TOLEDO -- A federal grand jury has begun hearing the case of Toledo-area Republican donor Tom Noe. Jurors will decide whether Noe should go to trial on charges he violated federal campaign finance laws during the 2004 presidential election.
The testimony started Wednesday morning. First to arrive was former Board of Elections director Joe Kidd, accompanied by his lawyer, followed a short time later by Toledo City Councilwoman Betty Schultz. Kidd left the courthouse two hours later without talking to reporters.
At issue is a $2,000 a plate fundraiser for the Bush/Cheney campaign in October of 2003 in Columbus. Several local Republicans were at the event, including Kidd, Shultz, County Commissioner Maggie Thurber and GOP Chairwoman Sally Perz. The grand jury will investigate if Noe bypassed federal election limits by giving money to others, and having them donate it back to the Bush campaign.
The Columbus event raised about $1.5 million dollars for the Bush/Cheney campaign. By that time, Noe had already donated the maximum $2,000 individual contribution to the Bush/Cheney campaign, so any more money traced back to him would be illegal.
The grand jury will decide whether Noe will go to trial. "Well, the whole process is to determine if there's enough evidence of a crime to indict somebody," said UT Law Professor Dan Steinbock. "The standard for the grand jury is whether there is probable cause--a fair probability--that a crime was committed and people named in the indictment committed it."
Sources tell News 11 as many as forty people could testify before the grand jury. After Kidd and Schultz testified this morning, prosecutors expect to call Thurber, and Perz either today or tomorrow. Who's not on the list? Noe himself.
Count on News 11 to stay on top of this story as it develops.
Meanwhile in a separate scandal, a search warrant affidavit filed Tuesday by the State Highway Patrol says investigators seized LeBron James rookie cards, Beanie Babies, comic books and thousands of other collectibles when they searched Noe's coin and collectible shop last week. Noe has been under investigation after thousands of dollars of an investment by the Bureau of Workers Compensation was reported missing. Noe's attorney revised that figure last week, saying $10 to $12 million dollars of the investment was gone. BWC's money comes from premiums paid by employers to support the department.
The investment was part of a portfolio of investments controlled by the Bureau of Worker's Compensation as a hedge fund to protect its investment in stocks. Coin dealers and two national groups that track state investments said they know of no other state that has invested in rare coins, autographs or other collectibles.
According to the search warrant and related affidavits filed Tuesday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court in Toledo, the patrol was looking for evidence of theft, tampering with evidence and obstructing justice. For example, the Ohio State Highway Patrol says the company overseeing the state's investment in rare coins purchased a coin for $123,000 dollars and resold it for one cent. There were several similar incidents cited in the documents when the patrol asked for the warrant.
State officials say they plan to sue Noe and seek criminal charges for the alleged theft and fraud. Ohio has since decided to sell its investment in rare coins.
Noe, meanwhile, is selling his home in the Florida Keys. The five-bedroom home with an ocean view is listed at $4.6 million. Noe already has sold a home along Lake Erie for $990,000 and has reached a deal to sell a condominium he owns in suburban Toledo.