The federal probe into whether local Republican fund-raiser Tom Noe was illegally funneling money to the Bush campaign had been ongoing for months. It reached a turning point Wednesday night.
FBI agents swept into Mr. Noe s Maumee condo about 7:30 p.m., spending three hours scouring the home of one of the most prominent Republicans in northwest Ohio. They were looking for evidence of violations of federal campaign contribution laws.
The federal probe is studying Mr. Noe s campaign contributions to the President, and specifically contributions made by others who may have received money from Mr. Noe, possibly allowing him to exceed the $2,000 spending cap.
Jon Richardson, Mr. Noe s attorney, said the search was very civilized and that Mr. Noe s wife, Bernadette, cooperated with agents who removed some property from the condo. Mr. Noe was not home at the time of the search.
The search warrant was signed by U.S. Magistrate Vernelis Armstrong. The affadavit that outlines why federal authorities are seeking the warrant has been sealed by the court.
On Wednesday, Gregory A. White, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, confirmed his office is looking into Mr. Noe, who was chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in northwest Ohio.
Mr. Richardson said he has advised Mr. Noe not to make any statement to authorities at this time.
Mr. Noe, 50, is a coin dealer and former chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party. He manages two rare-coin funds that have received $50 million from the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation.
That investment arrangement is currently under a separate investigation being conducted by the Ohio inspector general.
Mr. Noe also is chairman of the Ohio Turnpike Commission and a member of the Ohio Board of Regents.
He also is chairman of the U.S. Mint s Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee.
Yesterday, state Sen. Marc Dann, a Democrat from suburban Youngstown, asked federal, state, and county authorities to investigate whether there were any violations involving state and local campaign contributions.
It s becoming clear that Tom Noe has given large contributions to Republicans, while also obtaining state contracts in which he made millions of dollars investing in risky rare coins, Mr. Dann said.
Tom Noe has given thousands and thousands of dollars to Republican candidates. Now he s at the center of a federal probe.
We deserve to know if Noe laundered state party, candidate, and caucus campaign monies to statewide Republicans.
Mr. Dann made his request to Mr. White.
The federal government would have jurisdiction if the mail was used to commit fraud and if big checks were drawn on federally-chartered banks, Mr. Dann said.
Mr. Dann also sent his request to state Inspector General Tom Charles, Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates, and Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O Brien.
Of particular interest to investigators is an Oct. 30, 2003, fund-raiser in Columbus where the Bush campaign raised $1.4 million.
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.
Among those whose donations have caught the attention of investigators are:
City Councilman Betty Shultz; former state representative Sally Perz, her husband, Joe, and her daughter, Allison; former county elections director Joe Kidd; county Auditor Larry Kaczala and his wife, Gina; County Commissioner Maggie Thurber and her husband, Sam; and two of Mr. Noe s co-workers at Vintage Coins and Collectibles, partner Tim Lapointe and executive assistant Susan Metzger. Mr. Lapointe s wife, Linda, also donated.
All of the above gave the campaign $2,000 except the Thurbers; each of them gave $1,950 to the campaign. The $23,900 in donations were made between Oct. 30 and Nov. 5, 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, law-enforcement sources said.
By law, Mr. Noe would have been unable to contribute at the fund-raiser because he had already made a $2,000 donation in August, 2003.
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.
Mr. Kidd s attorney, Jerry Phillips, said Wednesday his client already has interviewed with the FBI about the matter.
Mr. Kidd declined additional comment.
In a faxed statement to The Blade, Mrs. Shultz said she was unable to comment specifically on any ongoing investigation. She said she has been a friend of Ms. Noe for 20 years, when both were Democrats.
Mrs. Shultz became a Republican in May, 2003, about seven months before announcing plans to run for county treasurer.
Contacted yesterday, Ms. Thurber said she knew of no details of the investigation.
I don t need Tom and Bernie to give me money to give to Bush, she said.
She said the Noes are like family to her and Sam and she declined further comment.
Neither the Lapointes nor Ms. Metzger could be reached for comment yesterday.
The U.S. Attorney s office has jurisdiction over criminal investigations of Federal Election Campaign Act violations. Knowing and willful violations of certain provisions in the Federal Election Campaign Act can lead to imprisonment.
The contributions to the Bush campaign became the subject of a criminal investigation after Bernadette Noe and Sam Thurber, two former GOP members of the county elections board, talked to the county prosecutor s office about what they claimed was wrongdoing by Joe Kidd, the former director of the county elections office and a fellow Republican.
Investigators found nothing to validate their claims against Mr. Kidd, but the investigation quickly changed direction to focus on new allegations that Mr. Noe had routed campaign cash to the Bush campaign through other local Republicans.
Because the investigation involved federal election laws, Prosecutor Bates forwarded the information her investigators uncovered to federal authorities.
Reached for comment yesterday after a Statehouse event, Gov. Bob Taft, who has strongly defended Mr. Noe in the past, said he was certainly surprised on Wednesday to learn of the federal investigation.
Mr. Taft said he did not plan to ask for Mr. Noe s resignation from the Ohio Board of Regents or the Ohio Turnpike Commission.
I think we need to let that investigation run its course, to see what happens before we make any decisions on a matter like that, he said.
When asked if he still supports the state s rare-coin investment with Mr. Noe, the governor replied:
Well, I think that s the purpose of the inspector general s investigation. It obviously has achieved a return for the state of Ohio. It s been part of the overall successful investment policy of the bureau.
But if there are serious questions or concerns with regard to the appropriateness of the bureau investing in that particular investment, that is what the inspector general will be focusing on, Mr. Taft said.
Staff writer Dale Emch contributed to this report.
Contact Mike Wilkinson at:email@example.com or419-724-6104.