County appoints Colin Chisholm, alleged welfare cheat, public defenders


With each court appearance, the rings around Colin Chisholm's eyes grow. Three months in jail have turned his hair almost completely gray. And yet he never fails to look curiously, even affably, at the back of the room, where his family members have stopped showing up.

The so-called "Lord of Welfare," who's been accused, along with his wife, of stealing more than $160,000 from state coffers, shook hands Monday with his two new attorneys -- both public defenders.

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Colin and Andrea Chisholm's real-life American hustle

Last month, Tom Kelly stepped down as Chisholm's private counsel, citing "irreconcilable differences of opinion on strategy." Translation: Kelly wanted to make a deal rather than explain why his client pocketed welfare money while living on a yacht; Chisholm, on other hand, was gunning for trial.

The new lieutenants, Shawn Webb and Steve Bergeson, declined to speak with us about the case, saying they've yet to digest the 2,200 pages of evidence that the state just shovelled over.

But stay tuned, because this week's show starts on Friday. Andrea Chisholm's attorneys are expected to argue that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman prejudiced the public when he assured reporters that the Chisholms would "do hard time," goshdarnit.

What's more, the attorneys contend, Freeman screwed up the maximum sentencing guidelines on his charging documents (it should say 10 years, not 20). But rather than correct the mistake, he doubled down, and last month trumped up the bill with a second felony.

Prosecutors, however, have been clear from the beginning: The unusual circumstances of the case, plus the dollar amount, add up to a stiffer punishment.

Hennepin County Judge Lois Conroy will decide.

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