Coin Dealer Admits Illegal Donations

Thursday June 1, 2006 3:31 AM

AP Photo OHJP102

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - A coin dealer and prominent GOP fundraiser at the center of an Ohio political scandal pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges he illegally funneled about $45,000 to President Bush's re-election campaign.

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, which has been under GOP control since 1991.

Investigators do not know whether 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 said Wednesday that he pleaded guilty to ``spare my family and many dear friends'' the ordeal of a trial.

Noe, 51, has been free on bond since he was indicted in October and is living in Florida. Prosecutors planned to recommend a sentence of 2 to 2 years. The maximum sentence would be five years on each of three counts and a combined $950,000 in fines. A sentencing date was not set.

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

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.

Authorities said Bush's campaign committee was unaware of the alleged contribution scheme and unknowingly submitted a false campaign report to the Federal Election Commission.

Among the people who donated money that came from Noe were several Toledo-area officeholders and a former mayor. A lawyer for three said they were not in danger of being charged because they cooperated with investigators.

In the other case, Noe has pleaded not guilty to a charge of stealing at least $1 million from the coin investment. A trial is scheduled for Aug. 29.

Investigations into Noe's coin investment led to Gov. Bob Taft's no-contest plea and conviction in August to charges he accepted golf outings and other gifts that he did not report.

Noe's work for the GOP allowed him to meet with the president during several of Bush's visits to Ohio. Noe and his wife also attended an inaugural ball in 2005.

Noe personally contributed more than $105,000 to Republicans during the 2004 campaign, including donations to Bush and Taft.

The Bush-Cheney campaign donated $6,000 it received from Noe and his wife to charity. The rest of the money donated at the 2003 Bush fundraiser remains with the Republican Party.


Associated Press Writer Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Toledo contributed to this report.