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

An attorney for Andrea Chisholm suggested Friday that her defense strategy at trial may entail blaming her husband, Colin. For seven years, the couple collected more than $165,000 in public assistance, a fact that could land them in jail if the court decides they were unworthy of the funds.

Although both of the couple's signatures appear on welfare forms, Sean Cahill, an assistant Hennepin County public defender, intends to raise the question of whether Andrea knew her actions were illegal. Which could require, he says, showing that Colin handled the family finances and "was the mastermind behind this."

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Colin and Andrea Chisholm's real-life American hustle

Cahill spoke in court Friday in response to a motion filed by the Hennepin County Attorney's Office that would join the two cases together, and try the couple with one jury, as a matter of convenience. Five witnesses could be flown-in from outside Minnesota.

But prosecutors also intend to treat the couple as equal actors in a long-running scheme to defraud taxpayers. While collecting benefits, the Chisholms set up residence in several exceptionally nice places (the nicest being a yacht) and ran their own businesses.

Lois Conroy, a Hennepin County judge, will decide at the next hearing, on September 10, and also weigh the merits of motions to dismiss the charges. The charges are: wrongfully obtaining public assistance and theft by swindle, which carries far stiffer penalties and which defense attorneys say is misapplied in this case.

Colin and Andrea are being represented by different attorneys, and hers have accused Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman of prejudicing the public at a press conference that made international headlines. They also argue that "swindle" -- as defined by lawmakers -- requires a victim of flesh and blood. There's no emotional impact on a state agency.

To which Susan Crumb, one of the lead prosecutors on both cases, replied: "If this was not a swindle, I don't know what is."

Conroy also heard arguments related to the couple's bail and sided immediately with the state. She kept the bar at $300,000, so long as Colin and Andrea turn over their individual passports, and $500,000 if they don't. The Chisholms are claiming indigence and will likely stay in jail -- apart from their son -- until trial. No date has been set.

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