COLUMBUS -- A half-million dollars of Ohio's coin money might have been poured into 3,500 bottles of wine stored in a cellar at the suburban Denver home of a former employee of Tom Noe, Colorado authorities say.
Investigators during the weekend took custody of the expansive wine collection, while seizing hundreds of rare coins, about 265 Cuban cigars, documents, invoices, and computers from the home and office of Michael Storeim, a former manager of a subsidiary of Ohio's $50 million coin venture, said Jacki Tallman, a spokesman for the Jefferson County, Colorado, Sheriff's Office.
Investigators believe items seized during the search might have been purchased with Ohio money or at least provide clues for law enforcement, Ms. Tallman said.
Meanwhile, in Columbus yesterday, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O Brien said he expects to receive about 40 bankers boxes full of records today documenting the state's rare-coin investment from Mr. Noe's attorneys, who are voluntarily turning the records over to authorities.
Mr. O Brien said he expects the Ohio Highway Patrol will be the custodian of the records, and copies will be distributed to several agencies, including the special counsel assigned to liquidate the state's rare-coin inventory and Auditor Betty Montgomery, whose office is doing a special audit of the state's investment.
The inventory of Mr. Noe's Colorado subsidiary, managed by Mr. Storeim until March 2004, is also scheduled to be gathered today and returned to Ohio.
It is unclear if the raid of Mr. Storeim's home and office turned up 121 missing coins worth about $400,000 and bought with Ohio money.
Mr. Noe, whose lawyers recently told Ohio authorities that up to $12 million in state assets are missing from its rare-coin fund, never reported any of the coins missing to Colorado law enforcement authorities.
In October 2003, Mr. Storeim reported that two state-owned coins a $10 gold coin from 1845 and an $3 gold coin from 1855 were stolen from an Express Mail package en route from a grading service in California.
'Hindsight is 20-20'
Last year, a business partner of Mr. Storeim, in a sworn deposition for an insurance company, expressed concerns that Mr. Storeim might have more knowledge about the whereabouts of the coins.
"Hindsight is 20-20," Ms. Tallman said. "What we now know today was not in any shape or form what was reported to law enforcement two years ago.'
Yesterday, Ms. Tallman confirmed that the mail carrier delivering the package with the two coins had been previously indicted on a mail theft charge prior to when the Ohio coins went missing. Ms. Tallman said it was a completely unrelated incident and it will have no impact on the current investigation.
The fact that Mr. Noe did not contact authorities about the state's missing valuables is noteworthy to investigators.
"It is certainly of interest to us that this stuff was not reported," Ms. Tallman said. "There was no additional contact from anyone, involving any new information. There was no contact with the sheriff's department at all to tell us what was happening until the media got involved."
She added, There were so many things that were not reported to the authorities. We cannot investigate what we are not aware of.
On April 3, The Blade first reported that the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation had given $50 million to Mr. Noe to invest in rare coins, and that a number of concerns about the fund had been raised in an internal audit.
Yesterday, the Ohio Ethics Commission said it will expand its investigation into the bureau's investment practices and procedures to review whether bureau employees complied with the state ethics law, said David Freel, executive director of the Ethics Commission.
Mr. Noe, a local coin dealer and prominent Republican campaign contributor, is facing multiple investigations, including a federal probe into whether he laundered money to President Bush's re-election campaign.
Last week, a spokesman for Mr. Bush said the President would donate the $4,000 contributed by Tom and Bernadette Noe to his campaign to charity.
Colorado authorities are conducting an independent criminal investigation into possible felony theft and forgery, which is separate from efforts by Ohio authorities. The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office reopened its investigation in light of new accusations and leads last month.
Storeim sole suspect
At this point, Mr. Storeim is the only suspect in the Colorado investigation and his former employer, Numismatic Professionals which is owned by the state of Ohio is listed as the victim, Ms. Tallman said.
It is a very active and aggressive investigation, she said. It's a cooperative effort with the authorities from Ohio, and we are working closely with the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation.
Mr. Storeim has denied any wrongdoing and has filed a lawsuit against Mr. Noe, claiming the Maumee coin dealer directed two associates to take $500,000 worth of his property from the Colorado office.
Yesterday, Mr. Storeim's attorney, Brian Jeffrey, released a statement saying law enforcement were professional and respectful as they performed the search and seizure.
"Naturally, Mr. Storeim is disappointed that the false accusations against him have led to this, but he remains convinced that a thorough investigation will lead to his ultimate vindication," Mr. Jeffrey said in the statement.
Beginning at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, as many as 10 investigators and lab technicians executed a warrant on Mr. Storeim's home.
Authorities spent 12 hours at his home and then six hours at his office.
Investigator Chris Nelson of the sheriff's office said authorities initially had information that $36,000 of Ohio money was used to purchase bottles of wine.
3,500 bottles of wine
Some of the items appeared to have been purchased with a credit card for Numismatic Professionals, Mr. Nelson said.
'When we got to his house we found 3,500 bottles of wine valued at about a half-million dollars," he said. "That was pretty significant. It took the majority of our time just to inventory the wine."
The wine was kept in a cellar at Mr. Storeim's residence, but a locksmith was called to change the locks, putting law enforcement in control of the goods.
Mr. Nelson said documents and invoices collected at the scene might provide more leads for investigators.
'We have to digest the information in the documents and determine what paper trail this leads us from and to," Mr. Nelson said.
He said Mr. Noe is considered a "person of interest" in terms of the situation in Ohio, but he is not directly related to or considered a suspect at this point in the Colorado investigation.
His name has come up, Mr. Nelson said. "We have a good idea of what his involvement is. We have not spoken to him."
Mr. Nelson, who said Ohio authorities were speaking with Mr. Noe as part of their investigations, would not reveal if Colorado authorities were planning to seek additional search and seizure warrants, but he did say authorities have done interviews with another person of interest.
"We are talking to a number of people who are at the forefront of our investigation, he said. It's a very complex investigation," Mr. Nelson said.
Ms. Tallman said detectives are in the midst of looking at all the documentation and booking items into evidence.
It's an enormous task, she said.
Jeremy Jackson, a spokesman for the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation, directed questions about the investigation to the Ohio inspector general's office, which is investigating. A spokesman from that office could not be reached for comment.
The bureau had repeatedly said the state's investments were safe in Colorado because Mr. Noe had withheld $900,000 in bonuses that Mr. Storeim would have received and confiscated $400,000 worth of coins from the Evergreen office.
Accused of skimming
Mr. Storeim has also been accused by colleagues of skimming profits from the buying and selling of rare coins with Ohio money. In a statement released by his attorney last month, Mr. Storeim denied any wrongdoing and said he was not responsible for any missing coins and other concerns were simply a matter of the company's inventory control record.
Mr. Noe's Colorado attorney, Dan Levin, said he had little information about the new developments.
It comes as no surprise to our people here, said Mr. Levin, who is also representing coin dealer Richard Melamed, another employee of Numismatic Professionals.
Obviously, the results of the investigation will determine the ultimate culpability in this case. It's important for the authorities to complete their investigation because that information will be useful to us in our Colorado [civil] case as well, Mr. Levin said.
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