Hastert Makes $2 Million Off Of His Own Earmark

June 16, 2006

Original story, broke by the Sunlight Foundation can be found here.

Reporting from The Blotter, at CBS News: 

Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) realized an estimated $2 million dollar profit last year on an Illinois land deal that included acreage near a future interstate highway Hastert pushed to build.

The land was sold just five months after Hastert inserted a $207 million appropriation bill for the Prairie Parkway highway during a closed-door Congressional budget conference.

The deal, representing a 300 per cent return on investment, was reported in Hastert's financial disclosure form filed this week, although the role of a secret trust set up by Hastert to sell the land was not disclosed.

A spokesman for Hastert, Ron Bonjean, confirmed the details, which were first reported by Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation, an on-line political watchdog group. The Speaker's spokesman said land in the Plano, Illinois area is "booming," and the future highway had no impact on the price.

Hastert and partners sold the land to developers who plan a large residential sub-division about five miles from the new highway.

Local citizens fighting the highway project were outraged to learn of the Hastert deal. "I think he clearly has his own personal interest and not the public's by buying and selling land to developers for personal profit, when it has a negative long-range effect on the community," said Jan Strasma, head of community group Citizens Against the Sprawlway.

Hastert's spokesman said that Hastert had been a proponent of the highway for 20 years, and there was nothing improper in the deal.

According to Hastert's disclosure form and county property records, a 69-acre parcel was put into a trust, Little Rock Trust #225, on May 2, 2005.

Two months later, in July 2005, Hastert pushed the highway appropriation bill through a conference committee.

On Aug. 6, 2005 President Bush appeared with Hastert at a ceremony in Illinois to celebrate the new highway's funding.

On Dec. 7, 2005 the trust sold the parcel of land to the developers.

The spokesman said, for tax reasons, Hastert used part of his $2 million profit to buy a 275-acre farm in Wisconsin that Hastert intends to use as a future retirement home.


Hastert Now Under Investigation

May 25, 2006

From The Blotter at ABC News:

Federal officials say the Congressional bribery investigation now includes Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, based on information from convicted lobbyists who are now cooperating with the government.

Part of the investigation involves a letter Hastert wrote three years ago, urging the Secretary of the Interior to block a casino on an Indian reservation that would have competed with other tribes.

The other tribes were represented by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff who reportedly has provided details of his dealings with Hastert as part of his plea agreement with the government.

The letter was written shortly after a fund-raiser for Hastert at a restaurant owned by Abramoff. Abramoff and his clients contributed more than $26,000 at the time.

The day Abramoff was indicted, Hastert denied any unlawful connection and said he would donate to charity any campaign contribution he had received from Abramoff and his clients.

A spokesman for Speaker Hastert told ABC News, "We are not aware of this.  The Speaker has a long history and a well-documented record of opposing Indian Reservation shopping for casino gaming purposes."

This week, Hastert has been outspoken in his criticism of the FBI for its raid on the office of another congressman under investigation, Democrat William Jefferson of Louisiana.

"My opinion is that they took the wrong path, Hastert said of the FBI.  "They need to back up, and we need to go from there."

Toledo Blade On The Noe Affair

April 3, 2006

From The Toledo Blade:

In the months before Tom Noe came under scrutiny for his state-funded rare-coin venture, he used a federal appointment to forge relationships with U.S. Mint officials that opened doors for him on Capitol Hill, documents obtained by The Blade show.

And before he was brought down by scandal last year, the coin dealer helped persuade Congress — for the first time in the nation’s history — to authorize the minting of a 24-karat gold coin.

Mr. Noe’s quest to become a Washington power broker and to help redesign all U.S. coins fell apart last year when controversy gripped the $50 million rare-coin investment he managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and federal authorities announced they were investigating the GOP fund-raiser for allegedly laundering political contributions to President Bush’s campaign.

Last week, Greg Weinman, the Mint’s senior counsel and ethics official, told The Blade that the Treasury Department’s inspector general had opened an investigation into Mr. Noe’s role as a member and chairman of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, a panel that advises the Treasury secretary on themes and designs for coins and congressional gold medals.

