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Published: Saturday, 10/29/2005

A fall from the top

LIFE for Tom Noe is no longer about extravagant homes in Florida, presidential galas in Washington, D.C., and courting the high and the mighty by speaking the one true international language: money.

No, life for Mr. Noe took a decided downturn Thursday when the federal government announced a long anticipated indictment against the man whose blind ambition to be a national power broker now threatens him with significant prison time if convicted.

How confident are the feds of their case? Noel Hillman, chief of the Justice Department's public integrity section, called the alleged conduct "one of the most blatant and excessive criminal campaign finance schemes we have encountered."

The indictment, outlined by Gregory A. White, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, includes three counts, alleging that Mr. Noe made illegal political contributions totaling $45,400 to the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign by funneling them through other people, called "conduits" in the indictment, to slip around the $2,000 maximum permitted by law.

Specifically, the counts charge him with conspiracy, violating the Federal Election Campaign Act by making contributions in the names of others, and making a false statement about the true source of the contributions, causing the Bush Administration to file a false report.

The government alleges that Mr. Noe recruited 24 friends and associates to make the campaign contributions in their own names but using money he supplied in advance or after the fact.

Keep in mind that Mr. Noe was under a great deal of self-imposed pressure leading up to, and during, the Bush re-election campaign. He had promised to raise $50,000 for an October, 2003, fund-raiser. Later, as northwest Ohio campaign-chairman for Bush-Cheney, his generosity and connections were counted on again.

Eventually he was named a "Pioneer" by the campaign for coming up with at least $100,000 for the re-election effort.

Now, Mr. Noe's hunger for influence and power may have finally caught up with him. And it might be just the start.

He is still under investigation by federal and state authorities here in Ohio and in Colorado in connection with the Coingate scandal. Ohio officials have said publicly he stole millions of dollars from two rare-coin funds he oversaw for the Bureau of Workers' Compensation. The BWC gave him $50 million to play with, the first $25 million installment coming back in 1998.

The so-called conduits who made the actual contributions were not identified in the indictment, but we do know who testified before the federal grand jury and also happened to give $2,000, or just under it, to the Bush campaign. They include City Councilman Betty Shultz, Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber and her husband, former state representative Sally Perz and her husband and daughter, former Toledo mayor Donna Owens, former county elections board chief Joe Kidd, and others.

They deny any knowing participation in any illegal scheme, and some acknowledged they were given immunity from prosecution for their testimony. But each of these individuals is presumed to have some political sophistication and awareness of campaign finance law. Shouldn't they have at least wondered if their conduct was proper?

As for Mr. Noe, he faces up to five years in prison on each count and hefty fines if convicted. Regardless, his heady ride as George W. Bush's buddy is already over.



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