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Published: Monday, 12/18/2006

What about Bernadette?

THE case against Tom Noe was a strong one from the start. Ultimately he pleaded guilty to federal charges of money-laundering funds to President Bush's re-election campaign, and a jury found him guilty on 29 counts of theft and other charges in connection with the Coingate scandal. He's now in prison and will stay there for a long time to come.

But Tom Noe was not a one-person team. He and his wife, Bernadette, were power players in local, state, and national Republican politics, people whom President Bush once referred to as his good friends.

Noe served on the Ohio Board of Regents and the Ohio Turnpike Commission. His wife was chairman of the Lucas County Board of Elections. Both had stints as chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party.

The point is that Bernadette Noe was not a stay-at-home wife. She was very much her husband's equal on the public stage.

So we certainly can understand the question posed a few weeks ago by a contributor to The Blade's Readers' Forum. Why, he wondered, has so little been made of whatever role Bernadette Noe might have played in her husband's legal problems?

No doubt it is a feeling shared by many. Guilt by association? Political retribution? Political party chairmen do make enemies.

Perhaps, but it is a question a skeptical public has every right to ask. Indeed, as the Ohio Supreme Court stated in a 1988 case, "if the suggestion of criminality is a reasonable inference from something a public official has said or done, the media may draw that inference. Such is the First Amendment's contribution to free, open, and honest government."

If a married couple files income tax returns that failed to report more than $210,000 in income over a four-year period, and if both husband and wife signed the returns and filed them jointly, can a reasonable inference be drawn that both were aware something wasn't right?

We recognize that it's possible and even likely that in some households with one spouse as the primary wage-earner, the other spouse signs a return without full knowledge of all the details. But in the Noe household? That's a bit of a stretch, especially since she's the lawyer in this marital partnership.

Speculation is inevitable that authorities haven't pursued a case against Ms. Noe because she's the daughter of retired Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Francis "Buddy" Restivo, a well liked and much respected public servant and prominent local Democrat.

We certainly hope that's not the case. If the evidence warrants prosecution, it should be pursued because income tax evasion is still a crime, no matter who commits it.



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