In May, 2003, the White House and House Speaker Dennis Hastert recommended that Mr. Noe get a seat on the influential 11-member committee. Treasury Secretary John Snow appointed Mr. Noe, less than six months after the Toledo-area coin dealer expressed interest in joining a Mint committee to Henrietta Fore, then director of the Mint.

“I have always had interest in getting more involved on the national level,” Mr. Noe wrote to Ms. Fore.

Mr. Noe’s appointment and eventual chairmanship of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee enabled him to expand his reach into the federal government, according to more than 2,700 pages of e-mails and other committee records released last week by the Mint to The Blade. The newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the public records in June, 2005.

Documents and interviews reveal that Mr. Noe — who has pleaded not guilty to a 53-count felony theft and corruption indictment for his handling of Ohio’s rare-coin fund and not guilty to federal charges that he laundered money to President Bush’s re-election campaign — courted Mint officials at high-price restaurants in Washington, sought information on behalf of fellow coin dealers about future coins to be minted, and pushed the Mint and lawmakers to use higher-grade metals in the nation’s coins.

“Tom Noe saw a golden money pot and he wanted a piece of it,” said Damien LaVera, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, reacting to The Blade’s findings. “But unfortunately, the Republicans in Washington were all too willing to help out their friends if they gave enough to the campaigns.”

In 2003 and 2004, Mr. Noe earned the elite status of a Bush “Pioneer” because he raised at least $100,000 for the President’s campaign. Mr. Noe and his wife, Bernadette, a former chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, gave more than $200,000 to GOP candidates and causes.

The White House did not return messages seeking comment.

Frequent trips to D.C.

From May, 2003, to May, 2005, as a member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, Mr. Noe made frequent trips to Washington. He visited the Mint for meetings and built relationships with federal officials and lawmakers.

In 2004, he was picked to chair the committee, and he accepted — with a request that Madelyn Simmons Marchessault, the Mint’s director of legislative and governmental affairs, serve as the committee’s liaison. She was instrumental in getting Mr. Noe on the committee.

E-mails show that Mr. Noe grew close with Ms. Marchessault. They spoke frequently, and she set up meetings for Mr. Noe on Capitol Hill. During President Bush’s 2005 inaugural week, Ms. Marchessault and her husband, Ronald Marchessault, accepted Mr. Noe’s invitation to a gathering at The Caucus Room, an upscale Washington restaurant that offers a list of 4,000 wines.

Ms. Marchessault, now an official in the State Department’s Bureau of Management, and Ms. Fore, now the State Department’s undersecretary for management, would not respond to questions from The Blade about their dealings with Mr. Noe. The Treasury Department also refused to respond to questions.

Both Ms. Marchessault and Ms. Fore are Bush Administration appointees.

“Since it is an issue before the courts, under investigation, at this point we at the State Department and our officials aren’t in a position to comment,” said Adam Ereli, a spokesman for the department. “What we can say is that we know Henrietta Fore and Ms. Simmons [Marchessault] to be upstanding public servants of the highest integrity.”

Ute Wartenberg Kagan, a coinage committee member and executive director of the American Numismatic Society, said the allegations facing Mr. Noe related to Ohio’s rare-coin investment are “not that unusual in the wheelings and dealings of the coin business because it’s a business that is quite unregulated and based largely on cash.”

Ms. Kagan, who described Ms. Marchessault as “incredibly nice and very competent,” said she didn’t see any evidence of Mr. Noe trying to use her or any signs that Ms. Marchessault was closer to Mr. Noe than previous chairmen.

The Treasury Department’s inspector general began its probe of Mr. Noe after The Blade first reported in April, 2005, on problems with the $50 million rare-coin funds he managed for the state, e-mails show.

