Runge Pleads Guilty in Film Probe


courtThe Des Moines Register reports: In a surprise move, Minnesota filmmaker Wendy Weiner Runge pleaded guilty late Wednesday to a felony charge just as attorneys on both sides of her case had rested.

Her 11th-hour plea agreement with prosecutors means Runge, 45, will likely face less time in prison than she would have if convicted on all five felony counts brought against her by Iowa’s Attorney General.

Before she agreed to take the plea, the novice filmmaker who created Polynation Pictures with three partners could have faced anywhere from 10 years to 65 behind bars.

Instead, she pleaded guilty to first-degree fraudulent practices in connection with proposed films she had planned in 2009 called “Forever” and “Run.” The charge to which she pleaded guilty did not apply to “The Scientist.”

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. Runge said little else during her plea other than “yes sir,” “no sir” and “I do” and “I understand” to Judge Douglas Staskal.

Runge’s trial lasted a week and a half. An Omaha native and mother of four, she was accused of inflating the costs of the 2008 film “The Scientist” and the other projects she had in the works when Iowa’s film program was suspended in 2009.

An expert witness for the prosecution said during her trial there would be no possible explanation for production costs on “The Scientist” to balloon 10-fold, from $55,000 to $250,000. He also said most filmmakers would never submit more than one project for film incentives; Runge submitted about a dozen just before Iowa’s were capped in 2009.

Runge’s case will likely be followed in late March by one involving Dennis Brouse, a public television personality from Nebraska who took home most of the $32 million in tax credits awarded before the program was shut down. Bruce Heppner Elgin, an Iowa filmmaker, also is charged by state prosecutors in the ongoing case.

Two of Runge’s partners, Matthias Saunders and Chad Brandau, have taken plea agreements. Their sentences will be scheduled now that Runge’s case is over.

Felony charges against Zach LeBeau, a screenwriter who was heavily involved in claims made to the state, were dropped in exchange for his early cooperation in the case.

Cases involving Bettendorf tax credit broker Chad Witter and fired film chief Tom Wheeler, scheduled for March, are expected to be delayed.

A civil case seeking to recoup state dollars lost to Runge and her partner, including Witter, is still pending.

On Wednesday afternoon, one of Runge’s lawyers testified that Iowa’s new Secretary of State provided no legal advice to a Minnesota filmmaker accused of felony theft and fraud in the film fiasco.

Jeffrey Coats, a partner in the Council Bluffs law firm that defendant Wendy Weiner Runge hired to create her company, said fellow partner Matthew Schultz was a family law specialist who never got involved with two other partners.

Rumors have swirled about what, if any, culpability Schultz might have had since before the Republican was elected in January.

{Des Moines Register & Tribune Co./ Newscenter}


  1. Mazel Tov! The plea agreement was for the smalles possible felony just so the Iowa system could save face. There was never a case and now it’s proven.

    May all the trumped up cases against yidden (like the boys in Japan, R. Sholom Rubashkin, Jonathan Pollard) be resolved quickly, now in Adar.