Sunday, June 11, 2006
A long-time major fund-raiser for and contributor to Republican officeholders and candidates has pleaded guilty to federal charges that he illegally funneled about $45,000 to President Bush's re-election campaign.
But even though the case is said to be the largest campaign money-laundering scheme prosecuted under the 2002 campaign finance reform law, Tom Noe, the rare-coin dealer from Toledo who has Republican friends in many high places, won't be serving the maximum prison term.
Why? Because federal prosecutors are recommending to U.S. District Judge David Katz a sentence of 2 to 21/2 years total for all three charges. The maximum sentence is five years in prison on each of the three counts and a combined $950,000 in fines.
We trust that the leniency being shown by the Justice Department for an individual who had no qualms about corrupting the political system stems from his willingness to tell all he knows and to name names, and not from his ties to President Bush, Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and other high-ranking Republicans.
It is revealing that in pleading guilty recently in federal court in Toledo, Noe did not express regret for his role in feeding the public's distrust of government. He said he decided to plead guilty to "spare my family and many dear friends" the ordeal of a trial. While protecting his family from the ordeal of a trial is a commendable act, we wonder whether his "dear friends" include individuals who were participants in his Bush campaign funding scam.
Friends and associates
Noe has admitted to setting up a campaign contribution scheme to fulfill his promise to generate $50,000 for a Bush fundraiser. Prosecutors say he gave $45,400 directly or indirectly to 24 friends and associates, who made the campaign contributions in their own names. That move allowed the coin dealer to skirt the $2,000 limit on individual contributions. The donors included several Toledo area officeholders and a former mayor. To cover up the crime, the Republican mover-and-shaker told his friends to tell investigators that the money was a loan.
Prosecutors are still deciding whether to charge some of the people who donated the money. What's to decide? They were participants in a criminal conspiracy and deserve to be punished.
We have long called for individuals who bribe public officials to be treated with the same sense of outrage as the bribe-takers and have wondered in this space why the federal government never went after all the bribers in the huge government corruption probe in Mahoning County that resulted in the convictions of many public officials.
If Noe isn't required to name names in exchange for the lenient prison sentence, Ohioans will be left to wonder whether his friends in high places have interceded on his behalf.
But we cling to the belief that in the end this individual will get what's coming to him.
He is a facing a slew of state criminal charges stemming from an ill-fated $50 million coin investment that he managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation fund. He has pleaded innocent to the charge that he embezzled at least $1 million and to 52 other charges, including racketeering, forgery, theft, money laundering and tampering with records.
The BWC-Noe investment scandal has been dubbed "coingate" and may well be the tip of the iceberg in the way Republicans have operated state government for the past 12 years. Democrats have rightly pointed out that the pay-to-play culture has mushroomed under the GOP.
State Sen. Marc Dann, D-Liberty Township, who has led the charge in the Legislature against Noe and pay-to-play, had this to say about the guilty plea in federal court:
"The fact is, Tom Noe knows all and the time has come for him to tell all. It is my hope that the federal and state prosecutors who are handling the case will demand and accept no less from him and those public officials and state employees who will inevitably be implicated in the months ahead."
Dann is the Democratic nominee for state attorney general and faces Republican nominee Betty Montgomery, currently state auditor and a former attorney general, in the November general election. Montgomery has acknowledged that Noe is a personal friend of hers, but has denied being part of his corruption scheme.
On Wednesday, Terrence Gasper, former chief financial officer at the BWC, pleaded guilty to state and federal charges that he received $25,000 from Noe as a bribe in return for doling out investment business from the workers' comp bureau to Noe. Prosecutors allege the dealer in rare coins and other collectibles funneled the money to Gasper through a prominent GOP contributor.
While investigators insist that Gasper's guilty plea is just the beginning of authorities' looking at the agency's investment practices, no one outside government believes only a few individuals were involved in this pay-to-play scheme.
If Noe were playing footsies with the chief financial officer of the BWC, who did he tell about it? The former administrator and chief executive officer of the agency, Jim Conrad, has insisted that he was not involved in investment decisions and was not the one who brought NOE to the bureau.
If that's true, who did?
Authorities say Gasper is cooperating and is shedding more light on coingate. That's good, but the information he provides had better be top quality.
It's time for all the truth to come out.