At the time of the initial reports in The Blade, Mr. Noe — appointed by Republican governors to serve on the Ohio Board of Regents and the Ohio Turnpike Commission — was gaining stature in Washington. And the state of Ohio was on the verge of giving him an additional $25 million to invest in rare coins — a plan that was reversed after stories about the coin funds appeared in the newspaper.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Toledo Democrat, said Mr. Noe’s activities on the Mint committee mirrored his rise to prominence in state government. The fallout of Ohio’s rare-coin scandal has led to the criminal conviction of Gov. Bob Taft and four former high-ranking aides, who failed to report gifts or money they received from Mr. Noe.

In the state capital, Mr. Noe set up the “Noe Supper Club,” a group of high-ranking government officials and Statehouse insiders who gathered for dinners at Morton’s Steakhouse, where Mr. Noe picked up the tab blocks from the Statehouse.

“I believe he was walking down the same path with the federal government,” Miss Kaptur said.

Mr. Noe, though, was forced to resign from his federal appointment in May, 2005, after his attorneys told Ohio authorities to expect a shortfall of up to $13 million in the coin funds he managed for the state Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

Miss Kaptur said it appeared that Mr. Noe’s appointment to the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and his ascension as chairman was “wired.”

“It gave him enormous access to a lot of information,” she said. “And he had a lot of special interests. I have several unanswered questions, from his own personal collections to the involvement in the U.S. Mint in minting new coins.”

Building influence

Not only did Mr. Noe use his federal appointment to cultivate relationships at the Mint, and on Capitol Hill, but e-mails show that he used his post to influence policy and seek access to inside information that could benefit him as a rare-coin dealer.

In December, 2004, Don Herres, president of Dollar Towne, a Dayton-area rarities business, contacted Mr. Noe about the possibility of the Mint producing a coin made of palladium, a precious metal, according to e-mails.

Mr. Herres, in an interview last week, said Mr. Noe thought it was a “great idea,” and he sent him a letter saying he would raise the issue at a Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee meeting. Coin-fund records show that Mr. Noe, as manager of the $50 million state rare-coin investment, had more than $450,000 in transactions with Mr. Herres’ business.

Mr. Noe followed up in a Dec. 15, 2004, e-mail to Ms. Marchessault.

Referring to Mr. Herres, Mr. Noe wrote: “This guy is a big seller of U.S. gold and platinum eagle products … any palladium plans in the future?? Let me know.”

It’s unclear if Ms. Marchessault responded to Mr. Noe’s inquiry. The U.S. Mint has not produced a palladium coin.

But while Mr. Noe served as chairman of the advisory committee, the U.S. Mint announced plans to manufacture its first 24-karat, .9999 gold bullion investment coins. On April 28, 2005, Mr. Noe hosted a public meeting to consider themes for the 24-karat gold coins.

A year earlier, Mr. Noe testified before U.S. Rep. Michael Oxley’s House Financial Services Committee about the possibility of manufacturing .9999 bullion coins.

During the hearing, U.S. Rep. Mike Castle (R., Delaware) asked Mr. Noe for his opinion on using a lower-cost type of coinage to produce a set of coins featuring presidential spouses.

“I think there is always concern with the low cost as far as the collectibility goes. I think it might be good for school children to be able to use these for an educational tool … but a new gold bullion coin depicting America’s First Ladies will be very successful and a welcome change,” Mr. Noe testified.

“I also project that the sales will be extremely high due to not only the design change, but also the fact that the content will be .9999 percent pure gold,” the coin dealer told the committee.

“We will finally have a gold bullion coin to compete directly with the Canadian maple leaf and other world .999 percent gold coins,” Mr. Noe testified.

Jay Johnson, who served as U.S. Mint director in 2000-2001, testified at the same congressional hearing as Mr. Noe in 2004.

“Had there not been all of the problems in Ohio, he might have been a candidate at some point for Mint director,” said Mr. Johnson, a one-term Democratic congressman from Wisconsin who was nominated by President Bill Clinton for the post. “These are political appointments.”

Mr. Johnson said the Mint is “not really an independent operator” because Congress calls the shots in creating coins.

