COLUMBUS — Former Gov. Bob Taft’s 2005 conviction related to the Coingate scandal is absent from the final report issued last week by the Ohio inspector general, but the former governor told The Blade today that “my record has not been expunged.”
He referred a call from The Blade to Bill Meeks, the attorney who represented him in the criminal case.
“Governor Taft has never sought nor does he intend to seek expungement of his misdemeanor record in Franklin County Municipal Court,” Mr. Meeks said. Although his conviction is missing from Inspector General Randall Meyer’s final report on the scandal, Mr. Taft’s misdemeanor ethics violation does appear on the court’s on-line docket.
A story in the Columbus Dispatch and Associated Press on Tuesday and for a time on The Blade’s Web site reported that Mr. Taft’s conviction was missing from the report and had apparently been sealed. Mr. Meeks said he’s still looking into what happened.
James Manken, chief legal counsel for Mr. Meyer, did not return a call from The Blade. The inspector general’s office has made it clear it will not speak to The Blade while its lawsuit seeking to force release of the report and all related public records is pending in the Ohio Supreme Court. The suit is currently in mediation.
In addition to Mr. Taft, four others convicted in connection with the Coingate scandal nearly a decade ago are absent from the investigative report.
Coming more than nine years after the scandal broke, the report noted that it was somewhat hampered because some of the criminal records involved have been expunged. But it’s unclear whether being omitted from the final report necessarily means a record has been sealed by the court at the offender’s request.
By the nature of a sealed record, there is no record of the expungement itself. It is simply as if the conviction never happened.
Mr. Taft became the first sitting governor convicted of a crime in 2005. He pleaded no contest to four first-degree misdemeanor ethics violations for failing to disclose golf outings and other gifts, including some associated with Tom Noe, the former Toledo area coin dealer at the center of the case.
The Republican former governor paid a $4,000 fine and issued a public apology. He is now a distinguished research associate at the University of Dayton.
In all there were 19 such criminal convictions associated with the Coingate investigation which initially focused on Noe’s theft from a $50 million investment in rare coins and collectibles he managed on behalf of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
Also missing from the criminal docket and the inspector general’s report is Douglas Moormann, lobbyist and former Taft aide; Keith Zolkowski, former BWC investment officer; Timothy LaPointe, vice president of Mr. Noe’s Vintage Coins and Collectibles in Monclova Township; and Cherie Carroll, former executive assistant to Taft aide-turned-consultant Brian Hicks..
Mr. Moormann had also pleaded no contest to failing to report gifts from Noe, specifically a $5,000 loan in 2004 to help him pay dual mortgages.
Mr. Zolkowski pleaded to violating a conflict-of-interest agreement in his role as a BWC investment officer. He was fined $200, ordered to pay $408 in restitution, and ordered to perform 30 hours of community service.
The report notes two other BWC employees who pleaded to ethics violations related to their acceptance of gifts on the same day as Mr. Zolkowski, but Mr. Zolkowski is the only name missing.
Mr. LaPointe, vice president in Mr. Noe’s Vintage Coins and Collectibles in Monclova Township and a star witness against his former partner, admitted to falsifying coin fund records to mislead state auditors. He was released from prison early after completing a 90-day intensive program.
Ms. Carroll had pleaded no contest for one misdemeanor ethics charge and was fined $1,000. However, the ethics conviction of Mr. Hicks remains on the docket. He admitted to accepting vacation housing at below-market rental rates in Florida from Noe and is mentioned in the inspector general’s report.
“The ethics portion of the investigation culminated with convictions on multiple individuals, including state employees and elected officials who have since had their convictions expunged,” reads the inspector general’s report. “…expungement is a judicial proceeding which seals the records of any criminal proceedings, creating the effect where the proceedings shall be considered not to have occurred.”
Catherine Turcer, of the watchdog group Common Cause, said state law affecting the inspector general should be changed, if only to ensure that reports like this don’t drag on so long that criminal records and names disappear from what she characterized as a “sanitized” final record.
“I do think that the expungements should have been approved with the contingency that they don’t affect the report of the inspector general, which now lacks the details and the nitty gritty of what went on behind the curtain,” she said.