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Filmmaker Testifies About Inflated Costs

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(credit: Jupiter Images)

(credit: Jupiter Images)

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The budget for a movie that was awarded tax credits in Iowa soared after the film company’s partners learned about the state’s program that provides tax breaks to attract such projects to Iowa, the film’s sound designer testified Wednesday.

Chase Brandau testified in the theft and fraud trial of Wendy Weiner Runge, one of the owners of Polynation Pictures. The Minneapolis company received $1.8 million in incentives for the film, which Brandau said had an initial budget of about $100,000, The Des Moines Register reported.

Brandau said that after the tax credits were awarded in December 2008, Runge sent an e-mail to her partners promising to toast them with champagne. Brandau also said the partners were given $33,000 — on top of his $52,000 paycheck, his $2,400-a-month loft and the $450 he received weekly just to be on the set.

Brandau said Runge and Zach LeBeau, the film’s screenwriter, never told him what they took home. Brandau also said Runge dealt alone with Tom Wheeler, the manager of the Iowa Film Office at the time, and Chad Witter, a major investor in the film who prosecutors say profited after brokering the award.

Brandau said he never met Witter.

Runge submitted all the invoices of the pass-through companies and partner companies that grew after the completion of the film in the fall of 2008, said Brandau, who agreed to testify against Runge as part of his plea agreement. Brandau pleaded guilty to second-degree theft.

Runge has pleaded not guilty to first-degree theft, first-degree fraudulent practices and ongoing criminal conduct.

Prosecutors went through the invoices, which changed considerably from September to December 2008.

One of the invoices indicated the rise in expenses was because of increase quality of the film. Most striking were the high costs of small items, including brooms, ladders and traffic pylons.

Expenses also were submitted from companies that never worked on the film, Brandau said.

His testimony painted a different picture than the one portrayed by Runge’s attorney, Matthew Whitaker, during opening arguments. Whitaker said Runge was a novice with little knowledge of the film’s expenses.

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

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