Sunday, February 20, 2011

Wendy Runge

Elliot Ganchrow writes:

This week's Five Towns Jewish Times has an article by Rabbi Chaim Goldberger and an accompanying ad from Rabbi Michel Twerski about the case of an Orthodox Jewish film maker Wendy Runge. Mrs. Runge was indicted in Iowa for fraud in connection with tax credits that she received from the state. According to Rabbi Goldberger, he attends the trial of Runge so that he can ensure that she receives a fair trial. After all he is certain of Runge's "absolute innocence". He is hopeful that the state of Iowa "run this trial fairly and properly, without prejudice or injustice." The not so subtle insinuation is that the state is anti-semitic and out to get local Jews. The accompanying ad from Rabbi Twerski is not as subtle. Calling this a case of Pidyon Shevuyim, the ad says that the state was looking for a scapegoat. The ad continues " the wake of the sensational Rubashkin scandal, they settled on the conspicuously Jewish Mrs. Runge and charged her with 15 felony counts that could place her in prison for 25 years!!" He goes on to add that its clear that Iowa is anti-semitic and on a mission to discredit Jews in the state.  The ad concludes with an address where checks in support of Mrs. Runge can be sent.

Those of us who are somewhat familiar with the law realize that anti-semitic conspiracies are generally rare and are quite uncommon in the offices of the state attorney general's office. Not to mention the equation with the Rubashkin case doesn't make much sense as Rubashkin was convicted in federal court, not in Iowa state court. The article or ad do not explain what Runge was charged with and why they are convinced that she is innocent. Suffice to say, the ad was preposterous and embarrassing.

Now comes word that Runge has pleaded guilty to one count of felony fraud.


"The first film tax credit trial ended in a win for the state. Wendy Weiner Runge pleaded guilty to one count of fraud. By doing that, the state dismissed the other four charges against her. The only time we heard from the Minnesota movie maker during the trial was when she admitted her guilt. "They contained false statements your honor," Weiner Runge told the Judge. "Statements that were false that you knew were false?" asked Polk Count District Court Judge Douglas Staskal. "Correct," she answered. "Did you do this for the purpose of obtaining economic assistance from the state of Iowa?" "Yes sir," replied Weiner Runge says. In her statement to the court, Weiner Runge said she acted with Tom Wheeler, the former head of the Iowa Film Office when she changed the documents. Her guilty plea isn't connected to the movie, The Scientist, even though her production company collected $1.85 million dollars in tax incentives for making the movie. Her plea applies to one of the projects she had in the works. Weiner Runge filed 13 applications with the state just before the state placed a cap on the program. Today, she admitted that she committed fraud when she swapped one project for another. Deputy Attorney General Thomas Henry Miller says the state isn't done getting to the bottom of what went wrong with the tax incentive program. "We wish to continue to investigate and unravel and solve what happened here to hold accountable those who did in fact commit crimes and thefts and abuses against the Iowa Film Office and against the people of the state of Iowa," he says. Fraudulent practice in the first degree carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. After accepting her guilty plea, the judge made it clear that there is no guarantee for sentencing. She also agreed to testify if asked by the state in any upcoming film tax credit trial."

So Runge, who took the fifth during the trial, now admits that she is guilty of fraud. Thus, the cries of anti-semitism now appear to be like the child who cried wolf. It is a black eye for our community when respected Rabbis vouch for the innocence of our people, claim that the state is anti-semitic and then turn out to be wrong. Such finger pointing should not be the role of our Rabbinate as it makes our community look like we do not take this type of criminal activity seriously.

Three questions:
1. Will the Rabbis involved in the ad and article admit next week that they were wrong and that Mrs. Runge is a felon and a fraud and deserves a jail sentence?
2. Will all involved apologize to the Iowa public servants whose reputations were soiled by these accusations?
3. Will all the money that was collected by the "Rabbi's Tzedakah Fund" on behalf of Runge be returned to the donors?