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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 on Tuesday 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 online docket.
Reports in the Columbus Dispatch on Tuesday, on the Associated Press, 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.
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James Manken, chief legal counsel for Mr. Meyer, and the inspector general’s spokesman, Carl Enslen, did not return calls for comment. The office has made it clear it will not speak to The Blade while the newspaper’s lawsuit seeking to force release of all public records related to the investigation is pending in the Ohio Supreme Court. The suit is currently in mediation.
Mr. Enslen, however, told The Dispatch that he was at a loss to immediately explain what had happened. The inspector general’s legal counsel had a list of five names of those they believed had been granted expungement, thus sealing their records and barring their inclusion in the report.
Mr. Meyer had said the only names of defendants who were left out of his report on the scandal last week were the five granted expungements, The Dispatch noted.
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 and convicted thief 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 inspector general’s report is Douglas Moormann, a lobbyist and former Taft aide; Keith Zolkowski, former Bureau of Worker’s Compensaton investment officer; Timothy LaPointe, vice president of 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 guilty 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 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.
The convictions of former Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber, former Toledo Mayor Donna Owens, former state Rep. Sally Perz, and former Toledo City Councilman Betty Shultz, all Toledo Republicans, are still on the record of the Toledo Municipal Court.
They pleaded no contest in 2006 to misdemeanor ethics violations of failing to report money they took as gifts from Noe to attend a fund-raiser in Columbus. They were fined $1,000 and ordered to pay $4,125 to the Ohio Ethics Commission to pay the costs of the investigation.
Mrs. Shultz, 84, now living in the Westgate Residential Suites, said she never attempted to have her case expunged and doesn’t see the need for it.
“Expunging it doesn’t make it go away. It’s still there,” said Mrs. Shultz, who once touted herself as one of Ohio’s longest-serving female elected officials.
She also said she believes it would have cost money she doesn’t have. “Yes, it bothers me that any of them have theirs expunged,” she said.
Mrs. Shultz said she was guilty of “being stupid” in agreeing to take $1,950 from Noe. Before starting his state prison sentence for stealing $13.7 million, Noe served time in federal prison for using those like Mrs. Schultz to launder illegal contributions to President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign.
She said the scandal damaged the reputations of “four strong women.”
“Donna and I were talking the other day, and it’s the only smirch on either of our records. There were four strong women they could take out in one fell swoop,” Mrs. Shultz said.
Ms. Owens and Ms. Perz did not respond to a request for a comment. Ms. Thurber declined to comment.
Someone convicted of a misdemeanor, as long as other cases are not pending, may ask a court to seal his or her record one year after the offender’s discharge and after paying a $50 fee.
The court would consider the offender’s rehabilitation and the wishes of the prosecutor while weighing the interests of the offender in having the record sealed against the court’s interests in keeping them open.
Once approved, the record is sealed and all docket references are deleted.
Staff writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.