February 28, 2015

Supreme Court turns down tax credit money for documentary linked to ‘Field of Dreams’

Iowa Supreme Court building.

Iowa Supreme Court building.

The Iowa Supreme Court has sided with the district court in denying film tax credits to a company which shot a documentary linked to the “Field of Dreams” movie site in Dyersville.

The company that produced the documentary “Field of Dreams Ghost Player” about the lives of the men who portrayed the ghost players who come out of the cornfield in the movie “Field of Dreams,” were seeking around $400,000 under a 2009 contract through the now defunct film tax credit program.

The Iowa Department of Economic Development figured they were only eligible for $59,000, and the investors in the project sued. The district court dismissed the lawsuit, saying the company did not go through all the needed administrative appeals before taking the legal action.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruling agrees that the company had not exhausted all of its administrative appeals. The Supreme Court also concluded the process used by the Iowa Economic Development Department in processing the claim did not deprive the company of its right to due process under the state or federal constitutions.

Here’s the complete ruling: Ghost player ruling PDF


Utility companies report millions in unpaid bills

thermostatThe latest report by Iowa’s largest utility companies shows more than $39 million in past due bills. In addition, more than one thousand households were disconnected for unpaid bills.

A federal program called LIHEAP provides protection from those signed up from having the power shut off between November 1st and March 31st. Iowa’s LIHEAP director Jerry McKim says he is concerned about those not in the program,  and says they have some protection too.

“The law says if you haven’t had a payment agreement that you broke in the last 12 months, the utility — not might– they must allow you a minimum of 12 months to pay off you past due balance,” according to McKim.

He says if you have concerns, you can seek help from the customer service office of the Iowa Utilities Board. “They’re the state agency that has authority over every utility in the state for electric and gas on disconnection procedures and payment plan rules, so that’s where you would go if you think you are not being treated fairly,” McKim says. McKim says state law requires utility companies to take into account household income when setting up a 12 month repayment plan.

McKim says fewer people applied for LIHEAP assistance this year, so there are funds available for those who qualify.


Students urged to fill out FAFSA now for college

ICA_LOGOThe Iowa College Student Aid Commission is reminding current and future college students to file and important form that could help them pay for college. The spokesperson for the Iowa College Student Aid Commission, Heather Doe, says it’s the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — more commonly called FAFSA.

“It’s a federal form that you do have to complete to determine eligibility for any type of federal aid program – that includes PELL Grants, it also includes student loans that you are going to borrow. And it’s used by the state of Iowa and many other states to determine eligibility for state grants and scholarships,” Doe says. She says it is important to get the form done as soon as possible.

Doe says a lot of colleges have a March first priority deadline for financial aid filing. “And we families to get out there and get that completed, even if they don’t have their taxes completed yet,” Doe says. You can use your tax information from last year to file the FAFSA, and then update the information once the information for this year is available. Any student who hopes to get financial aid has to fill out the form.

“One thing to make sure to point out to everyone is you have to complete a FAFSA every year,” according to Doe. “So, even if you already filed one last year and you are going back for your second or third year of college, you have to complete it again.”

Doe says it doesn’t take that long to complete the application. “The best way and most convenient way and fastest way is to file it on-line at www.fafsa.gov. And I do want to point out that dot-gov, because there are sites that look very similar to that with like a dot-com (address) and they’ll try to charge a fee,” she explains. “FAFSA is free to file, so if you are ever on a site where they want some credit card information — make sure to just get yourself out, because you are not in the right place.”

Iowa College Aid says Iowa high school graduates left approximately $22 million in federal grant money unclaimed in 2013 simply by not completing the FAFSA.


Wisconsin man sentenced to federal prison for sex with an Iowa teen

A man who brought a teenage girl from Iowa to Wisconsin to have sex with her has been sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison.

Thirty-year-old Christopher Heath-Lowther of Platteville, Wisconsin pled guilty to one count of transporting a minor across a state line with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and one count of transporting the minor for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct.

He admitted to traveling to Iowa between December of 2013 and February of 2014 to meet a 14-year-old girl so he could take her to Wisconsin to have sex with her. Heath-Lowther was sentenced to 235 months in prison and must register as a sex offender.


Judge orders Moulton contractor to pay restitution to customers

A Polk County judge ordered an Appanoose County contractor Wednesday to pay more than $100,000 in restitution following complaints from customers. Geoff Greenwood, a spokesman with the Iowa Attorney General’s office, says Thirty-nine-year-old Jeremey Lawson of Moulton operated Moulton and Bloomfield-based businesses.

“A lot of these complaints have been the same types of complaints — they say Mr. Lawson took money from them, whether it was a substantial payment, or a small payment, and then didn’t complete the work. That’s the majority of the complaints that we’ve heard,” Greenwood says. The Consumer Protection Division investigated some 40 complaints against Lawson.

Greenwood says others reported their project was only partially finished.”Or, he finished a project and it was not a suitable project, the work was substandard, it was not acceptable,” Greenwood says. “So the complaints have been piling up and have risen to the top of our Consumer Protection Division in terms of contractor enforcement.” The restitution was just part of the judgment reached with Lawson.

“It also sets forth some fairly stringent conditions if he continues with contracting or repair work,” according to Greenwood.

Lawson use business names that include Sturdy Buildings, Strong Structures, Lawson Building Components and J&C Buildings. Lawson denied the allegations but agreed to the consent judgment to settle the matter with the Consumer Protection Division.

Greenwood says you can save yourself some hassle by doing some background work before hiring a contractor. “Really important is to check up front on that contractor….do some web searching. You can check with the state Workforce Development labor division to see if they are registered — and they need to be registered,” according to Greenwood. “You can also check court records at Iowa Courts Online to see if there are civil judgments or any kind of criminal convictions against someone.”

He says one good way to find a contractor is to get a recommendation from somebody you know. “Someone you know and trust, someone who has had a good experience with someone. You can also check the references the contractor provides and ask that person ‘where you really satisfied, what did they do, how long did it take, what were the financial arrangements.'”

He says you should ask for a copy of the contractor’s liability insurance certificate, and be wary of a person or company not listed in the local telephone directory.


Cedar Rapids police believe death of husband and wife is a murder-suicide

Police CarInvestigators in Cedar Rapids say the deaths of two people there is believed to be a murder-suicide.

Cedar Rapids police were called to the southeast side home for a welfare check after co-workers reported that 44-year-old Sherry Haferbecker did not show up for work as a custodian at Prairie Hill Elementary School in the College Community Schools district.

Officers located the body of Haferbecker inside the home along with the body of her 45-year-old husband, Mitchell Haferbecker. Police believe that Mitchell Hafterbecker shot Sherry with a handgun and then used the gun to kill himself.

Mitchell Haferbecker was a custodian at the Prairie Heights Elementary School, and police say he had been placed on administrative leave from the school district. Police did not give any other details on the investigation.


Former Iowa State University researcher agrees to plea in fraud case

gavel-thumbnailA former Iowa State University researcher who admitted he faked data to make it appear an experimental AIDS vaccine was working has reached a plea deal. Dong Pyou Han had been charged with four counts of making a false statement and pled guilty to two counts.

Prosecutors say Han spiked the blood of rabbits with components of human blood to make it appear the AIDS vaccine he was testing was working.

The 57-year-old Han admitted in his plea that the false data was reported to the National Institutes of Health, which had provided $19 million for the research. Han resigned from ISU following the accusations. He faces a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on each count. He will be sentenced on May 29th.

Here are the details on the plea agreement: Han Plea Agreement PDF