as to how Dollar was monetarily connected to the scheme other than his belief that Dollar had paid $600 to both co-defendants Arthur Swisher and uncle George. The reasons for the payments were unclear.

The fourth and last government witness was sworn in and it was reported that his testimony “fell flat.” There were two other names on the prosecution’s list of witnesses. One had died before the trial began and the other was a fugitive from justice.

The government rested its case at noon on Nov. 7.

The Coeur d’Alene Press headline announced, “Dollar Case Collapses.” Spectator attendance at the trial now began to fall off.

The defense started its argument on Nov. 8 by calling 12 local citizen witnesses who testified to the good character and veracity of the defendants. They also indicated that Gilbert Preston’s testimony lacked truthfulness.

The last witness for the defense was William Dollar himself. His testimony was heard Nov. 8 and most of Nov. 9. He denied having participated in fraud and was able to withstand intense cross examination.

The defense rested its case in the evening. The jury retired to deliberate. They returned one hour and 20 minutes later with a verdict of “not guilty” for Dollar and Swisher. The wives of Dollar and Swisher were present when the verdict was read. It was generally felt that the decision was fair.

The Spokesman-Review reported that the day after the trial started, George Preston pled “guilty,” having been promised immunity if he testified against Dollar and Swisher.


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Reviewed and edited by Dorothy Dahlgren and Deborah Mitchell.