Welfare cheats lived on $1.2M yacht, lawyer says

Colin Chisholm III, 62, and Andrea Chisholm, 54, allegedly received illegal public assistance from several government programs designed to help the poor for over seven years.
CBS Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - A nationwide warrant is out for a Minnesota couple who allegedly received over $167,000 in public assistance while living on a $1.2 million yacht in Florida, reports CBS Minnesota.

Colin Chisholm III, 62, and Andrea Chisholm, 54, are facing one count of wrongfully obtaining public assistance of more than $35,000, which is a felony charge. The couple's whereabouts are currently unknown.

"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.

The couple illegally received public assistance from several government programs designed to help the poor between Jan. 1, 2005 and May 31, 2012, according to the Hennepin County Attorney's Office.

CBS Minnesota reports that criminal complaints claim the Chisholms received medical assistance, welfare payments and food stamp benefits while allegedly lying about where they were living, who they were living with and their source of income on over a dozen forms filled out for the state of Minnesota and Hennepin County in order to get the assistance.

An investigation by the Hennepin County Human Services & Public Health Department (HSPHD) Fraud Unit revealed that Colin Chisholm concealed dealing with hundreds of thousands of dollars as chief executive officer of the TCN Network, which claims to provide satellite TV and broadband service for Caribbean countries. Andrea Chisholm reportedly owned a dog kennel which bred and sold championship dogs.

"He created all sorts of false companies, claimed he was a Scottish heir," Freeman said. "It's outrageous."

The station reports that the couple listed Andrea's mother's home in Minneapolis as their residence when they first applied for welfare benefits, but the couple allegedly moved to Florida soon after getting approved. In Florida, they lived on their yacht for 28 months before moving into a house, according to officials. They allegedly collected welfare from both Florida and Minnesota during this time.

The Hennepin County Attorney's office said the Chisholms returned to Minnesota in April 2007 and applied for more welfare benefits, eventually moving into a luxury home in Deephaven, Minn., with Andrea's grandparents, Eloise and Francis Heidecker, in March 2008. This was a fact that they allegedly hid from the government, as Andrea reportedly controlled the bank accounts of her elderly grandmother.

Calleigh King, a neighbor of the Chisholms at their Deephaven home, was stunned by the allegations. "It astonishes me, I had no idea this could ever really happen.... They've just been the kindest people ever."

The couple's welfare benefits were finally terminated in March 2012, according to CBS Minnesota, after the HSPHD fraud unit received a report that the Chisholms were employed and failed to provide tax documents when asked.

"It is truly outrageous when persons of considerable means steal from the government and all of us taxpayers through abusing the social welfare system," said Freeman.

The station reports that prosecutors will seek to impose a longer sentence than the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines suggest due to the major amount that the Chisholms are accused of stealing.