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Noe convicted of embezzling

TOLEDO, Ohio – A former GOP fundraiser was convicted yesterday of embezzling from a rare-coin investment fund in a scandal that contributed to the rout of Ohio’s Republican Party on Election Day.

Tom Noe, a coin dealer and former Republican fundraiser, was convicted of 29 of the 40 counts against him, including theft, corrupt activity, money laundering, forgery and tampering with records.

The corrupt activity charge was the most serious, carrying a mandatory 10-year prison sentence.

The scandal surrounding the investment became a political liability for the GOP in Tuesday’s election. Voters elected Democrats to the governor’s office, a U.S. Senate seat and three of four other statewide offices after 12 years of Republican rule.

Noe stood still and stared straight ahead when the verdicts were announced. He nodded when the judge said he would be taken into custody. He did not look at jurors while the judge asked them to confirm their verdicts.

After Noe was taken from the courtroom in handcuffs, his wife, Bernadette, and their three children huddled together and hugged in a front row.

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation gave Noe $25 million in 1998, followed by another $25 million in 2001 to invest in rare coins. Noe, 52, was accused of using some of the money to pay off business loans and finance a lavish lifestyle. Prosecutors did not say whether he used the money to make campaign contributions to Republicans, including President Bush.

Defense attorneys declined to comment after yesterday’s verdict. During the trial, they insisted Noe had permission to invest the money and that the coin fund produced $7.9 million in profits over seven years.

Separately, Noe pleaded guilty to funneling $45,000 to Bush’s re-election campaign and was sentenced in September to two years and three months in federal prison.

Sentencing in the rare-coin case was set for Nov. 20.

Investigations into the coin investment led to ethics charges against Republican Gov. Bob Taft, who pleaded no contest to failing to report golf outings and other gifts. Four former Taft aides pleaded no contest to similar charges.

Investigators began looking at the coin investments after The (Toledo) Blade revealed the funds’ existence in April 2005. State officials initially defended the investment, saying it earned more than $15 million. But then Noe’s attorney told investigators the fund had a possible shortfall of $10 million to $12 million.

Authorities raided Noe’s businesses, where they seized coins, several $10,000 bills and collectibles such as a Christmas card signed by Jackie Onassis and Beanie Babies.

Before the investigation began, Noe was a star of the Republican Party and was once a member of state boards that oversee the Ohio Turnpike and Ohio’s public universities. He was a top GOP fundraiser who gave more than $105,000 to Republicans including Bush and Taft in 2004.

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