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Published: Friday, 3/24/2006

Coingate damage control

OHIOANS don't have to know much about the world of rare coins and collectibles to understand that their best interests are once again being shoved aside in the Coingate scandal.

The State is conducting a so-called auction of coins and currency once managed by Tom Noe with some $50 million in taxpayer money provided by the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, but the ground rules for the auction make it clear that the average citizen or collector is not welcome at this "public" event.

Want to bid on one of those rare coins and help the State recover some of its losses? You'll need to bring a $10,000 deposit just to look at the stuff. And you'll need to navigate your way through a security net befitting the visit of a president of the United States.

The auction, which is ongoing and continues through next Wednesday, is being held at an Ohio Highway Patrol facility somewhere in Franklin County. Exactly where is something the state hasn't chosen to share publicly.

It is a ridiculous way to conduct the liquidation and sell-off of coins and currency associated with Coingate, a scandal that was born in secrecy and one which state officials seem determined to keep that way.

We are hardly alone in our disgust. Consider the thoughtful and expert comments of Beth Deisher, editor of Coin World, a weekly publication for passionate collector-consumers, in a column printed March 13 and reprinted with permission on this page today.

Ms. Deisher describes the competitive bidding process for the auction as the "most hostile and bidder-unfriendly method yet devised."

There's no catalog to peruse, only poor-quality digital images at a web site. And the 3,400 coins and notes have been divided up into a hundred lots.

That means the casual collector who might like to buy just one coin does not have the option. In other words, as Ms. Deisher told our Christopher Kirkpatrick, a truly public auction, open to all and with single-coin purchases, would generate its own energy and might even drive up prices.

The auction is all about political damage control. It is not about maximizing the return. It's also an insult to the taxpayers of Ohio, who've already been fleeced once.

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