A Minnesota couple who owned a yacht, rented a luxurious home on Lake Minnetonka, and had about $3 million in the bank has been charged with welfare fraud.
Authorities said Andrea and Colin Chisholm misled benefit workers for years as they cashed more than $167,000 in welfare checks for food, medical bills, and job training between 2005 and 2012.
They had received benefits from Minnesota agencies while living for two years in Florida, reported the Minnesota Star Tribune, where they also obtained welfare benefits.
“These were rich folks ripping off the system,” said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. “I will make sure they do hard time.”
Authorities said 62-year-old Colin Chisholm III portrayed himself as a Scottish aristocrat who was a broadcasting executive – at least when he wasn’t signing forms seeking government assistance – and 54-year-old Andrea Chisholm helped run their business breeding pedigreed Cavalier King Charles spaniels.
Medica fraud investigators suspected wrongdoing when they learned the couple lived in a lakeside home and had spent part of their $60,000 in medical claims for massages and spa visits.
Freeman said “Lord and Lady Chisholm” had been cut off at one point but managed to get back into the welfare system.
Colin Chisholm bought the yacht just weeks after the couple applied for their first welfare payment, telling benefits workers they’d been forced to move in with Andrea Chisholm’s mother in south Minneapolis.
Minnesota paid more than $22,000 in medical bills after the couple’s son was born in 2007, and Florida also paid them in cash, food support, and medical assistance at that time.
They told benefits workers they had no income or jobs but continued operating businesses or starting new ones, and Colin Chisholm told investors for his Miami-based satellite TV operation that he had assets worth more than $97 million.
“It’s outrageous,” Freeman said. “You hear of people getting public assistance when they’re having a hard time in their lives and getting it back together. And then you see this.”
The couple funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars from businesses they hid from authorities through Andrea Chisholm’s grandmother, whom they lived with in 2009.
Their benefits were finally cut off in March 2012 after they were unable to explain how they paid rent and other expenses with no income.
If they’re convicted, the couple faces a maximum 20-year prison term and $100,000 fine, but the charge also carries the possibility of probation – although Freeman doubted a judge would allow them to avoid prison.
But first authorities must find the couple, who vacated their home and pulled their son from school.
Investigators believe they’ve gone somewhere warm, if not out of the country entirely.
Watch this video report posted online by KARE-TV:
[Image: Couple in hug relaxing on the luxury yacht cruise via Shutterstock]