The former director of the Iowa Film Office has been charged with misconduct in office, while a handful of people involved in a movie called “The Scientist” face more serious charges.

Former Film Office manager Tom Wheeler of Indianola was fired in September after questions were raised about how state tax credits to film and TV productions were being managed.   Wheeler has been charged with non-felonious misconduct in office, a serious misdemeanor.  If convicted, Wheeler faces a fine of up to $1,875.  In addition, he could be sentenced to up to a year in prison.  Wheeler’s brother issued a statement Monday evening, accusing the attorney general of  persecuting the former film office director for political gain.

In addition, two film makers from Minnesota and three separate companies involved in a film called “The Scientist” have been charged with the more serious crime of first degree theft. According to court documents, the state alleges the film’s producers “highly inflated” the costs of various services and goods for the movie, for example, claiming to have spent $900 to rent an eight foot step ladder for two weeks.

The film’s producers are also accused of “double-billing” and other financial irregularities.  The film  was shot in Omaha and Bellevue, Nebraska, and in Council Bluffs, Iowa in November of 2008.  The state alleged, in court documents, that the cast and crew were primarily from Minnesota and Nebraska.

Wheeler, as film office manager, approved more than $1.8 million in state tax credits for the movie.

Shortly after seven o’clock Monday evening, Wheeler’s brother issued a written statement, which you can read below in its entirety.

From David B. Wheeler, spokesperson for Tom Wheeler and his legal team:

“We find it very troubling that Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and his staff decided to charge Tom Wheeler and others the very day a Republican announces her intentions to run against Mr. Miller for Iowa Attorney General. The Attorney General in his own press announcement states that the investigation is on-going and Tom Wheeler is more than happy to cooperate with their investigation and pursue those that have defrauded the State of Iowa.  What is the rush with this indictment? It’s because Mr. Miller and his political consultants in a cynical political move decided to use this day to try to keep his Republican opponent, Ms. Breanna Findley, off the media radar by using a politically motivated indictment that will be the headline versus her announcement that he’ll have an opponent for the opponent in decades..  I’ve known Tom Miller for more than 30 years having met him while my father was Warren County Democratic Chairman and worked with him over the years on several campaigns in Iowa and know he is an honorable man.  Mr. Miller’s scapegoating Tom Wheeler is truly surprising and unbecoming of the office of Iowa Attorney General. Iowans should be shocked Mr. Miller and his political consultants would pull such a stunt at the expense of Tom Wheeler, a junior employee at the Iowa Department of Economic Development, one of the hardest working employees in that department that regularly put in 65 hours a week with no extra pay and maintained a spotless employment record while employed by the State of Iowa. Also, why hasn’t Mr. Miller held anyone else at IDED accountable or charge them with similar charges when the entire IDED team was involved in this fiasco including Mike Tramontina, Robert Lentz and the department’s lawyer Melaine Johnson. All have decades of business and government experience and are all scapegoating Tom Wheeler for a fraud perpetrated by film makers who turned out to be scam artists.   How can others at IDED still have their jobs?  Scapegoating the most junior guy, Tom Wheeler, isn’t something I ever thought the Tom Miller I know and respect would do and he isn’t holding anyone else at the Iowa Department of Development or State of Iowa government accountable for this fiasco. Tom Wheeler may have been overwhelmed and took on too much work but he is not a criminal and he is not the only one that should be held accountable.”

Find out more about the movie here.  Internet Movie Database.

Download Film Office Charges (PDF)

Troy Price, Governor Culver’s press secretary, issued a written statement.  Read it below in its entirety:

“The news on the investigation into the Iowa Film Office reinforces the swift action Governor Culver took when he first learned of potentially serious mismanagement of the program. Within days, the Governor suspended the film tax credit program, and three employees at the Department of Economic Development resigned or were terminated from their employment.  The Governor immediately requested that the Attorney General, the Auditor and the Director of the Department of Revenue investigate all matters related to applications for or the issuances of film tax credits.  And, he directed members of his administration to review all tax credit programs to make recommendations to the General Assembly.  Today’s announcement confirms the Governor’s actions were appropriate.”

(This story was updated at 8:57 p.m.)