State lawmakers have heard from the source about allegations that a state tax credit program has been abused. The Joint Committee on Tax Policy had heard previously from state officials about the allegations, but had only read about what trucker Rick Russell had told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which published a series of articles based on his experience. Russell on Monday spoketo the committee, explaining how a chance encounter with an old friend led to his application for $75,000 in tax credits from the Rebuilings Communities program. Russell told Jim Jones, owner of Computers and More of St. Louis, he needed to raise capital to develop an invention. Jones advised Russell he couldn’t get money from the state to develop a child safety seat, but could qualify for tax credits if he agreed to start a computer school. Russell told committee members he signed blank forms and had Jones file papers for him. He got a call from the state that he had been awarded the tax credit. He said he became concerned when he informed Jones of the news and Jones asked him to write a $200,000 check that he assured Russell he would not cash. Jones added he had several uncashed checks on hand, that he used them to trigger the tax credit. Russell said he called the State Economic Development Department about his experience and engaged in an e-mail exchange with Sean Burge, the director of the state tax credit program. He said Burge later cut off communication with him, saying the department’s lawyers told him to no longer talk with Russell. Russell further testified that he was surprised that state officials didn’t follow-up his allegations. That’s when he went to the newspaper with his story. Russell met with officials at the Attorney General’s office after testifying before the committee.
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