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Published: Saturday, 11/12/2005

A Caribbean connection?

THE Cayman Islands are among the loveliest vacation spots in the world, a favorite of the well moneyed crowd. Warm Caribbean waters. Glorious beaches. Tropical breezes. Banks.

So it is natural for investigators to ponder the legal implications of two letters which at least suggest that Tom Noe may have established an offshore banking account in a British dependency where the banking industry is king, and secrecy is legendary.

The letters, sent anonymously to The Blade, were addressed to a Toledo businessman. One thanked him for opening a new account with Butterfield Bank in Georgetown on Grand Cayman Island; the other, dated 11 months later and a bit more ominous in its implications, thanked him for introducing Mr. Noe to the bank.

Copies of the letters were made available to Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates, who is conducting an investigation.

Certainly there are legitimate questions that need to be answered about the authenticity of the letters. For one thing, the local businessman who received them insists he has never been to the Cayman Islands, that he had only one encounter with Mr. Noe five years ago, and that the content of the letters was unfounded.

For another, officials at Butterfield Bank, contacted by The Blade, say that the signer of the letters is nobody in their employ, now or in the past.

Regardless, Prosecutor Bates should pursue this investigation to its conclusion, no matter what that is. Mr. Noe's attorney says his client has no bank accounts outside the United States, yet authorities know that Mr. Noe took a two-day trip to the Bahamas in February. Two days is an awfully brief vacation, especially mid-week.

If Mr. Noe has no bank account in the Caymans, that should be verifiable. But the taxpayers of Ohio are entitled to a resolution of the suspicions raised. After all, some $13 million of their money - cash that was given to Mr. Noe by the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation to invest in rare coins - is still missing.

It could be tempting to hide money in an offshore account, the better to facilitate a flight from justice, even if the money were legitimately earned assets.

Should it be determined that such an account exists, Mr. Noe's $350,000 bond, set by the federal court after he pleaded not guilty to felony charges he laundered money into President Bush's re-election campaign, should either be raised substantially, or revoked entirely.



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