The Key Largo, Fla., home of Tom Noe’s ex-wife, Bernadette Restivo, is threatened by a $1.9 million legal bill from the imprisoned Noe’s former defense team.
TAVERNIER, Fla. — Bernadette Restivo, the ex-wife of convicted thief Tom Noe, disclosed an adulterous affair her husband had sometime in the early 2000s as part of a new complaint filed in a Florida courthouse Friday to protect her Key Largo home from being liquidated to pay a $1.8-million bill claimed by his former Columbus defense team.
A July, 2009, affidavit by her former husband while in prison makes the claim that he had an affair during their marriage but his lawyers talked him into concealing it from Ms. Restivo in order to get her to put up her house for Noe’s legal bills, the complaint alleges.
Ms. Restivo told The Blade by phone Friday that Noe admitted to her in May, 2005, when the criminal allegations broke, that he had a one-night stand — something she had already suspected.
RELATED LINK: Copy of affidavit
RELATED LINK: Copy of complaint
But when she learned later that it was an extended relationship, she demanded a divorce.
“He dismissed it as nothing and just blew it off. That’s when I left Ohio. I came down here for six weeks to do some thinking. I decided for the sake of the kids to work it out,” Ms. Restivo said, adding she did not want to split up the “blended family” of their five children.
But, “when he admitted the extent of the affair, that was the beginning of the end.”
“It was that confession that led to the divorce. It was finalized the day before he signed the affidavit,” she said.
Asked if he had done her a favor, she said: “It was just the truth.”
The couple ended their 15-year marriage in July, 2009, in a dissolution granted by a judge in Monroe County, Florida.
The suit Ms. Restivo filed in the Monroe County Circuit Court in Tavernier, Fla., is aimed at dismissing a lien filed by the Columbus law firm Thompson Hine LLP.
Affidavit of affair
The suit includes an affidavit signed by Noe on July 23, 2009, while he was in state prison, acknowledging that he committed adultery with a woman whose name is blacked out in the document.
He said he disclosed the affair to his lawyer with information such as “length of time, gifts for the woman, and trips with the woman,” and that he wanted to admit the affair to his wife, but his Thompson Hine lawyers advised him not to.
“Bernadette was very resistant to signing over a $1,865,000 mortgage,” Noe said in the affidavit.
“Thompson Hine continued to advise me to withhold the details of the affair from Bernadette, in an effort, I believe, to insure that Bernadette would sign the attorney lien/mortgage for the purpose of paying their legal fees,” Noe said in the affidavit.
“I have no doubt that if I had told Bernadette the entire truth about my affair with [blank] prior to her signing the attorney lien on her home, she would have never signed the attorney lien,” he wrote, concluding that Ms. Restivo was fraudulently induced to sign the lien on her home.
Ms. Restivo said representatives of the law firm visited Noe in prison to get him to rescind the affidavit, but he would not.
A Thompson Hine spokesman responded to the allegation Friday with a statement to The Blade.
“We are confident that the facts will show that the allegations against the firm and our partners are not true,” said Sheila Turner, the law firm’s Washington-based spokesman.
Ms. Restivo contends in the suit that she was entitled to full disclosure about her husband’s adultery and Thompson Hine conspired to keep the information from her.
Ms. Restivo said she knows the name of the woman and declined to reveal it, but said she believed the relationship took place sometime during 2002 to 2004 — a time when Noe was hobnobbing with state and national Republican leadership and he was a prominent fund-raiser for President George W. Bush.
She speculated the woman’s identity will be disclosed when and if a long-awaited Ohio Inspector General’s report on the Noe investigation is released publicly.
According to Ms. Restivo, the mortgage lien expired on Dec. 31, 2011 — five years from the Dec. 31, 2006, maturity date. She also contends the lien is unenforceable because she and Noe received no services and no accounting of the legal bill claimed to be owed.
The suit moves to “quiet” title of her residence and to find that the mortgage is null and void, and for attorney fees.
According to the suit, the defendants in the case — the firm of Thompson Hine, and attorneys the late William Wilkinson, O. Judson Scheaf, and John Mitchell — were hired by Noe to represent him when he was sued by the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation on May 24, 2005.
Ms. Restivo says that Noe told her he paid the firm more than $800,000 for representation in his civil case, but that they did not represent him when he was indicted in October, 2005, in federal court for campaign finance violations.
At the time, documents filed in their petition for simplified dissolution showed the couple together owed nearly $3 million, not including the $13.7 million in restitution that Tom Noe owed the state of Ohio and $2.9 million he owed Lucas County for court costs. She continued residing in their shared $5 million oceanfront home in the Florida Keys.
Ms. Restivo, 53, a former Lucas County Republican Party chairman — like her husband — moved to Florida after her ex-husband’s fall from grace and is now managing partner in a law firm. She said she is planning to sell her home.
“If I don’t win this suit, I’ll still sell the house. The one thing that was so bothersome over the years is that people have this conception that I escaped to Florida and am living high on the hog in this $5 million house. It may be worth two and a half; it’s not worth five,” she said, adding that property and hurricane taxes cost more than $30,000 a year.
“I did everything I possibly could to hold on to all that I could,” Ms. Restivo said. “I would like to sell my house and have something left so that I can take care of myself and my family.”
Even though she offered at one time to pay $750,000 to settle the account, she now says, “I owe them nothing. I signed no promissory note. Tom Noe signed the promissory note. It’s his debt. They did nothing for me.”
She said she and her ex-husband have not spoken in a long time but do exchange the occasional birthday and Christmas cards.
Noe is serving an 18-year sentence at the minimum-security, former Hocking facility in southern Ohio, which is now part of the Southeastern Correctional Complex.
He was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to 18 years in state prison for stealing $13.7 million from a $50 million investment in rare coins and collectibles placed with him by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
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 Bush.
According to the suit, Thompson Hine refused to represent him in his criminal defense unless he proved assurance of payment.
The suit also claims that Ms. Restivo was “under the care of a physician and a mental health professional and that she was prescribed psychotropic medication for severe anxiety and depression.”
“[Thompson Hine] knew that [Ms. Restivo] was in no emotional or mental state to adequately understand and appreciate the consequences of signing the mortgage yet railroaded her, physically, emotionally and verbally, into executing same,” the suit claims.
She said the firm submitted a bill for $1,867,000.
The attachments to the complaint disclose email exchanges between Ms. Restivo and lawyers with Thompson Hine.
Noe’s Toledo attorney, Richard Kerger, said he has no financial or legal interest in Ms. Restivo’s suit.
Petition to vacate
He said a federal magistrate has granted the right to an oral argument on Noe’s habeas corpus petition in federal court in Akron on April 1.
“That’s very good news. The thing I’m primarily interested in is being able to answer the questions the judge has,” Mr. Kerger said.
The petition is to vacate Noe’s state conviction and order a new trial.
In a report and recommendation filed June 19, Magistrate Judge Kathleen B. Burke found no basis for Noe’s claims that the trial court improperly allowed an expert witness for the state to testify while denying Noe’s experts the same opportunity.
She also dismissed the claim that the trial court improperly denied his request for a change of venue because of pretrial publicity that tainted the jury pool.
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058 and on Twitter @TomFTroy.