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Published: Tuesday, 2/11/2014

Coingate report lawsuit goes to mediation

Move gives Blade, state chance to solve case before court

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — The Blade’s lawsuit attempting to force the Ohio Inspector General to release his final investigative report on the nine-year-old Coingate scandal was referred to mediation on Tuesday by the Ohio Supreme Court.

The move, not unusual in public-records cases, is designed to give the two sides a chance to work out a possible solution before the case enters the courtroom. The normal process of filing briefs in the case has been put on hold in the meantime.

“The Blade welcomes any process that will hasten the release of this report or, if it hasn’t been prepared even after eight years of investigation, completion of the report so the public can learn the results of the investigation of these important public events that occurred more than a decade ago,” The Blade’s attorney, Fritz Byers, said.

Emails seeking comment from the inspector general’s office went unanswered.

Late last month, The Blade sued as a follow-up to its request for public records in the case, particularly the release of a final report of the inquiry into former Toledo-area coin dealer Tom Noe, his theft of $13 million from a $50 million investment he ran on behalf of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, and related influence peddling in government.

Two years ago, the inspector general’s office said it would not issue the report because no one was left in the office who was directly involved in the inquiry. The office reversed position and said it would release the report after all but that it would not comment on it again until that day.

In its recent response denying The Blade’s public records request related to the report, James Manken, chief legal counsel for Inspector General Randall Meyer, said the records are “related to an ongoing investigation.”

In its lawsuit, The Blade argues that the office’s prior position that no one connected to the investigation was still in the office and the lack of any mention of the investigation in recent annual reports from the office indicate the investigation is over.

The office did release a requested fiduciary review of BWC investment practices that an independent firm completed for the inspector general’s office in 2006.

Noe, 59, a former Lucas County Republican Party chairman, began serving in December, 2008, an 18-year state sentence for stealing from the rare-coin and collectibles fund he managed for the state-run insurance fund for injured workers.

Before that, he served two years in federal prison for laundering campaign contributions through several notable local Republicans to the 2004 re-election campaign of President George W. Bush.

In all, 19 people were convicted of crimes related to the scandal, including Gov. Bob Taft, who pleaded no contest for misdemeanor ethics charges for failing to report gifts, including Noe-related golf outings.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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