COLUMBUS — Letter after letter painted a picture of a wronged man, a man who has already repented for stealing from the state.
They described a person who was a trustworthy friend, a co-worker, a leader, a coach in their sometimes passionate pleas to Gov. John Kasich to release the former Republican leader and felon Tom Noe, 61, from prison.
Even Jim Petro, a former Ohio attorney general whose office helped to prepare the case that convicted the former Toledo-area coin dealer, noted that Noe did something wrong. Now he backs clemency.
The Ohio Parole Board pointed to what it described as “strong community support” for the former Lucas County Republican Party chairman, who is serving 18 years for stealing $13.7 million from $50 million invested in rare-coin funds by the state Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Noe was convicted of 29 charges, 25 of which were felonies, including a mandatory 10-year sentence for a RICO-related felony. He also was convicted on four misdemeanors.
RELATED: Should Noe have taken deal?
The letters, often following similar themes and many times not personally signed, came from family members, former state party leaders, and coin dealers. All but seven of the roughly 90 letters and emails obtained from the governor’s office by The Blade supported Noe’s request. Some were dated months in advance of the filing of Noe’s clemency petition.
Despite the letters, the parole board on Aug. 5 recommended that the GOP governor and presidential candidate not commute Noe’s sentence to the roughly seven years he’s served. There’s no deadline for Mr. Kasich to make a decision.
Noe, who has exhausted his appeals, is seeking clemency as he is not eligible for parole.
Notable letter writers
Mr. Petro’s stance was one echoed by many.
“I believe that Mr. Noe was guilty of wrongful and illegal actions, and that he seriously breached the public trust and the trust of those who had confidence in his integrity,” wrote Mr. Petro, who served as attorney general from 2003 to 2007 and more recently as Mr. Kasich’s higher education chancellor.
“My investigative staff in the Ohio Attorney General’s office was actively involved in examining and analyzing records and documents in assisting in the preparation of the case against Mr. Noe,” he wrote. “Accordingly, I was well aware of the evidence that brought about Mr. Noe’s conviction.
“With Mr. Noe’s conviction, I was satisfied that a just result was achieved, but at the time of sentencing, I felt our justice system was going too far; that an 18-year sentence was significantly disproportionate of the crime committed,” he wrote.
Also among the more notable letter writers were:
● Bob Bennett, who chaired the Ohio Republican Party at the time the backlash from the Coingate scandal helped to sweep his party from all but one statewide executive office. He died in December. Mr. Bennett’s letter reflected a change of heart. He had written to a Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge before Noe’s sentencing, telling the judge that Noe deserved no leniency. He said then: “It is my hope that the price he pays will be not one penny nor one day short of the maximum sentence you can impose.”
● Lynn Olman, former state representative from Maumee.
● Bernadette Restivo, Noe’s ex-wife now living and practicing law in Florida.
● Gary Suhadolnik, a former state senator from the Cleveland area who served as executive director of the Ohio Turnpike Commission on which Noe served.
● Patricia A. Wise, a Toledo attorney and member of the Ohio Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, the panel that investigates complaints of misconduct by judges and attorneys.
● Patrick Kriner, former Lucas County Republican Party and board of elections chairman.
● Mary Arquette, vice president for institutional advancement at Lourdes University in Sylvania where Noe was once chairman of the school’s board of trustees. It was one of many letters written on university or business letterhead.
● Msgr. Michael R. Billian of the Diocese of Toledo and Noe’s former pastor.
● Stephen L. Goldman, professor emeritus at the University of Toledo.
● Barbara Lang, Monclova Township trustee.
Noe is serving his state sentence at the Hocking Correctional Institution at Nelsonville. Before that, he served two years in federal prison for using local conduits to launder illegal campaign contributions to the 2004 re-election campaign of President George W. Bush.
Like Mr. Petro, several letter writers pointed to the sentence in making their argument that Noe should be freed now.
“May I respectfully point out that Mark Lay, MDL Partners lost 100 percent of the $213 million of BWC funds in an offshore hedge fund and he received a 12-year sentence,” Mr. Olman wrote. “There are numerous examples of rapist [sic], murders [sic], and other violent criminals receiving lighter sentences than Tom’s 18 years.
“I think one of the real ironies is the fact that Tom’s coin fund produced a $6 million profit for the BWC in spite of the coins and collectibles being sold at fire sale rates,” he wrote.
“In fact it was one of the most profitable investments the BWC had at the time.”
The parole board, however, took both arguments into consideration when it opted to forgo a hearing on Noe’s request and directly recommended that Mr. Kasich reject it.
“But the profits made on the investment were in spite of inmate’s crimes not necessarily by his doings,” the parole board wrote in its one-paragraph decision. “Given the corrupt activity conviction, his sentence is not disparate. Clemency would not further the interests of justice in this case at this time.”
Lay, chief executive and founder of the now-defunct MDL Capital Management of Pittsburgh, was found guilty in 2007 of investment-advisory fraud, two counts of mail fraud, and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in connection with a more than $200 million loss from a high-risk, offshore hedge fund he managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. He is serving a 12-year sentence.
In 1998, Lay founded the Active Duration Fund in Bermuda and convinced the bureau to shift $100 million from another investment to the hedge fund.
When the hedge fund began to lose money, the bureau discussed it with Lay and, based on that discussion, invested an additional $100 million.
As the fund’s value continued to plummet, the bureau, the fund’s sole investor, invested $25 million more. It recovered just $9 million of its $225 million investment.
