updated 5/31/2006 4:29:21 PM ET 2006-05-31T20:29:21
BREAKING NEWS

A coin dealer and prominent GOP fundraiser at the center of an Ohio political scandal pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges he illegally funneled donations to President Bush’s re-election campaign.

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Tom Noe, once a powerful political figure who also raised money for Ohio Republicans, still is charged with embezzlement in an ill-fated $50 million coin investment that he managed for the state workers’ compensation fund.

The investment scandal has been a major embarrassment for Ohio’s ruling Republicans and given Democrats a better shot at winning state offices this year, including the governor’s office that has been under GOP control since 1991.

Investigators have not been able to find out if Noe used money from the state coin fund for campaign contributions.

Noe was charged with exceeding federal campaign contribution limits, using others to make the contributions and causing the Bush campaign to submit a false campaign-finance statement.

He pleaded guilty to arranging a contribution scheme to raise $50,000 for Bush.

Noe said Wednesday that he decided to plead guilty to “spare my family and many dear friends” the ordeal of a trial.

Federal prosecutors said in October that the case was the largest campaign money-laundering scheme prosecuted under the 2002 campaign finance reform law, which set limits on donations.

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