Ohio Coin Trial Begins

Less than a month before Election Day, a politically connected coin dealer accused of embezzling from a state investment in rare coins went on trial Monday in a scandal that has rocked Ohio’s Republican Party.

Tom Noe, 52, is accused of stealing more than $2 million from a fund for injured workers and spending it on his business and renovating his home in the Florida Keys.

“He needed money. He needed it desperately,” prosecutor John Weglian said in opening statements.

Noe, once a member of state boards that oversee the Ohio Turnpike and Ohio’s public universities, was a top GOP fundraiser who gave more than $105,000 to Republicans, including President Bush and Gov. Bob Taft during the 2004 campaign.

He is charged with corrupt activity, theft, money laundering and forgery. If convicted, he could get up to 10 years in prison on the corrupt activity charge alone.

Defense attorney William Wilkinson said Noe’s contract with the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation allowed him to borrow money from the investment fund or loan it to others.

“You can’t steal something from the owner of property if they give you permission to use it,” Wilkinson said.

Federal prosecutors have not said whether any of the coin money was used for political contributions. If the state money had been funneled to campaigns, authorities could have sought a stiffer penalty.

The scandal has raised Democrats’ hopes of retaking the governor’s office from the GOP, which has dominated the state since 1990. Democratic Rep. Ted Strickland has held a double-digit lead in the polls over Republican nominee Ken Blackwell, Ohio’s secretary of state.

The state invested $50 million with Noe from 1998 to 2001, but Weglian said he spent only a fraction of that figure on coins.

Prosecutors said Noe kept two sets of financial records — one for the workers’ comp agency and one for his own business. When state officials wanted to check on the status of the coins Noe told them he had bought, he created false documents and borrowed coins from other dealers to trick investigators, Weglian said.

“If Tom Noe wasn’t a thief, he wouldn’t have had two sets of books,” Weglian said.

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