Prosecutors maintained that Lay hid the risk and exceeded investment limits agreed upon with the BWC.
By comparison, Noe was found guilty of stealing millions and using the cash to erase debts and buy and furnish million-dollar homes.
The sentiment that Noe has done enough time is far from universal, however.
“He shouldn’t be left off the hook,” said a juror from Noe’s 2006 trial, who asked not to be named in the newspaper.
The juror, now 75, said that Noe “got everything he deserved” and that the panel had no question nine years ago that he was a thief.
When told that officials from organizations such as Lourdes University and the Catholic church as well as other groups had written in support of early release for Noe, the juror asked, “How much did he contribute?” to such organizations. The juror said people of less means would be unlikely to draw such backing.
“If he gets a pardon, I will not vote for the man who gives him a pardon,” the juror said.
The juror, who has served on juries in three major trials, said, “You know the old saying: If you do the crime, you do the time.”
David Zollars of Perrysburg urged Mr. Kasich in an email not to commute Noe’s sentence. Like Mr. Zollars, those who wrote to urge that Noe stay in prison filed their letters via the governor’s website.
“Noe should not be granted clemency,” he wrote. “Tom has never admitted that he took a cent and has never shown any remorse or any responsibility for his crime. I as a taxpayer feel he should be held as [an] example for others that the State of Ohio will not tolerate theft of the State’s income.”
In addition to the expected support from family and friends, the letters largely fell into a few categories: those believing it was a miscarriage of justice; those who maintain Noe was guilty but is a better man now; those who blame The Blade for its investigative coverage of the Coingate scandal, and prominent politicians, most of them Republicans.
“I remember very well the relentless barrage of negative print by a vengeful and vindictive local newspaper,” Mr. Olman wrote. “The air in our community was caustic.
“There was no way Tom was going to get a fair trial in Lucas County but the court did not agree.”
Crime and time
Noe originally was charged with 22 counts of forgery, 11 counts of money laundering, eight counts of tampering with records, six counts of aggravated theft, five counts of aggravated theft, and one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. If he had been convicted of all charges and sentenced to the maximum penalties, Noe could have faced 172½ years in prison.
A Lucas County Common Pleas Court jury found Noe guilty in 2006 of 29 felony and misdemeanor counts of corruption, theft, money laundering, and of tampering with records for the theft of millions of dollars from two $25 million rare-coin funds. He was found not guilty on 11 other charges, and several others were dismissed or consolidated.
Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Osowik sentenced Noe to 10 years on a charge of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. He gave him eight more for a charge of stealing more than $1 million.
The prison terms of all the other charges — money laundering, tampering with records, and forgery — ranged from six months to five years and were ordered to run concurrently with Noe’s last eight years, the judge ruled.
The issue of guilt
Many of the letter writers acknowledge that they believe Noe was guilty.
“In the end, I believe all of the excesses caught up with Tom — and it was obvious to me that there was plenty of wrongdoing done by Tom in the handling of the BWC investment,” wrote Kevin Savage, Noe’s longtime friend who worked with him at Vintage Coin & Collectibles in Maumee.
“Maybe ‘the long leash’ I had extended to him as a friend — had also been extended by the BWC — and when it was yanked in — the picture wasn’t pretty,” he wrote.
He went on to write that he has long since buried the hatchet with Noe, and, “I think it is time that the State of Ohio also ‘buries the hatchet’ with Tom Noe.”
Dock Treece, president of Treece Investment Advisory Corp., wrote on corporate letterhead that he had spoken privately with then gubernatorial candidate Kasich on Noe’s behalf after a health-care-related meeting in 2010.
“I stated at the time and I still hold the position that Tom Noe was convicted with the aid of a vengeful judge [Tom had run several candidates against him] and a vindictive newspaper editor [Tom was a successful Republican Chairman often in opposition of the will of the paper],” he wrote.
Mike Miller, the former Franklin County prosecutor who is handling Noe’s clemency matter, said he did not orchestrate a letter-writing campaign.
“I think they were in contact with the family through emails,” he said. “He has put out a newsletter every couple of months telling about how his life is going. A lot of those people and other people took it upon themselves to send the letters to me.”
State prison officials reported that Noe has 15 people on his visitors’ list at the prison. So far this year, he’s had 36 visits. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction declined to release any additional information about visitation.
Toledo attorney Rick Kerger, a former Noe attorney, said he was not solicited to write a letter and did not solicit anyone else.
“There are an awful lot of people who feel this was way too heavy of a sentence, getting past whether he should have been convicted,” he said. “There are people who would take the step to write a letter without much urging if they thought it would make a difference.”
Mr. Kriner said he decided to write a letter because he thought Noe had served enough time.
“I think the ruling was a little over the top, and he should be able to come back and spend time with his family,” he said.
Mr. Goldman said he took it upon himself to write a letter and was not asked to do so.
“I knew the appeal was coming, and I just wrote a letter,” he said. “I thought that he had served a long enough time. There are people convicted of very serious crimes, including taking a life, who serve less time, and I thought it was time to revisit it.”
Mr. Olman declined to answer questions. “The letter speaks for itself,” he said.
Mr. Miller had said that Noe expressed remorse in the clemency petition, which is not a public record. State leaders refused to release a copy of that petition.
“He’s ashamed of himself and the stupid things he did,” Mr. Miller said in March. “He sets forth that he clearly did the wrong thing.”
Staff writer Ignazio Messina and Jane Schmucker contributed to this report.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.