Zurik: Nagin prosecutor analyzes Horizon case

Updated: Aug. 14, 2015 at 10:06 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Matt Coman's cases helped put Ray Nagin, Greg Meffert, Mark St. Pierre and Jonathan Bolar in federal prison. Coman left the U.S. Attorney's office this year and now works in private practice, for the local law firm Sher Garner. He reviewed our stories about Horizon Entertainment and the documents the company submitted to the state to receive those millions in state film tax credits.

"Given the dollar amount, given the frequency of these discrepancies, I'm not surprised there's an investigation," Coman says.

Coman says prosecutors typically call such an investigation "an historical box case. All the documents, all the evidence is going to be maintained in a room such as this, somewhere."

The state inspector general has received many of those boxes, documents from the state's Economic Development Office.

"I think from a threshold standpoint, investigators will likely start with the easiest or the most glaring discrepancies that you showed," Coman tells us. "For instance, the cost of the tapes or the cost of the camera."

Our stories showed Horizon claimed it spent $55,000 on 2,200 DVCPRO video tapes to produce three episodes of a reality TV show on the Saintsations. Horizon claims it needed and used these tapes to produce "Saintsational." Take 30 percent of that and it cost you, the taxpayer, $16,500. All totaled Horizon told the state it spent $65,500 on DVCPRO tapes and tapes in other video formats.

Horizon also claimed to rent a jib camera for "Saintsational." That cost $111,000. A camera operator hired by Horizon for the show told us he only worked a day on "Saintsational."

Coman thinks investigators will be able to quickly determine if any wrongdoing took place for charges like that. "Given the number of line items that were offered to the state in this instance, in this applicant, I believe it's going to be clear, one way or the other, [whether it was] unlawful or not," he says.

Coman says another significant point of examination for investigators is potential double billing. Horizon had projects going on at the same time, such as "Saintsational" and "The Sean Payton Show." Records appear to show Horizon billed for employees working full-time on both shows, at the same time.

"Investigators will likely look to see… did any expenditure get applied by the applicant on multiple occasions when they applied for the tax credits," Coman says. "That would not be what the state would allow for."

Coman thinks investigators also will request records from the auditor who compiled these reports, Clint Mock, and maybe even go directly to the bank. "There will come a point where it will become clear to investigators that either an applicant has artificially inflated some of these costs, production figures, or possibly there could be an oversight here and there," Coman tells us.

Horizon insists it has done nothing wrong. And the company has said the state's Economic Development Office signed off on all projects. But the state has said, while signing off, they had questions and notified the state inspector general of possible wrongdoing.

This longtime prosecutor says all of those questions will likely be sorted out in the coming months, as state investigators begin their probe into a company that received $4.5 million of your money. The Inspector's General office began its investigation earlier this year.

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