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Federal authorities said yesterday they are investigating local businessman and prominent Republican fund-raiser Tom Noe for possible violations of campaign contribution laws.
Gregory A. White, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, confirmed that his office, in conjunction with the FBI, is looking into Mr. Noe, who was chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in northwest Ohio.
"We have publicly confirmed the investigation of Mr. Noe in relation to some campaign contributions," Mr. White said last night.
He said the investigation has been ongoing for a couple of months, but declined to comment on its details. Officials with the U.S. Justice Department in Washington are aware of the investigation, Mr. White said.
Mr. Noe, 50, is a coin dealer and former chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party.
His contract with the state to manage $50 million in two rare coin funds is currently under investigation by the Ohio inspector general.
Mr. Noe s attorney, Jon Richardson, said his client is aware of the federal investigation pertaining to campaign finance issues.
"All we can say at the moment is we are aware there is an investigation going on," Mr. Richardson said last night. "Until we see the government s allegations, there isn't much we can say to respond to them."
The federal probe began with the Lucas County prosecutor s office, which looked into Mr. Noe s campaign contributions to the Bush re-election campaign after Mr. Noe s wife, Bernadette, brought a separate issue to the attention of the prosecutor s office.
Prosecutor Julia Bates said last night that Ms. Noe wanted the prosecutor s office to look into possible wrongdoing by Joe Kidd, then director of the county elections office. Ms. Noe was then chairman of the county Republican Party and a member of the elections board.
During its investigation into Ms. Noe s allegations, the prosecutor s office developed other information and forwarded it to the U.S. attorney s office, Ms. Bates said.
Mr. Richardson said federal agents have spoken to Ms. Noe but not Mr. Noe.
Local law-enforcement sources said investigators are looking at contributions made by people from the Toledo area to the Bush campaign. Of particular interest was an Oct. 30, 2003 fund-raiser in Columbus where the campaign raised $1.4 million. Mr. Noe played only a small part at the fund-raiser.
Mr. Noe, who was one of several dozen Ohioans who helped to raise at least $100,000 each for the Bush campaign in the 2004 election, sponsored a table at the event, and invited a number of people to attend.
An individual can give only $2,000 to a presidential candidate in the primary and another $2,000 in the general election, according to federal law. Throughout the 2004 campaign primary and general Mr. Noe contributed $2,000. His contribution came in August, 2003.
At issue is whether Mr. Noe gave people money in order for them to give to the Bush campaign, allowing Mr. Noe to exceed federal spending limits, the law-enforcement sources said.
According to the Federal Election Commission s Web site, most violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act result in civil penalties fines arrived at through a conciliation process. The FEC has exclusive civil enforcement authority, and may refer criminal violations to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Knowing and willful violations of certain provisions in the Federal Election Campaign Act can lead to imprisonment.
Jerry Phillips, an attorney for Mr. Kidd, said yesterday his client has been interviewed by the FBI as part of the investigation.
Mr. Kidd contributed $2,000 to the Bush campaign on Nov. 4, 2003, shortly after the Columbus fund-raiser. Contacted yesterday, he declined comment.
Mr. Noe refused to talk with Blade reporters yesterday at his office and his home, driving away as they approached.
But in December, The Blade spoke with Mr. Noe as it sought to confirm or dispel rumors of a federal investigation into his campaign giving to the President. At that time, he said he had given money to Mr. Kidd, but denied it was for a campaign contribution to the Bush campaign. He said he had given money to Mr. Kidd and his estranged wife many times over the years.
You don t know me very well. I m a very charitable guy, said Mr. Noe in the earlier interview. When I see someone who is down ... I help them out.
Mr. Noe said he helped get Mr. Kidd reinstated at the University of Toledo law school and picked him to be director of the elections board.
"I like Joe personally," Mr. Noe said in December.
Among others who attended the Bush fund-raiser or donated to the President at Mr. Noe s invitation are Lucas County Auditor Larry Kaczala and his wife, Gina, and City Councilman Betty Shultz.
Federal election records show Mr. and Mrs. Kaczala each contributed $2,000 to the Bush campaign on Nov. 5, 2003, and Ms. Shultz gave $2,000 on Oct. 30, 2003.
In a conversation with The Blade a few months ago, Ms. Shultz said it was "an honor" to meet the President, "currently the most powerful man in the world."
"Those are opportunities of a lifetime for a person like myself," she said.
Her donation to the Bush campaign, she said, came from her own account.
Mr. Kaczala said he had not been contacted by investigators yesterday. He said he did not know anything about the federal investigation.
"There were rumors all over Government Center that the Noes were being raided," said Mr. Kaczala, joking, The good news is I'm apparently clean.
The auditor also said he received the maximum $4,000 contribution from Mr. Noe during his congressional campaign last year.
He has received additional contributions from Mr. Noe while campaigning for the auditor s post.
Mr. Noe also urged Mr. Kaczala to attend the Oct. 30, 2003, fund-raiser in Columbus because it would raise his visibility among key Republicans as he prepared to launch his unsuccessful 2004 congressional campaign. Mr. Kaczala confirmed that he attended with his wife.
It was a year before the election. Tom said I should go, so if I m going to run for Congress, I should know everyone, he said.
Sally Perz, chairman of the Lucas County Republicans, was not home yesterday evening and did not return a message from The Blade seeking comment. Her husband, Joe Perz, said he had not been contacted by the FBI yesterday and had no information about the investigation.
Mr. Perz said he could not recall if he had attended the Oct. 30, 2003, fund-raiser with his wife in Columbus.
"I'm kind of foggy," he said.
Both Sally and Joe Perz contributed $2,000 on Oct. 30, FEC records show. In an interview a few months ago, Ms. Perz said she and Mr. Perz paid for their own donations.
"We've sent donations to the President on our own," Mr. Perz said yesterday. Tom Noe had nothing to do with that.
The announcement about the federal probe confirmed rumors of the investigation that had been swirling since late last year. Still, several expressed surprise that one of northwest Ohio s most visible Republicans was a target of a federal probe.
"I'm just shocked at it. That just doesn't make sense to me," said Bob Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party.
"Tom is a pretty solid Republican. I don t think he s turned anybody down for fund-raisers. That is what you do when you are in the business. You do it by the book," Mr. Bennett said.
Mark Rickel, Gov. Bob Taft s press secretary, said Mr. Taft, who was co-chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign last year in Ohio, was unaware of a federal investigation of Mr. Noe. Mr. Rickel declined further comment.
As a regional chairman of the campaign, Mr. Noe had frequent contact with Karl Rove, the architect of the President s re-election. And Ohio, it turned out, was the pivotal state in the election, narrowly pushing President Bush to victory.
Denny White, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said he welcomed the investigation, especially since the Justice Department is behind it.
If the investigation finds wrongdoing, it could topple one-party control of Ohio government in the 2006 election, Mr. White predicted.
The GOP controls every statewide executive post, both chambers of the legislature, and six of the seven Ohio Supreme Court seats.
Jeremy Jackson, press secretary for the Bureau of Workers Compensation, said he was unaware of the federal investigation of Mr. Noe.
He said to the best of my knowledge, the bureau has not received any notification from the U.S. attorney s office, subpoenas, or any other inquiries from federal investigators.
Mr. Jackson said the inspector general s investigation was the only one the bureau was aware of, and we are cooperating fully.
Staff writers Christopher Kirkpatrick, Steve Eder, and Rod Lockwood contributed to this report.
Contact Mike Wilkinson at:firstname.lastname@example.org or419-724-6104.