“I don’t think that Tom Noe could have used his position on this advisory committee to make any changes or pass anything that affected the market or made any personal profits for him; not even the Mint director can do that,” said Mr. Johnson, who is a consultant to Collectors Universe. The California-based company provides grading and products to dealers and collectors of coins and other collectibles.

But Scott Travers, a coin expert and author, said Mr. Noe could have benefited financially from his federal appointment.

“If you have a prestigious government appointment and you are perceived to be somebody of power, status, integrity, and responsibility, it reinforces the sky-is-the-limit mentality that people might have about you in terms of trust,” he said.

Mr. Travers, who heard that Mr. Noe was a “helpful and straightforward” committee member, said the coin dealer could have positioned himself to “funnel that trust and respect into a profitable business venture that could line the wallet.”

Chairman of coin panel

Mr. Noe had accomplished his goals of becoming one of the biggest players in both Ohio politics and the rare-coin industry by 2002. That’s when he set his sights on a new goal — Washington.

In April, 2003, President Bush signed a bill establishing the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, which replaced the Citizens Commemorative Coinage Advisory Committee, a panel that advised the treasury secretary on commemorative coin designs.

According to e-mails, the White House played a key role in helping Mr. Noe win a seat on the newly minted committee.

Officially, House Speaker Hastert, an Illinois Republican, recommended Mr. Noe to Treasury Secretary Snow, but an e-mail from Ms. Marchessault to Kim Nickles, a treasury liaison to the White House, revealed that Mr. Noe was an “original White House recommendation,” whom she was “finally able to get on the committee through the congressional recommendations.”

In February, 2003, during a visit to the White House, Mr. Noe was expected to take part in an “Ohio political strategy session” with Karl Rove, who is considered the architect of President Bush’s political career, and Ken Mehlman, who was later named the President’s campaign manager.

The legislation that created the new coinage committee — which passed through the House Financial Services Committee chaired by Congressman Oxley (R., Findlay) — changed the rules for selecting the panel’s chairman, making it easier for someone such as Mr. Noe to become the leader.

Under the new rules, the chairman was picked by the treasury secretary rather than by members of the committee.

“I think it was a very directed way of moving a candidate of the administration’s choice into the chairmanship by changing the way in which it had been traditionally done and mandating it legislatively,” Miss Kaptur said yesterday.

About a month before the 2004 election, Mr. Snow chose Mr. Noe to be the committee’s next chairman.

Upon his selection, Mr. Noe made it clear which Mint employee he wanted as the liaison to the committee. It was Ms. Marchessault, a former staff member for U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican.

Ms. Fore, in a note congratulating Mr. Noe on becoming chairman, granted his request.

“Dear Tom … Per our discussion, the primary point of contact at the United States Mint will now be Madelyn Simmons Marchessault, our Director of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs,” Ms. Fore wrote.

Politics of socializing

Over the next several months, until scandal in Ohio forced his resignation from the committee, Mr. Noe wrote several e-mails to Ms. Marchessault describing how much he enjoyed working with her.

“Wow, you are GOOD,” Mr. Noe told Ms. Marchessault on Dec. 16, 2004. Listing his home phone numbers, from Lake Erie to the Florida Keys, Mr. Noe added: “If you can’t find me now … I don’t exist!!!!”

“Thanks … we’re a great team!!!!” Mr. Noe wrote to her the next day. “I may even look forward to these meetings from now on!!!”

“I assure you that the pleasure has been all mine,” Mr. Noe wrote to Ms. Marchessault two months later. “You have no idea how relieved I am that you are the person we get to work with. Look forward to the future.”

“Thanks Madelyn … you are the BEST!!” Mr. Noe wrote in February, 2005.

But Mr. Noe’s cultivation of Ms. Marchessault did not stop with e-mails.

In addition to raising at least $100,000 for President Bush’s re-election, Mr. Noe in 2004 served as regional chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in northwest Ohio. Four days before the election, Mr. Noe at 2 a.m. apologized to Ms. Marchessault for not responding promptly to a message from her. He explained that he was busy with a “Bush event in Toledo that I am advancing.”

