DES MOINES — Defense attorneys and state prosecutors spent Monday interviewing prospective Polk County jurors in the trial of a Bettendorf accountant facing criminal charges stemming from the state film tax-credit case.
Chad Witter, 39, the primary accountant for Changing Horses Productions film company and a tax credit broker for several film projects, is charged with five felonies that include two counts each of first-degree theft and first-degree fraudulent practice and one count of ongoing criminal conduct. District Judge Scott Rosenberg expected the trial would take about two weeks, with the panel of jurors expected to be seated Tuesday so attorneys can present opening statements and begin calling witnesses.
Prosecutors claim Witter knowingly made false statements and engaged in fraudulent practices while procuring state economic development assistance for various projects.
Changing Horses Productions produced a series of five television shows and DVDs, including “Saddle Up with Dennis Brouse,” related to horse training. Brouse was the primary producer and lead on-screen talent for the productions. The show featured scenes filmed in May 2009 in LeClaire, where the crew spent a day filming at the Buffalo Bill Museum in LeClaire. Brouse interviewed the museum director about LeClaire native William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody.
According to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, Changing Horses applied for and received expenditure and investment tax certificates for five separate projects during the period from March 2008 through September 2009. A state audit found that the state issued excess tax credit certificates totaling $9,179,102 for Changing Horses projects.
Earlier this year, a Polk County jury convicted Brouse on one Class C felony count of first-degree fraudulent practices. Rosenberg sentenced the Nebraska film and video producer to 10 years in prison on May 31 for fraudulently securing state tax credits under a program aimed at building Iowa’s film industry.
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Brouse was the seventh person convicted in the state film tax-credit case.
The film program was shut down in 2009 after an audit showed millions of dollars worth of tax credits were awarded improperly.
Six people in the state Department of Economic Development lost their jobs when an unfolding scandal triggered by the purchase of luxury vehicles that were deemed eligible for tax credits prompted former Gov. Chet Culver to suspend the program in September 2009. Culver requested a probe by the state auditor and attorney general after an internal audit raised concerns about lax oversight, mismanagement, inadequate documentation of expenditures, and payments for questionable in-kind services.
A state audit released in October 2010 detailed $25.6 million in tax credits allegedly issued improperly to film projects. Nearly $32 million worth of tax credits were granted to 22 film companies, and State Auditor David Vaudt said he was surprised to find that about 80 percent of the claims involved payments for expenditures where there was no proof or inadequate documentation.