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Published: Wednesday, 7/30/2008

Noe's piggy bank

STATE liquidators deserve substantial credit for recovering $5 million over and above the $50 million misused in Ohio's "Coingate" scandal, but the favorable outcome does not in any way mitigate the guilt or punishment of Tom Noe.

Political spin being what it is, someone is bound to claim that Noe should be off the hook because, while the former Lucas County businessman was given $50 million of state money in a scheme to invest in rare coins, the people hired to clean up the mess he created are expected to recover a total of $54.9 million.

But such "no harm, no foul" reasoning is specious, like claiming that a hold-up man shouldn't be prosecuted because he returned the loot to the carry-out.

As Bill Brandt, who headed the successful Coingate liquidation effort, so succinctly put it, "I've heard people say, 'Well, you've returned all the principal, so maybe Noe wasn't guilty.' Well, there's $13 million to $18 million worth of interest missing here. This was used as a personal piggy bank. People have blinders on."

The bottom line: Officials of Republican-controlled administrations in Columbus directed $50 million from the Bureau of Workers' Compensation investment pool to Noe, a GOP insider, who commingled the state money for personal use and otherwise manipulated the windfall to finance a high-rolling lifestyle, including political contributions.

He was found guilty in 2006 by a Lucas County jury of 29 counts, including aggravated theft, forgery, money laundering, and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

And, while Noe's lawyers are challenging the conviction, the appeal is based mainly on the claim that he didn't get a fair trial because of adverse publicity, not that he didn't misuse the money.

So there is no doubt that Noe richly deserves the 18-year prison sentence he was assessed for Coingate and which is due to begin next year. In the meantime, he's serving the balance of a 27-month federal sentence for a separate conviction involving illegal contributions to President Bush's 2004 campaign.

Noe was, for a while, able to convert his political connections into cash by treating state money as his own private slush fund. Regardless of how much the state ultimately was able to recover, he now must pay for his crimes with a long stretch behind bars.

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