Ohio’s inspector general — the chief watchdog of state government — claims to be conducting an “ongoing” investigation of the Coingate scandal, nine years after that inquiry began. Incredibly, the office appears still not to have interviewed the figure at the center of the affair: former Lucas County Republican Party chairman Tom Noe, who is doing time in a state prison for his crimes.
That lapse raises several questions: What kind of investigation is this? Is it really meant to get to the bottom of the scandal, or rather to cover up and delay and protect certain people?
The Blade is suing Inspector General Randall Meyer, an appointee of Gov. John Kasich, to compel release of his office’s final report on Coingate. Mr. Meyer has refused to do so, six years after the last prosecution in the case.
If the investigation truly remains unfinished, talking to Noe would seem an obvious step. Of course, Noe, who continues to appeal his conviction, can — and should — take advantage of other opportunities for disclosure. As his lawyer told The Blade: “The thing to keep in mind is, he knows what happened.”
From 1998 to 2005, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation hired Noe — then a power in state GOP politics — to manage an investment of $50 million of bureau money in rare coins and other collectibles. Based largely on reporting by The Blade, he was convicted in 2006 of stealing $13.7 million from those funds, intended to help injured workers.
Noe began serving his 18-year sentence in December, 2008. Earlier, he served a two-year term in a federal prison after he was convicted of illegally laundering contributions to the 2004 campaign of President George W. Bush.
A total of 19 criminal convictions arose from “Coingate,” including a no-contest plea by then-Gov. Bob Taft in 2005 to misdemeanor ethics violations. In 2012, after years of silence by the inspector general’s office about the status of the investigation, Mr. Meyer pledged to produce a final report. State law requires the inspector general to “prepare a detailed report of each investigation” and to treat its completed reports as public records.
Release of the report is necessary to answer such questions as: How high up in state government and politics — past and present — did the corruption, fraud, influence peddling, mismanagement, and other wrongdoing uncovered in the Noe scandal extend? Who else was involved? What sort of laws and rules are needed to prevent a similar fiasco from again soiling this state?
Past statements by the inspector general office’s suggest it completed its Noe investigation as early as 2008. But even after The Blade filed its suit, the inspector general’s office insisted again late last week that it has no report to make public.
Litigation should not be needed to goad the inspector general into action, for this is a matter of obvious public interest. Evidently, though, only a court order will compel the inspector general’s office to fulfill its duties under the law.
The Ohio Supreme Court must act urgently and emphatically to require the completion and release of the final Noe report and the investigative records on which it is based. Other recent statements by the inspector general’s office suggest that it will not obey the law unless and until the Supreme Court forces it to make the report public.
The high court’s failure to do so would raise disturbing questions that Ohio citizens would want to consider before they vote in this year’s judicial elections.