Zurik: Under scrutiny, Horizon fingers State Film Office - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

Zurik: Under scrutiny, Horizon fingers State Film Office

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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - On January 19, we sent a long email to the head of Horizon Entertainment, Jason Sciavicco, asking him for documents to help explain the more than $2.5 million in tax credits he received from the state of Louisiana for three productions.

More than a month later, Sciavicco hasn't sent us any paperwork. But his attorney has said Horizon did nothing improper.

Walter Becker writes, "Horizon Entertainment and Mr. Sciavicco fully complied with the law and guidance from the Department of Economic Development and the Office of Entertainment Industry Development while producing 'Saintsational,' 'The Sean Payton show,' and 'Emancipated.'"

But we have many questions about the $2,753,000 in tax credits Horizon has received.

Here at FOX 8, our newsroom buys video storage discs to help fill nine hours of news each weekday. The annual cost of these discs for our newsroom is just $5,000.

So it caught our eye when Horizon Entertainment told the state that, to produce a reality TV show on the Saintsations, they spent $55,000 on DVCPRO tape.

Horizon only edited three episodes, and followed the Saintsations a handful of days over one season. $55,000 equals 2,200 DVCPRO tapes.

“It is impossible,” says John Beyer, a video editor on “Saintsational.” “Mathematically impossible.”

Horizon claimed to the state that six editors worked on the show, a total of 30 weeks each. But Beyer recalls just half as many editors.

“There were three editors going on it for a good, solid… I'd say two to four weeks, tops,” Beyer tells us.

Horizon received the tax credits after filing audit reports with the State Film Office. Horizon used a Baton Rouge CPA, Clint Mock.

Horizon's attorney writes, “Once Horizon finished work on the productions, an independent certified public accountant thoroughly audited Horizon's expenditures on all of these productions. The independent CPA followed the state's rigorous audit guidelines that applied to these productions.”

But Mock wasn't necessarily an "independent" CPA, as Horizon indicates. Mock was hired by Horizon.

Horizon hasn't answered any questions we've presented, but in a letter the company put the focus on the head of the state's film office, writing, “Chris Stelly, the state's director of film and TV, acknowledged in writing that he reviewed the written audit reports. Mr. Stelly signed letters to Horizon stating that he had determined that Horizon had 'fulfilled all requirements' for the motion picture credits."

During our interview with Stelly, he deflected most of our questions, repeating that the production costs approved for credits were simply “what was presented to us in the audit at the time.”

In March 2011, the state updated guidelines that auditors must follow. That change meant Horizon could only receive tax credits for the actual costs it paid employees. We found an employee whose pay stub showed a $1,300 weekly salary - but Horizon claimed nearly double that amount in its audit, one of many examples.

“If we would have found that out at particular point in time, that's certainly not acceptable under the law,” Stelly says.

Last week, Horizon told us the film office told them to follow the old guidelines. We asked for the name of the state employee who told them that, and for documentation that shows that communication. They haven't responded.

Horizon also alleges it split tax credits for these projects with Louisiana Media Company and the Saints. The Saints and Louisiana Media say that's not true. We asked Horizon for documents showing they paid both entities. Again, they haven't provided us with that information either.

After that January 19 email, we sent another one. We've also aired three stories, and Horizon still hasn't supplied us with any document to explain any of the questions raised in our reports, only saying they followed the law.

Horizon's attorney writes, "Our clients believed then and continue to believe that the state properly certified these credits."

Copyright 2015 WVUE. All rights reserved.

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