“The clock is ticking,” Wendy Weiner Runge of Minneapolis laments, when asked for an update on the status of Iowa’s felony theft case against her as a filmmaker who participated in that state’s filmmaking tax credit incentives in 2008.Rosh Hashanah begins in three-and-a-half weeks on the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 8. At this point, a pretrial hearing scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 9 – the first full day of Rosh Hashanah – has not been rescheduled as requested by Runge and her attorney Matt Whitaker.
Adding to Runge’s distress is the fact that the trial itself is scheduled for the week of Sept. 20, the week that Sukkos begins.
The failure thus far of Judge Richard Blane to reschedule the hearing is actually the least of Runge’s problems. Under the counsel of her rabbi, Runge is making plans to stay within walking distance of the courthouse in Des Moines on Rosh Hashanah. She’s been told that the motion to reschedule the hearing and trial could be determined at another hearing the week of Aug. 23.
Runge’s biggest problem remains the criminal charges brought against her by the State of Iowa. If she is found guilty, the 45-year-old mother of four could go to prison for 25 years.
Runge says she complied with all the regulations in conjunction with the tax credits she received from the now-shuttered Iowa Film Office. Every expense she submitted was approved and the promised tax credits were issues, she says.
Her claims of compliance and receiving approval were substantiated on July 30 during depositions with four former employees of the Iowa Film Office, three of whom were granted immunity just before being deposed individually by the Iowa Attorney General.
“They all agreed with what I’ve been saying, that I properly applied for and received approval for the tax credits,” Runge told the Intermountain Jewish News this week. Runge’s attorney Whitaker was present at the deposition and he confirmed that the former film office employees did verify Runge’s claims.
He also said that three of the four employees admitted they had never read the brief, 100-word statute that provided for the tax credits for filmmakers.
Runge is also still wondering why she is the only filmmaker being charged with theft out the two dozen other filmmakers who availed themselves of the Iowa incentives during 2008 and 2009.
Other producers, Runge says, bought luxury vehicles under the program, running up some $9 million in tax credits. “None are being charged,” she says.
Runge has had to raise funds for her legal defense from members of the Jewish communities in Chicago, Minneapolis and Kansas City. She plans to do the same in Denver.
She has turned to Jewish communities in the Midwest because of the suspicion of anti-Semitism in this case. During a deposition, Iowa Deputy Attorney General Thomas H. Miller made a remark about Shalom Rubashkin, who was recently sentenced in the case regarding AgriProcessors in Postville, Iowa. Runge inferred the remark to be a threat.
Runge and her attorney Whitaker are bracing themselves for a tough battle. “We’re in the fight of our lives against the state,” Whitaker said.
“For some reason, they’ve targeted Wendy and we can’t figure out why. We are going to have to fight it out.”