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Published: Sunday, 4/24/2005

An unsavory connection

TOM Noe is falling back on the weakest possible excuse in claiming he didn't know that one of the managers of his state rare-coin investment fund had a felony record for money laundering. You'd think that background checks on his associates would be a natural precaution, especially when $50 million in state funds are involved.

If the Lucas County coin dealer really had "no idea" that fund manager Mark Chrans served a prison term - for disguising $33,000 in drug money as a transaction through his Springfield, Ill., coin shop, no less - it was only because he failed to check.

One felon's involvement in the investment of public dollars is one too many, and the revelation makes all the more suspicious the reluctance of the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation to come clean and disclose all records and transactions associated with the fund.

The obvious reaction of taxpayers should be: What else is there that we don't know?

Chrans' role in all this only casts more doubt on the whole sloppily administered scheme, in which the BWC has entrusted Mr. Noe to buy and sell rare coins to boost the bureau's multibillion-dollar investment portfolio for more than six years.

Chrans was a key figure in more than $1 million in losses recorded by Mr. Noe's "Capital Coin" fund. The losses included $850,000 in unpaid loans and salary advances to Chrans, plus $300,000 worth of coins that are said to have disappeared in the mail.

Chrans was among several managers who ran a web of subsidiaries that Mr. Noe employed to invest the state money, for which the Lucas County dealer received $3.3 million.

The bureau justifies the highly speculative investment on the strength of $13.3 million in alleged earnings reported by Mr. Noe since 1998.

But so far the bureau has refused to reveal precisely what was bought and sold, making the fund's profitability impossible to verify.

Complete transparency in business transactions should be automatic when investing public funds. The shroud of secrecy maintained by the BWC must end, and all records related to the coin fund should be released to the public - now.

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