Madalyn Ruggiero  /  AP
Coin dealer Tom Noe, left, looks on Monday during his court hearing at the Lucas County Courthouse in Toledo, Ohio.
updated 2/13/2006 7:09:38 PM ET 2006-02-14T00:09:38

A coin dealer and GOP fund-raiser hired to manage an unorthodox state investment in rare coins was charged Monday with embezzling at least $1 million in an election-year scandal that has sent Ohio Republicans running for cover.

Tom Noe, 51, pleaded not guilty and was jailed on $500,000 bail. He was arrested over his handling of a $50 million investment fund set up by the state workers’ compensation bureau in an unusual attempt to make money by buying and selling rare coins.

The 10-month investigation led to sweeping changes at the bureau and prompted lame-duck Gov. Bob Taft and two former aides to plead no contest to ethics charges. Two other former Taft aides were charged last week, accused of failing to report loans and other favors from Noe.

After the scandal broke last year, President Bush and Republicans in Ohio rushed to give back donations from Noe. The furor also raised Democrats’ hopes of retaking the governor’s office and other key elected positions in this year’s elections.

Noe was charged Monday with stealing money from the coin investment fund by writing numerous checks, sometimes for hundreds of thousands of dollars each.

State AG claims theft up to $6 million
Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates would not say how much money Noe is alleged to have stolen, but one of the charges accuses him of embezzling at least $1 million. The Ohio attorney general has said he believes Noe stole up to $6 million.

Ohio Inspector General Tom Charles said investigators know where the money went, but he would not say where. Investigators were looking into whether any of the stolen money was donated to political candidates.

Noe already faces charges of illegally funneling $45,000 to Bush’s re-election campaign. The 53 new counts include racketeering, forgery, theft, money laundering and tampering with records, with the most serious charge carrying up to 10 years in prison.

Noe and his attorney, Jon Richardson, refused to answer any questions after leaving the courtroom. Richardson has acknowledged a shortfall of up to $13 million of the money Noe invested for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

Contributed to GOP
In recent years, Noe became one of the state’s top fund-raisers and personally contributed more than $105,000 to Republicans, including Bush and the governor, during the last campaign.

After the scandal broke, the Democrats bitterly complained that Noe was hired to manage the investment because of his political donations. They charged that the coin investments were another example of GOP corruption and self-dealing that resulted from virtual one-party rule in Ohio, where Republicans have controlled the governor’s office, the Legislature and most statewide elected positions for 12 years. Ohio was also the state that put Bush over the top in the 2004 White House race.

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The investigation began after The Blade newspaper reported in April that the workers’ compensation bureau had invested $50 million in rare coins with Noe. At one point, investigators thought at least 121 coins were missing, but they eventually accounted for most of them.

Business partner also charged
Prosecutors also charged Noe’s business partner, Timothy LaPointe, with engaging in corrupt activity and tampering with records. The two ran a rare-coin business in suburban Toledo.

In an e-mail to reporters over the weekend, another of Noe’s attorneys, William Wilkinson, said sales of the rare coins would yield more than the state’s original $50 million investment.

Bates said that remains to be seen, but “that doesn’t necessarily negate the fact that a crime may have occurred.”

A grand jury has been investigating the coin investment since last summer. In a case that spun off the scandal, Taft pleaded no contest last year to accepting golf games and other gifts he did not report. Taft is prohibited by term limits from seeking re-election.

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