FLORIDA KEYS -- They were Lucas County's power pair. The president called them by their first names. They enjoyed the trappings of wealth. Then Tom Noe got in trouble with the law, and everything changed. The daily scrutiny and the public pressure were almost unbearable. It took a toll, but it may, too, have paid dividends.
News 11 anchor Jerry Anderson traveled to the Florida Keys to talk exclusively to Tom and Bernadette Noe. It was their first television interview since state and federal charges were filed against Tom. It's a look at how a couple and a family copes when trouble comes calling, and friends scatter.
A sunrise in the Florida Keys is nothing short of awesome. And each morning, Bernadette Noe is up to meet the dawn to pray, to meditate, to face a new day's challenges. Contemporary Christian music plays quietly in the background, yet the peace of nature's daily awakening belies the fact that Bernadette has already visited 3 newspaper web sites to read the latest on the troubles facing her husband Tom.
On September 13th, federal judge David Katz sentenced Tom Noe to 27 months in federal prison for arranging a contribution scheme to raise money for the Bush/Cheney re-election campaign in 2004. That sentence carried with it a $136,200 fine.
Prosecutors said Noe gave $45,400 directly or indirectly to 24 friends and associates, who made the campaign contributions in their own names, allowing him to skirt the $2,000 limit on individual contributions. Noe wrote several checks just under the cap to avoid suspicion, according to prosecutors. All of the checks were written in the eight days leading up to a fundraiser in October 2003 at a downtown Columbus hotel.
Noe, a rare coin dealer, is also charged in an ill-fated $50 million coin investment that he managed for the state workers' compensation fund. The scandal led to ethics charges against Ohio Governor Bob Taft, who pleaded no contest for failing to report gifts such as golf outings.
Noe has pleaded not guilty to those charges.
Bernadette had heard the rumors and bought the denials until the day her husband called her to his office to say federal agents were raiding, and would find what they were looking for. "I fell to the floor," said Bernadette. "I was so overcome with fear, I think it was fear. And I was throwing up and could hardly breathe. I was like having a panic attack."
That dark day was followed by weeks and months of investigations and allegations that all played out very publicly. Some even wondered how Bernie, a lawyer and former county GOP chair, could not know what was going on with the campaign contributions. "There's no way that I'd be the brains behind this because it was so blatantly stupid," said Bernadette. "Tom and I had separate check books. And you know, you have those carbonless copies, and I had mine and he had his."
She'd turn the spent registers in to Tom's administrative assistant and get more checks. She says she didn't look at his checks. "He was a successful businessman before I met him, Bernadette said, "I'm not going to second-guess his spending."
But after all those denials from Tom, their marriage seriously wounded, trust was in trouble. "Well, certainly trust or lack of it. When the papers reported that the marriage was strained, the marriage was strained," said Bernadette.
As the pressure and the probes increased, Bernadette Noe made a decision in May of 2005 to move to the family's home in the Florida Keys to try to figure out what was happening and to plot her next move. It was there that they came to a fork in the road.