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Crime

MN Filmmaker On Trial In Iowa Tax Fraud

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – A Minnesota filmmaker falsified documents and inflated costs to take advantage of a tax credit program designed to lure moviemakers to Iowa, prosecutors argued Tuesday as the woman’s trial began in Polk County District Court.

Wendy Runge, of St. Louis Park, Minn., is charged with first-degree theft, three counts of first-degree fraudulent practices and ongoing criminal conduct.

Deputy Attorney General Tom Miller said Runge filed for $3.8 million in expenses and received $1.9 million in tax credits from the state, including such claims as renting a broom for $225.

Miller said Runge wanted to turn a profit on the movie “The Scientist” and other projects before even showing the films by falsely claiming services that were never delivered or inflating the costs.

Miller described the transferable tax credits Runge was awarded by the state as “good as cash.” Instead of going to the state’s general fund, Miller said it was inappropriately given to Runge.

“The bad news is this happened,” Miller said. “The good news is it stopped and an investigation is being conducted to hold accountable those who stole.”

Runge’s attorney, Matt Whitaker, argued she was unfamiliar with filmmaking and that no one suggested the expenses she submitted were inflated.

Miller scoffed at such reasoning, saying: “When the young store clerk leaves the back door unlocked it doesn’t excuse the theft.”

Miller also accused Runge of fraudulently submitting applications for 13 movie projects just before a cap on the tax credit program took effect. He also accused her of attempting to sell those “placeholder” films to other moviemakers who wanted to utilize the state’s generous film tax credit program.

Whitaker said Miller’s portrayal of Runge’s actions “may be too good to be true.”

“If we don’t get the truth, if we don’t shine a bright light on this situation, then the risk is someone who didn’t do anything will be punished,” Whitaker told jurors.

Runge’s trial is the first over allegations that she and other moviemakers inflated values on applications for tax credits for filming of “The Scientist.”

Runge and three other filmmakers — Matthias Saunders, Chase Brandau and Zachary LeBeau — own Minneapolis-based Polynation Pictures and sought credits to cover the costs of making the film. Prosecutors dropped charges against LeBeau in exchange for his cooperation in the case. Brandau and Saunders pleaded guilty.

Charges also were filed against former Iowa Film Office manager Thomas Wheeler, another filmmaker, a tax credit broker and the owner of a production company.

The charges followed an investigation into a tax credit program administered by the Iowa Film Office.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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