No verdict for Noe; Jurors at a standstill

TOLEDO – A jury weighed the fate yesterday of a former Republican fundraiser accused of pilfering a state investment in rare coins, a day after the political scandal contributed to Republicans losing many statewide offices.

Jurors broke for the day after deliberating coin dealer Tom Noe’s case for about five hours without reaching a verdict. They are considering three weeks of testimony from more than 50 witnesses.

Noe, 52, has pleaded not guilty to charges of theft, money laundering, forgery and corrupt activity. Defense attorneys have portrayed him as a victim of bad bookkeeping.

Voters fed up with government corruption scandals and Ohio’s lagging economy picked a Democrat Ted Strickland on Tuesday as governor, an office under GOP control since 1991. The Republicans also lost all but one of the statewide, nonjudicial offices up for election.

Prosecutor John Weglian said in closing arguments Tuesday that Noe started dipping into $25 million as soon as he received it from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation to invest in

rare coins.

The insurance fund for injured workers gave Noe $25 million in 1998, followed by another $25 million in 2001.

Prosecutors said Noe lent the money to friends. Former employees said he borrowed some of the state’s money to pay off business loans and boost his coin business when sales were slow.

Defense attorney John Mitchell said Noe had permission from the bureau to invest the money and that the coin fund produced $7.9 million in profits over

seven years.

Defense attorney Bill Wilkinson said the bureau was so pleased, it gave Noe the second $25 million to invest.

Weglian said Noe violated the bureau contract by failing to keep accurate records of the financial transactions. Weglian said $3.3 million was missing from the coin fund between September 2003 and May 2005, when Noe was relieved of his duties as the fund manager.

Wilkinson said Noe had no reason to steal the money, adding that he became a millionaire at age 25.

Prosecutors called more than 50 witnesses during the three-week trial. Noe’s defense team rested Monday without calling any witnesses.

Democrats say Noe was entrusted with the investments because of his political connections. The scandal permeated campaign advertisements and debates for state offices.

Mitchell said Noe was active in working for the re-election of GOP candidates, but that there is no evidence he got the coin-fund contract because of connections.

Prosecutors have not said whether Noe is suspected of using the money to make campaign contributions to Republicans, including President Bush and Gov. Bob Taft.

The investigation into Noe’s coin investments led to separate ethics charges against Taft, who pleaded no contest last year to failing to report golf outings and other gifts. About a dozen others, including some of Taft’s aides, also were charged.

In a separate case, Noe pleaded guilty earlier this year to federal charges accusing him of funneling $45,000 to Bush’s re-election campaign and was sentenced last month to two years and three months in prison. He won’t begin that sentence until after the state charges are resolved.