Andrea Chisholm pleads guilty to welfare fraud

Cover of our May 14 issue

Cover of our May 14 issue

Andrea Chisholm knew what was coming when she entered the courtroom yesterday afternoon. She and her lawyers had already reached an agreement with the county. The years of decadence, much of it on the state's dime, were over, soon to be replaced with a few months of prison time. When asked how she pleaded on a charge of helping to take more than $160,000 from the state, she leaned into the microphone and answered in a gravelly quiver:

"Plead guilty."

See also: Attorney: Andrea Chisholm could blame husband, Colin, for welfare fraud

That was it. After years of Chisholm and her husband taking advantage of the government, and after a few more months of court proceedings, she pleaded guilty to a count of "aiding and abetting wrongfully obtaining public assistance."

Over the years that Chisholm and her husband, Colin, received that public assistance, they were living richly, with a yacht, a multi-multimillion dollar mansion, and more.

In yesterday's proceedings, Chisholm's team made a rather simple argument -- she was guilty, but she wasn't a criminal mastermind. The team argued that Colin was the one who was in real control of the plan, the brains behind the operation. Andrea was just going along, signing off on forms and even visiting welfare offices with her husband.

Chisholm and her lawyer, Sean Cahill, went through applications the couple submitted for benefits like cash assistance, food, even health care. Chisholm confirmed she signed off on receiving all sorts of welfare, despite her obviously lavish arrangements.

"Something should have raised a flag about your lifestyle?" Cahill asked her in court. Yes, she answered.

The settlement says that Chisholm will serve a year and a day in jail, but that's not entirely true. Only about eight months of that has to be served, and Chisholm has already been incarcerated for about four months, so only about four months of the sentence remain. The state is also looking to get back more than $160,000 it lost from the Chisholms, though how much Andrea will have to pay back will be decided at a later date.

The sentence could have been much worse. As part of the agreement, the state dropped its charge of theft by swindling, which could have raised the punishment significantly.

The fate of Colin Chisholm is far less clear. He'll next appear in court on September 10.

Send your story tips to the author, Robbie Feinberg. Follow him on Twitter @robbiefeinberg.