DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A Minnesota filmmaker made a surprise guilty plea Wednesday during a trial over her role in an alleged scheme to misuse tax credits aimed at encouraging more movies to be shot in Iowa.
Wendy Weiner Runge, 45, of St. Louis Park, Minn. pleaded guilty to a felony charge of first-degree fraudulent practices, which carries up to 10 years in prison, said Geoff Greenwood, spokesman for the Iowa attorney general’s office.
Runge, of St. Louis Park, Minn., had been charged with five felonies. Her trial in Polk County District Court was the first over allegations that she and other movie makers inflated values on applications for tax credits for the filming of a science-fiction movie called “The Scientist” and other projects she had in the works.
“We are gratified that she is acknowledging her responsibility,” Greenwood said. “This will help us move forward with other cases against those accused of exploiting the Iowa Film Office.”
Greenwood said Runge agreed to cooperate with the state, including testifying in future cases. Trials are pending against four others.
Greenwood said Runge will be sentenced at the “conclusion” of the film cases.
A telephone call and an e-mail message to Runge’s attorney, Matthew Whitaker, by The Associated Press Wednesday evening were not immediately returned.
The Des Moines Register said Runge pleaded guilty just as attorneys on both sides of the case had rested.
The Register reported that Runge’s plea did not apply to “The Scientist,” but with proposed films she had planned in 2009 called “Forever” and Run.” Runge admitted in court that she made false statements to the state to procure state tax credits for both projects.
“At the time that what I was directed to do so by Tom Wheeler,” she said, referring to the former manager of the Iowa Film Office. He is scheduled to go to trial March 21 on charges of felonious misconduct in office, fraudulent practices and conspiracy. He had pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Runge said little else during her plea to Judge Douglas Staskal.
Runge is one of the owners of Polynation Pictures. The Minneapolis company received $1.8 million in incentives for the film. During her trial, Chase Brandau, the film’s sound designer, testified the film had an initial budget of about $100,000.
Runge, Brandau, Matthias Saunders and Zachary LeBeau own Polynation Pictures. Charges against LeBeau were dropped in exchange for his cooperation in the case. Braudau and Saunders each pleaded guilty.
Charges also were filed against Wheeler, another filmmaker, a tax credit broker and the owner of a production company.
The tax-credit program came under scrutiny after an audit discovered sloppy bookkeeping in the film office and questionable spending by some filmmakers.
The-Gov. Chet Culver suspended the program in September 2009. He later allowed existing applications to be processed but halted any new applications from being filed.
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