Noe to reimburse the state

TOLEDO, Ohio – A former GOP fundraiser who embezzled from a state investment in rare coins must repay the state $13.7 million, a judge ruled yesterday.

Tom Noe, 52, was sentenced last week to 18 years in prison in a scandal that contributed to the Republican Party’s loss of the governor’s office. Noe also owes the state nearly $3 million for the cost of the investigation, Lucas County Judge Thomas Osowik said.

Some of the money Noe owes could come from the sale of artwork, autographs and other collectibles seized from Noe’s coin business. Part will come from his shares of a Florida coin business, which has a value of at least $1 million and might be worth up to $5 million.

The scandal surrounding the $50 million investment that Noe managed for the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation culminated this month with Democrats winning a U.S. Senate seat and four of five key statewide offices after 12 years of Republican rule.

Less than a week after the election, Noe was convicted of theft, corrupt activity, money laundering, forgery and tampering with records.

Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro is seeking to restart a civil lawsuit against Noe to try to recover money that he says Noe took from the workers’ comp agency and could exceed $13.7 million, spokesman Mark Anthony said.

“Far and away, the lion share of the money is owed to BWC,” Anthony said.

The civil lawsuit most likely will attempt to recover potential profits the agency lost out on, Anthony said. “That’s another figure that hasn’t been determined,” he said.

The lawsuit also will help determine where any of the money will go, assistant Lucas County prosecutor John Weglian said.

Prosecutors said they don’t know whether Noe has any other personal assets that can be seized and turned over to the state.

The company selling off the coin funds could bring in about $56 million – more than the state’s original $50 million investment – once all sales are finished next year, said, Bill Brandt, president of Chicago-based Development Specialists Inc.

So far, about $42 million of the investment has been recovered. Any surplus beyond the original investment would count toward the amount the judge ordered Noe to pay the state.

The judge yesterday decided against ruling that Noe must give up his home in the Florida Keys because he said there was no evidence that the state’s money was used to buy the house. The $5 million waterfront home is in Noe’s wife’s name.

Also yesterday, Noe’s former right-hand man pleaded guilty to tampering with records. Prosecutors agreed to drop a charge of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity against Timothy LaPointe, who was once Noe’s close friend.

LaPointe, who was in charge of daily operations at Noe’s coin business, testified during Noe’s trial that he borrowed rare coins and faked records with the approval of his boss.

Beginning in 1998, the workers’ comp bureau gave Noe $25 million to invest in rare coins, followed by another $25 million in 2001.

Prosecutors accused Noe of spending money from the coin fund on his business and other luxury items.

Prosecutors have not directly said whether Noe used any of the state’s money to make campaign contributions. But after Noe’s sentencing last week, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said, “You can make those inferences.”

Noe earlier this year was sentenced to serve two years and three months in federal prison after pleading guilty earlier to illegally funneling $45,000 to President Bush’s re-election campaign. He will serve that sentence before his state prison term.

Noe gave more than $105,000 to Republicans, including Bush and Gov. Bob Taft in 2004.

After the state’s began investigating Noe in 2005, Taft disclosed that he failed to report golf outings and other gifts. He then pleaded no contest to ethics charges. Four of his former aides pleaded no contest to similar charges.