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Wealthy couple accused of welfare fraud held in jail

April 2nd, 2014 7:19 am by By Brittany Shammas, Sun Sentinel (MCT)

Wealthy couple accused of welfare fraud held in jail

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman held a press conference on a couple that alleged took $160,000 in welfare benefits while the husband claimed to be a Scottish aristocrat and broadcast executive. (AP Photo/ The Star Tribune, Richard Sennott)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — For seven weeks or so they have been on the run — a pair of "Scottish aristocrats" who according to authorities lived a life of luxury while collecting food stamps, welfare and Medicaid from two states.

Tuesday, Andrea and Colin Chisholm III were behind bars in Florida's Broward County Jail, awaiting their fate.

Deported from the Bahamas and nabbed at Port Everglades late Monday, the "Lord" and "Lady" are being held without bail for potential extradition to Minnesota.

The couple will face welfare fraud charges for allegedly taking more than $167,000 in government benefits during a span of about seven years. During the same time, the couple was funneling millions through bank accounts they controlled.

"Thank God," said Virginia Nance Chisholm, who was married to Colin Chisholm for more than 20 years and helped investigators build their case against him. "I am honestly glad. Now the hard work begins, to make sure they don't get loose and do more things."

Said his daughter, 34-year-old Katy Strain: "He is an unbelievable scam artist who deserves everything he gets now. He's my dad and I love him, but he deserves everything he gets."

According to officials in Hennepin County, Minn., who are pursuing criminal charges against them, Andrea Lynne Chisholm, 54, and Colin A.J. Chisholm, III, 62, were found after an "exhaustive" search that began at their $1.6 million house on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota and stretched all the way to the Bahamas. The Miami FBI and other federal agencies stepped in last week to help.

On Monday, the Chisholms were visited in Freeport, Bahamas, by police who told them their visas had expired. Officers escorted the couple, their 7-year-old son and dog onto a ship headed to Fort Lauderdale, a news release said.

It was around 11 p.m. that the Bahamas Express arrived at Port Everglades and Broward Sheriff's deputies took Andrea and Colin Chisholm III into custody, sheriff's spokeswoman Dani Moschella said. They went peacefully. Their son and dog were turned over to other family members, according to the Hennepin County release.

Authorities in Minnesota had little to say about the capture. It was "certainly what we were hoping for," said Chuck Laszewski, a spokesman for Hennepin County prosecutor Mike Freeman.

"We're just waiting to see how this goes," he said.

Ports around Florida were on the lookout for the Chisholms after authorities in Minnesota announced the charges against them about a week and a half ago. According to a criminal complaint filed in Hennepin County, they took in government benefits first from Minnesota, then Florida, then — for about a two-year period — both, simultaneously.

The amount of money the Chisholms got from the Sunshine State cannot be released, authorities said. Officials with the state Department of Children and Families are reviewing the allegations against the couple and a separate investigation could follow.

In 2005, when they started collecting government benefits meant to help the poor, the Chisholms were living on a $1.2 million yacht docked near at the luxury Turnberry Isle in Aventura, Fla. The Coast Guard ultimately took the boat when the couple stopped paying for it, and they rented a house in Lighthouse Point.

In 2008, the family moved back to Minnesota to live in the million dollar home on Lake Minnetonka, which they rented for $2,750 a month.

Millions of dollars flowed through bank accounts they controlled, authorities said.

Colin Chisholm was the executive of TCN Networks, a Miami-based business he said provided cable television to Caribbean countries. He told potential investors he had $97 million in assets. Andrea Chisholm ran a company that bred Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. One of them won an award at the Westminster dog show.

Meanwhile, they told benefit workers they had no choice but to live with Andrea Chisholm's mother in Minneapolis. They said they had no jobs, no cars and — at one point — just $80 to their names.

"It's wrong what they did," Strain said, "taking advantage of people who need the assistance to get back on their feet."

"Never in my wildest dreams would I think this would be happening, because I always thought he was a smart man," Nance Chisholm said of her ex-husband. "But now I think he's rather stupid because you just can't do stuff like that and get away with it forever. It'll catch up with you."

The Chisholms are expected to make an appearance in extradition court Wednesday, during which they'll say whether they plan to fight being returned to Minnesota. They are each facing a charge of wrongfully obtaining public assistance over $35,000.

Authorities in Minnesota have said they hope to see the two do time behind bars.

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