Zurik: State IG questions former Horizon workers about spending allegations

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Louisiana's inspector general has ramped up his investigation into a local production company, following a series of FOX 8 investigations. Part of our "Easy Money" series looked at millions of dollars in film tax credits the state handed out to the company, Horizon Entertainment.

The inspector general's office has spent the past six weeks interviewing witnesses.  Sources say at least five former Horizon Entertainment employees have been questioned since late July. The inspector general opened the case back in February.

If the inspector general finds any potential wrongdoing, he'll likely hand over findings to federal authorities, probably based in Baton Rouge.

The U.S. attorney in Baton Rouge, Walt Green, told us by email that it is "[U.S. Justice Department] policy not to comment as to whether we may or may not have an open investigation on any matter."

Our own investigation showed production expenses Horizon claimed to have made. Many former Horizon employees told us both on and off camera that there were millions of dollars in expenses that never happened.

For example, Horizon claimed it spent $100,000 on a jib camera for a reality TV show based on the Saintsations. But employees say the camera was only used once for the show, costing $300.

Horizon claims it spent $65,000 on tape for the Saintsations' show. That includes $55,000 on what's called DVCPRO videotape, a total of 2,200 of them.  Former Horizon employees say only a handful of tapes were actually needed for the show.

We also had serious questions about payments made to Horizon employees. They claimed to the state that they paid editors and assistant editors about $318,000 for this project.

Horizon claimed it spent $5 million on three episodes of "Saintsational" - a cost of $1.6 million per episode.  Compare that to another reality TV show, "Duck Dynasty," whose first season cost $293,000 an episode.

We raised questions about Horizon's spending on several more projects, such as "The Sean Payton Show." Horizon submitted a general ledger to the state, a document they say shows every expenditure made.  In that ledger for "The Sean Payton Show," Horizon clearly shows a $360,000 payment for a coach's fee - a fee that was supposed to go to the Saints head coach himself.  But Horizon never paid Payton any money.

Former Horizon employees have questions about the authenticity of many of the alleged payments in the records Horizon submitted to the state. Those records helped Horizon land a payday worth more than $4 million. That's public dollars, your money, in the form of tax credits from Louisiana's film industry incentive program.

It's clear now that those payments now have the attention of the state inspector general.

It's important to note that neither the Saints nor Sean Payton received money from Horizon for any of these projects, and they didn't have any part in filing paperwork with the state. The attorney for Horizon owner Jason Sciavicco has repeatedly told us his client did nothing wrong. Sciavicco no longer lives in Louisiana.

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