A life of luxury on the government’s dime

Author:
Publish date:

Colin A.J. Chisholm III and his wife, Andrea, aspired to the life of the rich and famous, buying an 83-foot Trumpy motoryacht and living in luxury homes in Minnesota and Florida. Then fraud investigators caught up with them and charged the couple with collecting $167,420 in public assistance from Minnesota and receiving welfare in Florida, as well.

Andrea and Colin A.J. Chisholm III (here in mug shots) bought a $1.2 million Trumpy and lived in luxury homes while collecting welfare, according to authorities.

The Chisholms, who said they were Scottish nobility — Lord and Lady Chisholm — were extradited March 31 from the Bahamas, where they had been in hiding for more than a month after investigators in Minnesota launched an intensive manhunt for them, according to the Hennepin County, Minn., attorney’s office. Police in Freeport confronted the couple on Grand Bahama, told them their visas had expired and put them, their 7-year-old son and dog onto a Bahamas Express fast ferry to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Broward County sheriff’s deputies were waiting to arrest the pair when they debarked at Port Everglades that night. The boy and the couple’s dog were turned over to the custody of relatives.

“Lord and Lady Chisholm III are fraudsters of the first degree,” says Hennepin County state’s attorney Mike Freeman, who spoke at a press conference in Minnesota 10 days before their arrest. His office has charged them with wrongfully obtaining more than $35,000 in public assistance — a felony. He says he wants to see the couple do “hard time.”

A complaint filed in Hennepin County District Court tells a tale of a couple who — while receiving medical, food stamp and cash welfare assistance from Minnesota and Florida — are alleged to have owned, managed, controlled or used bank accounts in which $2.63 million was deposited from January 2005 through April 2012.

Colin Chisholm, 62, is listed on a company website as chairman, president and CEO of TCN Networks, a Miami-based company purporting to provide satellite television and broadband service to the Caribbean, although the website offers no information about how or where those services can be purchased. In a 2006 court deposition, Chisholm said the company had 28 to 30 shareholders and that five of them had invested more than $2.25 million in the company, most of it in 2006. Andrea, 54, owned a kennel that bred and sold pedigree puppies, including the winner of a Westminster Kennel Club show.

The Minnesota complaint alleges that the Chisholms did not truthfully disclose their assets when applying for public assistance from Minnesota and Florida and that for a time they were on the welfare rolls of both states simultaneously.

“Just weeks after applying in Hennepin County for welfare benefits, Colin Chisholm began negotiating the purchase of an 83-foot Trumpy yacht then known as the Wishing Star,” the complaint alleges.

The Chisholms hosted lavish parties aboard this 83-foot 1963 Trumpy. Authorities seized it when the couple defaulted on the payments.

“He didn’t have enough money to buy it,” says Richard Ross, the Stuart, Fla., business executive who sold the 1963 wooden beauty to the Chisholms.

“In an Oct. 15, 2004, email to Ross, Colin Chisholm stated that his company, TCN Networks, had taken ‘most of [his] available cash up to this date, around $6.2 million,’ but that he controlled ‘about $30 million in network television advertising on CNBC,’ ” the complaint alleges. “In that email, Colin Chisholm stated that he was interested in buying the yacht using ‘creative financing.’ ”

In January 2005, the Chisholms agreed to pay Ross $1.2 million for the Trumpy, including a down payment of $220,000, monthly payments of $7,500 and a lump sum payment of $157,000 due March 15, 2005, according to the complaint.

Ross told Soundings that Chisholm said his father had the boat built in 1963 and that as a child he had grown up on it. “Whether this was true or not, I don’t know,” Ross says. “Everything else he told me was a lie, [though] he and his wife seemed like very nice people. I took everything they said as truthful.”

He says Chisholm even cried when they signed the closing papers. “He didn’t need to do that,” Ross says. “I think it was for real.”

The couple docked the yacht at the Turnberry Isle luxury marina in Aventura, Fla. Ross says he was told the couple entertained on board, hiring butlers in white jackets and stewardesses to serve champagne and white limos to bring guests to the boat. However, the Chisholms failed to keep up their payments on the Trumpy, now renamed Andrea Aras after Chisholm’s wife and his mother, Sara Chis-holm, who named the boat Aras (Sara spelled backward) when the Chisholm family owned it.

The Chisholms lived a life of extravagance and deceit, according to the complaint.

“At one point, he gave me two checks for $50,000 each,” Ross says. “He bounced them and absolutely freaked out.” Chisholm eventually made good on the payments with two certified checks, but when he fell behind again, the boat vanished.

Ross says he used satellite photography to track Andrea Aras down, first to a dock in Savannah, Ga., and later to one in Lighthouse Point, Fla. Ross eventually foreclosed on Andrea Aras, and on Dec. 17, 2005, the Coast Guard and U.S. marshals seized her for failure to make payments. At that point, the couple moved into a house in Lighthouse Point — a tony seaside community near Fort Lauderdale — while they “engaged in a lengthy, costly and failed legal battle in the U.S. District Court and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to recover possession of their yacht,” the complaint says. The Chisholms lost that battle, and Ross resold the boat.

The Chisholms’ alleged fraud against Minnesota’s welfare system began to unravel in early 2012 when investigators for Medica Insurance — the state’s medical assistance program — received a report that the Chisholms were fraudulently receiving taxpayer- funded health care. At the time, the couple were living in a $2,750-a-month luxury lakeside rental home in Deephaven, Minn., with Andrea Chisholm’s grandmother, the complaint says.

In their 2004 application for state of Minnesota health care insurance, the couple said they were living with Andrea Chisholm’s mother in south Minneapolis and had no employment income and owned no stocks, vehicles, bank accounts or assets, according to the complaint. “By contrast, to potential TCN investors, the defendants claimed to have assets totaling $97,366,926.27,” it says.

Investigators also allege that during much of the time from January 2005 through April 2007 when the couple lived in Florida, where their son Colin was born, they were receiving cash, food support and medical assistance from Florida public assistance programs while continuing to receive benefits from Minnesota. “This is a con worthy of that old movie … The Sting, ” prosecutor Freeman says.

In September 2013, with Minnesota investigators hot on their trail, the Chisholms “cashed a check and obtained $120,000 in one-hundred-dollar bills” and disappeared, the complaint says. On April 3, the Chisholms appeared in Broward County Circuit Court and waived their right to fight extradition to Minnesota for trial on the fraud charges.

Colin A.J. Chisholm

As for Andrea Aras, she is now home-ported in South Carolina and under new ownership, says James Moores, the founder of family-owned Moores Marine, of Deerfield Beach, Fla., and Beaufort, N.C., which specializes in Trumpy restorations. He says the yacht, which has operated under the name Aras, Pintail, Achastes and Wishing Star, among others, is one of just two built on the 83-foot Trumpy hull and the only one that is in a cruiser configuration.

Just before Ross bought the boat, it underwent a $2 million restoration. “It’s a classic, classic yacht,” Moores says, and a beautiful one, as well.

June 2014 issue