Admission on campaign-finance charges may affect coin-fund case
Indicted coin dealer Thomas W. Noe wants to change his not-guilty pleas to federal campaign-finance charges to resolve the case, according to a court filing yesterday.
A Noe attorney and a federal prosecutor filed a joint request for a hearing "as soon as possible" to change Noe’s plea to three charges that he illegally funneled $45,400 to President Bush’s re-election campaign.
U.S. Attorney Greg White in Cleveland declined to comment, and Noe’s attorneys could not be reached last night. But the filing suggests that Noe has agreed to accept responsibility and possibly cooperate in exchange for a reduced sentence.
Noe was set for trial July 24 in Toledo and was facing up to 15 years in prison and fines up to $950,000 if convicted on all counts.
He also has been indicted on 53 state charges related to his handling of a $50 million investment in rare coins for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. It’s unclear what effect a change of plea in the federal case could have on the state case.
Law-enforcement sources speculate that Noe’s willingness to change his plea in the federal case gives him incentive to resolve the state case as well so that he wouldn’t face other charges later if new in- formation surfaces.
A federal grand jury in Cleveland is still hearing evidence related to the bureau’s loss of $215 million in a hedge fund handled by MDL Capital Management of Pittsburgh and other investment issues.
On the other hand, Noe could decide to fight the state charges despite a guilty or no-contest plea in the federal case, others have speculated.
Noe faces 172 1 /2 years in prison if convicted on all state charges. He is scheduled for trial Aug. 29, but there often are delays in such cases as pretrial motions are filed.
It’s also unclear what cooperation or information Noe would be able to provide if required. Noe was a major Republican contributor and socialized with many public officials — including Gov. Bob Taft and four former members of his administration convicted of ethics charges for not divulging their gifts from Noe.
The drama is unfolding as Ohio Democrats are pushing to reclaim the governor’s office and other statewide posts, in part by arguing that the Republicans have presided over a "culture of corruption" in the state.
Democrats said Republicans will bear the stigma of Noe’s misdeeds regardless of whether he stands trial before the election.
"Tom Noe is the poster child for one-party rule and a pay-toplay system that exists in Columbus and Washington, D.C.," said Chris Redfern, Ohio Democratic Party chairman.
But Ohio Republican Chairman Robert T. Bennett said Noe’s legal problems won’t hurt GOP candidates this year.
"Voters understand this is not a one-party problem, but a problem for both parties," he said.
"I think they’re going to judge us on how we’ve dealt with the problem. … The way you send that message is to prosecute them to the fullest extent of law, and put ’em in jail under the maximum penalty allowed."
Noe was indicted last October on the federal charges after authorities said he circumvented the $2,000 federal limit on individual contributions by giving $45,400 of his own money to 24 people to contribute illegally to Bush in their names.
Noe carried out the scheme to fulfill a pledge to raise big money for the Bush-Cheney campaign, officials said. The contributions came at an Oct. 30, 2003, fundraiser for Bush at the Downtown Hyatt Regency in Columbus.
The former Maumee coin dealer was listed by the Bush-Cheney campaign as one of 19 Ohio "Pioneers" — someone who raised at least $100,000 for the campaign.
In the state case, the charges against Noe include theft, forgery and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. Auditors determined more than $13.5 million was misspent.
Noe has pleaded not guilty to those charges and is free on bond.