Friends of the Deephaven couple say they didn’t know about welfare fraud.
From the outside, Colin and Andrea Chisholm’s $1.6 million home on Lake Minnetonka was a beauty.
Inside, it was in such disrepair, with leaking ceilings and peeling paint, that a friend said it should have been torn down.
The Chisholms, who once referred to themselves as Scottish nobility, “Lord and Lady Chisholm,” now sit in the Hennepin County jail, charged in one of the most audacious cases of welfare fraud in state history.
They were arrested in March after fleeing Minnesota for the Bahamas and charged with making $167,420 in fraudulent medical and food-stamp claims in Florida and Minnesota from 2005 to 2012. They can’t afford the $300,000-each bail, Colin’s lawyer says. Their next court date is June 9.
Friends, who were unaware of the pair’s alleged crimes, have been left with a mixture of bewilderment, pain and pity. And they’re now drawn to the contradictions that were evident in the couple’s lifestyle.
For instance, they say, among the Deephaven house’s sparse decorations was an electronic frame that rotated photos of the couple with others of media mogul Ted Turner, castles and polo players, leaving the impression that such associations were routine.
According to friends and business associates, there were more puzzles: Colin Chisholm, who claimed to have more than $97 million in assets, paid some of his employees in cash under the table, $300 here and $500 there. And while allegedly illegally collecting welfare checks, he volunteered at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis to help people find jobs. He bounced a check to cover a small membership fee to a business owners’ association.
Sometimes Colin would be waiting in a car outside his makeshift office building to hustle arriving employees away from unknown trouble, saying only “we got to go” as he drove away.
“I don’t wish any ill will on either of them,” said Harry Cushing, who worked for Colin Chisholm in Connecticut in 2002. But “as long as he kept on that path, it was eventually going to catch up with him.”
In March 2012, the Chisholms’ benefits were finally cut off when they couldn’t explain how they were able to pay their rent and personal expenses with no income. The couple had more than $3 million in bank accounts and a yacht while they were receiving welfare payments, authorities said.
Colleagues and friends helped police track the couple down in the Bahamas. They had disappeared after abandoning their home, leaving nine Cavalier King Charles spaniels with friends and withdrawing their 7-year-old son from private school in midsemester. At last report, the boy was being cared for by relatives.
In arguing for higher bail, Susan Crumb, assistant Hennepin County attorney, wrote that the couple’s hasty care arrangements for Andrea Chisholm’s 99-year-old grandmother, who has severe dementia, proved that they had no intention of returning to Minnesota. The grandmother had lived with the Chisholms, and authorities said they were using her money for some of their expenses.
Even as they were on the lam, Crumb said, Colin Chisholm tried to arrange for his family to be smuggled out of the Bahamas to the Turks and Caicos, which has no extradition laws.
On April 24, the congregation at St. Martin’s by-the-Lake Episcopal Church in Minnetonka Beach received an e-mail from their pastor, the Rev. Dave Langille, saying that several members had been victimized by a couple who attended the church. Although the couple was not named, everyone knew it was the Chisholms.
“It’s now my job as their priest and pastor, and our role as their Christian community, to support them at this time,” Langille wrote. “This pastoral support includes our prayers, as well as giving these families the privacy they need while allowing law enforcement and the courts to do their job.”
Amanda Chisholm, 54, was born in Iowa, and Colin Chisholm, 62, was raised in Maine.