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April 11, 2024

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Noe’s bookkeeper put on the stand

TOLEDO, Ohio – A coin dealer who managed a $50 million state investment occasionally dipped into the money when times were tough at his business, his former bookkeeper testified yesterday.

Tom Noe, 52, is accused of stealing from the fund and putting the money into his coin shop and spending it on an extravagant lifestyle. His attorneys say the deal with the state allowed him to use the money however he wanted, including to pay off debts.

Democrats in Ohio say Noe was picked to manage the fund because he was a star fundraiser for the Republican Party. The investment scandal has embarrassed the GOP and could help Democrats win the governor’s office in next month’s election for the first time since 1990.

Noe, whose business sold rare coins and other collectibles, and his partner occasionally asked bookkeeper Jeannie Beck to take money from the state investment “to make up the negative,” she said.

She would record the money transfer as a purchase, she said. Noe and Timothy LaPointe, who managed the business, would tell her the money was a loan to the store, but it was never documented that way, Beck said.

She also testified that some checks from the coin fund were written out directly to Noe.

The manager of retail sales at Noe’s coin shop, Priscilla Livingstone, said the store didn’t make much money, but she added that Noe had other sources of income, including from coin appraisals and other investments.

Noe has pleaded not guilty to charges of theft, money laundering, forgery and corrupt activity. He faces up to 10 years in prison on the corrupt activity charge.

Noe’s former personal assistant testified Tuesday that Noe treated the money from the state like it was from his own ATM.

The state’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation gave Noe $25 million to invest in rare coins in 1998, followed by another $25 million in 2001.

Livingstone testified that Noe’s store seemed to have a lot more money and inventory after the coin fund started. She said she received a $10,000 Christmas bonus in 2004 – nearly 10 times bigger than any other bonus.

Under questioning by Noe’s lawyer, Livingstone said LaPointe had control over the computerized inventory of the coin fund and that he would tell her which coins belonged to the store and which ones were the state’s property.

Keith Elliott, the bureau’s internal auditor who was one of first people to raise concerns about the coin investment, testified that allowing Noe to have complete control over the fund “definitely increased the risk.”

He also said when he reviewed the fund’s records there were none documenting the loans Noe had made to his business and himself. Elliott said the transactions should have been recorded.

After looking through the records in 2000, Elliott told his boss that the state should end its investment in rare coins. He was told he was overstepping his authority.

It wasn’t until April 2005 that the state began investigating the fund.

Howard Hudson, a former investigator with the State Highway Patrol, testified that when agents searched through Noe’s coin shop in May 2005 they found coins and collectibles but no records of the coin fund.

Filing cabinets that held those documents had been cleaned out, Hudson said.

He later learned the records were taken to the offices of Noe’s attorneys, Hudson said. Noe’s attorneys handed over the records to investigators about two weeks later, Hudson said.

Defense attorney John Mitchell indicated the law firm wanted to get a look at the records first and that they cooperated with investigators when they asked to take a look.

Hudson said he had no way of knowing if anything was taken out of those records.

Investigations into the coin investments already have led to separate ethics charges against Gov. Bob Taft, who pleaded no contest last year to failing to report golf outings and other gifts.

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

The trial is expected to last at least six weeks, through Election Day on Nov. 7.

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