Coin dealer senctenced to 18 years

TOLEDO, Ohio – A former GOP fundraiser caught in a scandal that toppled Ohio’s ruling Republican Party in the election will spend about 20 years in prison.

Tom Noe, a politically connected coin dealer, was sentenced to 18 years in state prison yesterday for embezzling millions from a state investment in rare coins.

That’s on top of the two years and three months Noe must serve for pleading guilty earlier this year to funneling $45,000 to President Bush’s re-election campaign.

Noe, 52, was the key figure in the scandal that dogged the state GOP for more than a year, culminating with Democrats winning a U.S. Senate seat and four of five key statewide offices earlier this month after 12 years of Republican rule.

Noe, who was fined $139,000, acted as though he had “a bottomless cup of wealth and luxury at your disposal, when in fact it was at the state’s expense,” Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Osowik said.

Prosecutors have not said whether he used the money to make campaign contributions to Republicans, including Bush and Gov. Bob Taft.

But after the sentencing, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, who helped in the investigation, said it would be easy to draw the conclusion. “You can make those inferences,” he said.

For the first time, prosecutors calculated that Noe stole $13.7 million from the fund he managed for the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

Noe took $3 million in the three months after getting $25 million in 1998 from the state insurance fund for injured workers, Lucas County Assistant Prosecutor John Weglian said.

Noe was convicted last week of theft, corrupt activity, money laundering, forgery and tampering with records. He faced a minimum sentence of 10 years on the corrupt activity charge, the most serious one.

He used the state’s money to pay off business loans and to fund a lavish lifestyle, including the renovation of his Florida Keys home, prosecutors said.

The judge described the crime as an “elaborate scheme of theft on a large scale.”

“You continued to spend the bureau’s money at what I thought was a shockingly, alarmingly large rate,” Osowik said.

Noe, who declined to make a statement before sentencing, stared blankly with his head tilted as the penalty was imposed. His upper lip twitched briefly.

He appeared in good spirits when he was escorted into courtroom by two sheriff’s deputies while wearing a blue jail jumpsuit. Noe flashed a broad smile at his family and joked with his attorneys.

He turned somber when the judge entered.