Two weeks after the conviction of Tom Noe, another participant in Ohio's Coingate scandal has pleaded guilty. Tom Noe's former business partner and friend, Timothy LaPointe, pleaded guilty to three counts of tampering with records.More >>
TOLEDO -- A prominent GOP contributor broke federal law by funneling $45,400 to President Bush's re-election campaign to skirt giving limits, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday. Tom Noe, a suburban Maumee coin dealer at the center of Ohio's government scandal, disguised his contributions by recruiting and providing money to 24 friends and associates, called "conduits." The indictment says they then turned around and made campaign contributions in their own names.
Noe did so to fulfill his pledge to raise $50,000 for a Bush fundraiser at a downtown Columbus hotel Oct. 30, 2003, according to the indictment. Noe wrote several checks in amounts just under the maximum allowable amount of $2,000 to avoid suspicion, the indictment said.
Federal investigators also allege Noe made his friends and associates fill out contribution cards and forms falsely certifying they were making the contributions themselves. The result was that Bush's campaign committee unknowingly submitted a false campaign report the Federal Election Commission, the report said.
The 3-count indictment is the first charge against Noe, who contributed more than $105,000 to Republicans including Bush and Gov. Bob Taft during the last campaign. "It's one of the most blatant and excessive finance schemes we have encountered," said Noel Hillman, section chief of the U.S. Department of Justice's public integrity section.
If he's convicted, Noe could face as many as 15 years in prison, and as much as a half-million dollar fine. US Attorney Gregory White says his office has issued an arrest warrant, and is in negotiations to get Noe to surrender.
The federal grand jury first started hearing testimony in June regarding a $2,000-a-plate fundraiser for the Bush/Cheney campaign in October of 2003 in Columbus. The grand jury investigated if Noe bypassed federal election limits by giving money to others, and having them donate it back to the Bush campaign.
That Columbus event raised about $1.5 million dollars. Several Toledo-area Republicans were there, including former Board of Elections Chairman Joe Kidd, City Council member Betty Shultz, County Commissioner Maggie Thurber and GOP Chairwoman Sally Perz, who were all called before the federal grand jury.
Since Noe had already donated the personal maximum of $2,000, then any more money traced back to him would be illegal.
Noe was also known for donating to several Republican officeholders, most of whom decided to give the money back. Both of Ohio's U.S. Senators and Ohio Governor Bob Taft returned campaign contributions they received from Noe. In statements coming within hours of one another, Taft and three other statewide officeholders said they were returning contributions from Noe, saying he's done a disservice to Ohioans.
Contributions also went to House lawmakers, Auditor Betty Montgomery, Attorney General Jim Petro, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, and the state Republican party. Montgomery, Petro and Blackwell are candidates for governor next year.
Montgomery gave back $8,100 in contributions from Noe and his wife, Bernadette, dating back to 1993, when she first ran for statewide office. Montgomery was attorney general from 1994 through 2002. U.S. Senator Mike DeWine sent $7,500 that Noe contributed to his campaigns or leadership political action committee to the foundations of Toledo Children's Hospital and Mercy Children's Hospital in Toledo.
U.S. Senator George Voinovich told The Columbus Dispatch that he would also return money contributed to his campaigns by the Noes. Since 1990 they have given $10,800 to his federal campaigns and $2,900 to his state campaigns, records show.
The Bush-Cheney campaign donated $6,000 it received from Noe and his wife, Bernadette, to charity, said Aaron McLear, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. The committee said it is cooperating with federal authorities but will not return $100,000 that Noe raised for Bush for now.
Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said an investigator in her office discovered records last October that prompted the investigation into Noe's role at the Bush fundraiser. The investigation began just weeks before Bush won a close victory over John Kerry in Ohio, which put the president back in the White House. Democrats questioned why the allegations weren't made public until this spring.
Meanwhile in a separate scandal, Noe is also under investigation after million of dollars from an investment by the Bureau of Workers Compensation was reported missing. The investment was part of a portfolio of investments controlled by BWC as a hedge fund to protect its investment in stocks.
Noe has acknowledged that up to $13 million of that is missing and Attorney General Jim Petro has accused him of stealing as much as $6 million.
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. BWC's money comes from premiums paid by employers to support the department.
According to the search warrant and related affidavits filed 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.
An investigation into Noe's coin investments led to the governor's conviction in August on charges he failed to report golf outings and other gifts.