MONCLOVA TOWNSHIP -- State officials say they're planning on suing a coin dealer after his attorney told them $10 to $12 million of the state's $55 million investment in rare coins is missing. Officials do not know what assets are missing or where those items are supposed to be, said Jeremy Jackson, a spokesman for the Bureau of Workers' Compensation. The bureau invested in rare coins in the late 90's as a way to hedge its investments in stocks and bonds.
Authorities originally had suspected that coins worth an estimated $400,000 had vanished, but an attorney for the fund's former manager told inspectors Thursday that $10 million to $12 million is missing, the state attorney general's office said. "Such criminal action is outrageous and will not be tolerated," Ohio Governor Bob Taft said in a news release. "We will pursue all legal avenues possible to recover these funds for injured workers and employers."
Attorney General Jim Petro will ask a Franklin County judge to freeze all personal and business assets of Toledo-area coin dealer Tom Noe and his wife, Bernadette, former chairwoman of the Lucas County Republican Party, Petro spokeswoman Kim Norris said.
Noe is a private coin dealer and Republican donor who led the state's coin investment. Federal authorities also are looking into possible campaign finance violations stemming from Noe's contributions to President Bush's re-election campaign.
Investigators went to Noe's coin shop under a court order issued Thursday morning, but weren't able to remove coins from their cases to inspect them and verify authenticity, Jackson said. The bureau had made $15.3 million from the investments while Noe has collected about $3.8 million in commission.
His shop outside Toledo had one of the two largest coin caches in the collection. About a dozen cars, including Ohio State Highway Patrol cruisers, were in the shop's lot Thursday, and a sign on the door read, "Closed for inventory." Later in the evening, crews were seen taking boxes in and out of the shop.
"Mr. Noe will continue to cooperate with the investigation," said Jud Scheaf, a legal partner with Noe attorney William Wilkinson. He could not provide more details.
The bureau learned for the first time Wednesday that Noe claimed to have bought artwork, autographs and other collectibles instead of coins, Administrator James Conrad said. Noe's contract allowed him to invest in real estate and make loans from the fund, Jackson said, but the bureau knew only that he had some collectibles as collateral for a $530,000 loan.
Questions about the investment surfaced in April when two 1800s-era gold coins disappeared from the state's inventory. Noe said they were sent to a Colorado coin dealer but got lost in the mail in 2003.
An investigation revealed that 119 other coins were missing. Noe said he thought the coins had been stolen by the Colorado dealer, whom he hired to assist with the fund. The state responded by announcing plans to sell off its coin collection, which represents less than 1% of the bureau's total $14 billion in investments.
Senate President Bill Harris also said Thursday he would seek a state budget amendment, aimed only at the bureau, to ban investment in items including coins, stamps, artwork and horses.
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