Hennepin County prosecutors have charged a couple with residences in Minneapolis and Deephaven with welfare fraud for living a lavish lifestyle while collecting nearly $168,000 in benefits from the state of Minnesota between 2005 and 2012.
According to the charges, Colin and Andrea Chisholm had assets of over $2.6 million in various bank accounts and lived in Florida on a million-dollar yacht during that time.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said the presumptive sentence for such a crime is probation but he will seek a stricter punishment.
"These rich folks ripped off the system," Freeman said. "And I will assure you that this office is going to do every darn thing we can do to make sure these people do hard time."
According to the charges, Colin Chisholm, 62, claimed to be the CEO of a Caribbean-based television network and portrayed himself as a Scottish aristocrat. Investigators say his wife owned a dog kennel that bred and sold championship dogs.
Authorities have issues an arrest warrant for the Chisholms, who are not in custody.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Human Services is investigating how the couple was able to collect benefits while living out of state. Jerry Kerber, inspector general for the department, said the state regularly checks a national database to see if Minnesota recipients are receiving aid from other states. He said if state officials find a match, they will notify the county that processed the recipient's application and let them know there is a problem.
"That's what we're following up on in this case - is to see why that national system appears not to have worked as it should have," he said.
Kerber said the case also appears to be unusual in the amount of benefits authorities say the Chisholms fraudulently received.
In fiscal year 2012, the department conducted nearly 8,000 investigations and discovered $860,000 in overpaid benefits. Nearly 500 cases were resolved administratively, and 126 of resulted in criminal charges.
Kerber said the typical administrative case involved an overpayment of $1,700 to $2,000, while the average criminal case involved an overpayment of about $13,000.