The Hennepin County Attorney's Office has charged alleged welfare thieves Colin and Andrea Chisholm with a second felony, this one also carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail if convicted.
Such stiff punishment depends, of course, on the temperament of a judge and if the case ever goes to trial -- an ever-distant prospect considering that Colin's private attorney, Thomas Kelly, intends to step down later this week.
For years, Colin survived on money he coaxed out of wealthy businessmen, though one of those former benefactors has apparently defected to the other side. Whomever paid the upfront cost for Colin's legal defense has become a possible witness for the state at his trial.
The move creates a conflict of interest for Kelly (who declined to be interviewed for this story). He's expected to formally withdraw from the case on Friday, though two motions he filed last week shed more light on his upcoming departure.
Last year, Kelly received a five-figure sum from one of Colin's business partners to look into the allegations of Hennepin County investigators who, in 2012, had become suspicious of the Chisholm's claims of indigence on public forms. The couple was accused of stealing more than $160,000 from the Minnesota welfare system while living in lakeside mansions and riding high on a yacht in Florida. They were charged each with one count of Theft by Swindle in early 2014 and just this past month, Wrongfully Obtaining Public Assistance.
The money for Kelly's legal services ran out long ago. Still, in April, the veteran Minneapolis attorney stepped up to defend Colin pro bono. He'd lived with the case for a year and felt an obligation to see it through -- or at least arrange for a quick plea deal.
On June 5, however, Kelly wrote to the court to say that he and Colin had a "fundamental disagreement on the course of action" and "irreconcilable differences of opinion on strategy." He concluded: "(Colin) no longer wishes me to represent him in either plea negotiations or defense at trial."
The following day, Colin filed paperwork with the Hennepin County Public Defender's Office, which already represents his wife.
[page] The identity of the benefactor-turned-witness has not been made public and the Hennepin County Attorney's Office declined to name names, leaving us instead to speculate.
One possibility is Ben Oehler, a Wayzata-based financial adviser and the man pegged as CFO of Colin's failed telecommunications company. Oehler tells us that, in 2012, he gave Colin $100,000 as an investment, but isn't entirely sure how that money was spent. When word of the welfare fraud investigation came down, Colin went to Kelly for legal advice, Oehler says, on his recommendation.
But after Colin disappeared late 2013, Oehler helped Hennepin County investigators find him in the Bahamas. Colin was hurried back to the states in handcuffs and paraded for south Florida reporters like a common criminal.
Last month, we published the results of an investigation showing that Colin's financial troubles go back at least three decades and span the United States. Oehler says he's not sure whether he's going to be tapped to testify against his former business partner, but he's certainly not happy about getting wrapped into what he considers Colin's web of lies.
"Now that I know Colin's whole history, things have changed," Oehler says and chuckles. "I'm not a supporter of Colin anymore."