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Published: Sunday, 5/1/2005

The GOP's mess deepens

AS THE "Coin-gate" revelations seem to get worse almost by the day, the continued resistance of the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation to fully disclose all transactions and information related to the taxpayers' $50 million investment in coins only deepens an already dark pit.

Where is the proof of return on the taxpayers' investment? If Governor Taft were to suddenly show some backbone and order the BWC to get out of an investment that no other state in the land has dared try, how much of the original $50 million given to Toledo coin dealer Tom Noe could the state retrieve?

Legitimate questions, but for now there are no answers because the BWC continues to refuse The Blade's demands for proof that the returns the bureau claims are in fact true. The BWC released documents to The Blade this past week, but only after portions were redacted - a legal term for blacking out things the bureau didn't want us to see.

We still have not been provided with a full accounting of just what the coin funds managed by Mr. Noe bought and sold, and without that information, there is no way at all to verify the BWC's claims that the rare-coin investment has done well.

We do not believe the return is there. If we are wrong, the BWC should stop retreating behind the mantra that full disclosure would violate "trade secrets" in the rare-coin business. After all, the secrets we've already uncovered are outrageous.

First we learned of this whole rare-coin investment scheme, including the loss of two rare coins in the U.S. mails. Then, in recent days, we discover that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is probing into possibly illegal contributions to the Bush campaign.

Now another 119 coins purchased on the taxpayers' behalf have disappeared.

The coins' whereabouts simply could not be determined by an outside accounting firm, which noted in its report to the BWC that Mr. Noe, the funds' manager, believed the coins may have been "misappropriated" by a former employee of his. These are the people Governor Taft, through his clueless defense of the investment, and the BWC, through its resistance to disclosure, are apparently defending?

We also have to challenge the valuations attached to some of the coin investments. In the marketplace of rare commodities, if an investor dries up the supply, he can claim any value he wants, but in the absence of an auction, who's to say?

The BWC and the Taft administration have two choices. They can continue to withhold public information from the public and hope that over time the taxpayers' interest, and ours, will subside, a notion we are quick to disabuse them of. Or they can get it all out there, now, and hope to minimize the damage before the 2006 election.

In either event, we are left to ponder the obvious conclusion that this whole idea was viewed by a state government run exclusively by Republicans as a way to enrich a generous financial supporter of GOP candidates and officeholders.

No matter what their political party or beliefs, the taxpayers of the state of Ohio have every right to be astonished and outraged by this whole mess. We wonder if those who have criticized this newspaper for its reporting on Mr. Noe's problems feel the same way now that two other major Ohio newspapers, in Cleveland and Columbus, have published editorials critical of the coin investments, and the FBI has carted off materials seized at the Noe home.

But where is the governor's indignation? Attorney General James Petro's anger? Auditor Betty Montgomery's concern?

Absolutely nothing can be gained by the Taft administration or the Bureau of Workers Compensation by further resistance to total transparency. We demand, and so should every citizen of the state whose money is at stake here: Open all the books as Ohio's Open Records Law requires. What else is out there?



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