MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A nationwide warrant has been issued for a Minnesota couple who allegedly received more than $167,000 worth of public assistance from Minnesota while living in Florida on a $1.2 million yacht.
“I’ve never ridden on a yacht that nice, and I bet most of us haven’t, but they were living on it while they were collecting public assistance,” said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.
Colin Chisholm III and Andrea Chisholm are charged with a one count of wrongfully obtaining public assistance more than $35,000, a felony charge.
According to Hennepin County Attorney’s office, between Jan. 1, 2005, and May 31, 2012, Colin Chisholm III, 62, and Andrea Chisholm, 54, received the public assistance illegally from several government programs designed to help the poor.
According to the criminal complaints, over the years, the Chisholms received medical assistance, welfare payments and food stamp benefits. They also lied about where they were living, who they were living with and their source of income on more than a dozen forms they filled out for the state of Minnesota and Hennepin County in order to get the assistance.
During an investigation by the Hennepin County Human Services & Public Health Department (HSPHD) Fraud Unit, it was discovered that Colin Chisholm owned a business and Andrea Chisholm owned a dog kennel which bred and sold championship dogs. The criminal complaints show that hundreds of thousands of dollars came through the business accounts Colin Chisholm III controlled as chief executive officer of the TCN Network, which claims to provide satellite TV and broadband service for countries in the Caribbean.
“He created all sorts of false companies, claimed he was a Scottish heir,” Freeman said. “It’s outrageous.”
When they first applied for welfare benefits, the couple listed their residence as Andrea’s mother’s home in Minneapolis. However, shortly after getting approved, they moved to Florida. They remained in that state for at least 28 months, first on their $1.2 million yacht, and then moving to a house, officials said. They collected welfare from Florida, as well as Minnesota during that time, which people are prohibited from receiving simultaneously.
Furthermore, in depositions for a civil suit over the ownership of the yacht, Colin and Andrea testified that they lived in Connecticut and Florida, and never mentioned Minnesota. During this time, neither the yacht or residences in Florida were reported to Minnesota officials.
In 2006 and January 2007, Andrea’s prenatal care was paid for by the state and their welfare benefits increased.
According to the Hennepin County Attorney’s office, the Chisholms returned to Minnesota in April 2007 and applied for more welfare benefits.
The couple continued to receive assistance when they moved into a luxury home in Deephaven, Minn., with Andrea’s grandparents, Eloise and Francis Heidecker, in March 2008. They moved into another home in Deephaven on Lake Minnetonka after being evicted from the first home when Francis died, officials said.
During this time, the Chisholms hid the fact that they lived with Eloise Heidecker, as Andrea controlled the bank accounts of her elderly grandmother.
“It astonishes me, I had no idea this could ever really happen,” said Calleigh King, a neighbor of the Chisholms. “They’ve just been the kindest people ever.”
After the HSPHD fraud unit received a report that the Chisholms were employed and they failed to provide tax documents when asked, Hennepin County terminated all welfare benefits to the Chisholms at the end of March 2012. Medical assistance was cut off at the end of May 2012.
“It is truly outrageous when persons of considerable means steal from the government and all of us taxpayers through abusing the social welfare system,” Freeman said.
Prosecutors will ask that the judge be allowed to impose a longer sentence than the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines call for because the Chisholms committed a major economic offense.