As part of his inauguration schedule in January, 2005, Mr. Noe invited Ms. Marchessault to socialize with him and his wife, Bernadette, then chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party.

“Let me know if you and hubby want to have a drink or dinner with Bernadette and I next week,” wrote Mr. Noe, inviting them to dinner at the Caucus Room and a second dinner at Morton’s in Georgetown.

Mr. Noe told Ms. Marchessault that he had reserved the back room at the Caucus Room and “it is under my name and company name … will be about 15 to 20 people there … we get in at 5 p.m. on private plane at [Baltimore-Washington International Airport].”

On Jan. 24, 2005, a day before the dinner at the Caucus Room, Mr. Noe asked Ms. Marchessault: “Hi! Do you want to meet for an 8 am breakfast at the Renaissance?”

Although it’s unclear how many times Ms. Marchessault met Mr. Noe for social occasions, a Jan. 28, 2005, e-mail confirms that she attended the dinner at the Caucus Room.

“Dwayne Sattler, whom you met at dinner at the Caucus Room, is going to be in DC next Monday and Tuesday … wanted to contact your husband,” Mr. Noe wrote.

A former aide to U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, Mr. Sattler is a lobbyist. When Mr. Noe was chairman of the Ohio Board of Regents in 2003, the regents hired the firm where Mr. Sattler worked.

Mr. Sattler declined comment when reached at his home in suburban Columbus last week. Mr. Marchessault, a project manager who works in Maryland for the Battelle Memorial Institute — a worldwide science and technology enterprise based in Columbus — did not return messages seeking comment.

Mr. Weinman, the Mint’s senior legal counsel and ethics director, said Mr. Noe tried to socialize with several Mint employees.

Mr. Weinman, who grew up in the Toledo area and is a University of Toledo law school graduate, said he declined several requests from Mr. Noe but had breakfast once with him near his Vintage Coins & Collectibles shop in Monclova Township.

But Mr. Noe had more than socializing on his agenda, and he wasn’t the only one who thought he could be of help with GOP politicians on Capitol Hill.

Shortly after Mr. Noe became chairman of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, Ms. Fore, director of the U.S. Mint, decided to use his Ohio connections.

In a Nov. 10, 2004, e-mail, Ms. Fore asked Ms. Marchessault “if the museum could move through” Congressman Oxley’s House Financial Services Committee.
Ms. Fore suggested that a Republican committee staffer, Joe Pinder, Mr. Noe, and counsel could “help with Oxley” and she could call Mr. Oxley and a Republican congressman from Delaware.

Mr. Weinman last week said it appeared the reference was to a proposal to construct a museum in the Mint headquarters in Washington.

On April 25, 2005, Mr. Noe wrote Ms. Marchessault an e-mail with “Joe P” as the subject.

“Just got off a LONG phone call with Joe … he talked about your chat with him and I think a $1-2M ask is doable this year … had LOTS of other opinions as well … he really likes you … maybe we can chat on Weds night about all of this … let me know,” Mr. Noe wrote.

Mr. Weinman said last week that he did not know what the reference to “a $1-2M ask” meant.

Mr. Pinder declined comment, referring questions to a press aide who did not return messages seeking comment.

Treasury investigation

In an interview last week, Mr. Weinman, who confirmed that Mr. Noe’s tenure on the coinage committee was the subject of a Treasury investigation, said he did not know the scope of that investigation.

“I know they came to me and they wanted to see Tom’s financial filing,” he said.
Richard Delmar, counsel to the Treasury Department’s inspector general, said results of any investigation are not available yet.

It is clear from Treasury Department e-mails that Mr. Noe’s troubles in Ohio were of concern in Washington.

On May 26, 2005, the day Mr. Noe’s attorneys told Ohio authorities there was a shortfall of up to $13 million in the state’s $50 million coin fund, Ms. Marchessault informed Mr. Pinder, the Republican staffer on Mr. Oxley’s House Financial Services Committee, of Mr. Noe’s resignation as chairman and a member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee.

“Dammit,” he wrote back.

“Not looking good for him,” Ms. Marchessault replied.