Coins acquired by Noe to be auctioned

COLUMBUS — Coin dealers will get their first public shot today to buy the coins and currency acquired with state money by Tom Noe.

An estimated 3,400 items will be on display in an undisclosed Columbus location where bidders can check out pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, dollars — even $10,000 bills. Sealed bids are due March 29.

But the winning bid must exceed $7.5 million. That’s the amount offered by Spectrum Numismatics, which had managed the Noe fund that had initially purchased the items that are now at auction.

The collectibles represent the biggest portion of the coin funds offered since they were liquidated last May amid allegations that Mr. Noe illegally took money from the funds.

More than $17 million in coins are awaiting sale this summer, said William Brandt, whose firm, Development Specialists Inc., is responsible for liquidating the state’s coin investment. About $1 million in coins have been sold in private deals, he said.

The auction items are from the Spectrum Fund, a subsidiary created by Mr. Noe and funded with money from the $50 million in coin funds he managed on behalf of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

Mr. Noe is awaiting trial on state charges that he stole and laundered more than $3 million from the coin funds. He also faces charges in federal court that he illegally funneled more than $45,000 into President Bush’s re-election campaign.

Mr. Brandt said the value of the coins and currency on sale was estimated at $6.5 million. He negotiated with Spectrum Numismatics to get the minimum bid.

The company offered $7.5 million, he said, to “neutralize” his concerns about the nature of coin transactions handled by the fund. If the firm had not offered to pay the higher amount, Mr. Brandt said he would have filed a civil lawsuit against Spectrum.

“I have a lot of concerns about how this fund was operated,” he said. “This is not just a sale, but a settlement agreement.”

The deal between the state and Spectrum Numismatics, however, does not preclude any potential criminal investigation, Mr. Brandt said.

Spectrum officials could not be reached for comment yesterday. However, the firm’s parent company, the Escala Group, acknowledged the deal in late February, saying it was “pleased” to conclude its dealings with Ohio officials.

“Escala’s and Spectrum’s agreement with DSI resolves all disputes between the parties related to the Capital Coin Fund and the related activities in Ohio,” said Jose Miguel Herrero, chief executive officer of Escala.

Auction items include coins from the 19th and 20th centuries and a number of $10,000 bills. The U.S. Mint no longer produces the bills, which were once showcased in a Las Vegas casino.

The Ohio Highway Patrol is housing the items, but has not said where they are located. They are not available for public viewing — unless the public registers for the auction. That requires a refundable deposit of $10,000.

Some coin dealers have raised questions about the auction, saying it is constructed to make sure Spectrum Numismatics wins the entire collection.

Laura Sperber, co-president of Legend Numismatics, based in Lincroft, N.J., blasted the sealed-bid auction as a “diversion.”

“I’m furious about this. It’s not a fair public auction. They’re demanding $10,000 just to see the stuff and then you find out Spectrum [Numismatics] already has a bid on the whole thing. Even if you bid on the stuff, Spectrum probably will get it anyway,’’ she said.

Mr. Brandt said he will sell the coins and currency individually if all of the separate bids exceed $7.5 million. If not, they’ll go to Spectrum, he said, regardless of what coin dealers want.

“My goal is not to please the coin world,” he said. “My goal is to get back for the state the money that belongs in the Bureau of Workers’ [Compensation].”

David Bowers, a New Hampshire-based coin dealer, said he didn’t know why the state would charge someone $10,000 to view the coins, saying “tire kickers” can be weeded out by requiring qualifications including a bank letter.

“If someone can sit down and write a check for $7.5 million, you don’t charge them to do this. You take them out to dinner and give them a bottle of champagne,” he said.


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