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Published: Tuesday, 8/16/2005

Judge lowers cap on Noe sales to $5,000


COLUMBUS There s enough evidence that coin dealer Tom Noe engaged in fraud in his handling of Ohio s $50 million rare-coin funds to further restrict him from selling off his property, a judge ruled yesterday.

The ruling from Judge David Cain of Franklin County Common Pleas Court was made more than three weeks after Attorney General Jim Petro first accused Mr. Noe of stealing millions of dollars from the coin funds he managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation.

The order lowers the value threshold from $15,000 to $5,000 for assets that Mr. Noe, and his wife, Bernadette, are required to gain court approval before selling.

Last month, Mr. Petro presented evidence that Mr. Noe began stealing money from the coin funds on March 31, 1998, the same day he received the first of two installments of $25 million from the state.

In court, attorneys for Mr. Petro accused Mr. Noe of using public money to buy homes, cars, and boats.

The evidence as it stands now tends to show that Mr. Noe converted BWC monies and/or committed fraud, Judge Cain wrote in a footnote to his order. This court is sure that through the discovery process more facts will be revealed that will have the tendency to either prove or disprove [the state s] allegations.

William Wilkinson, Mr. Noe s attorney, referred to Judge Cain s decision as a minor disturbance in the force.

We fought this mainly as a matter of principle. We were offended the attorney general did not honor the agreement we had reached. As a practical matter, the changes made in the asset freeze order will not have any impact, Mr. Wilkinson said.

Mr. Petro said in a statement that yesterday s ruling is an indication that his office has already presented sufficient evidence of previous conversion and fraud on Mr. Noe s part to further restrict his ability to liquidate assets.

Judge Cain s order granting the request to modify the existing order will allow the State of Ohio and my client, the Bureau of Workers Compensation, adequate notice to determine if the assets were purchased with BWC funds, Mr. Petro said.

Yesterday s ruling gives Mr. Petro a five-day deadline to prove assets over $5,000 were originally purchased with state money before Mr. Noe is allowed to sell them off.

Mr. Wilkinson said he doubts Mr. Petro will be able to meet that deadline.

I don t believe the attorney general has any evidence that assets Mr. Noe wants to sell were purchased with coin-fund assets. He won t be able to meet a five-day deadline. He couldn t meet the deadline if it was 50 days, Mr. Wilkinson said.

On May 27, Judge Cain signed off on an agreement between Mr. Petro and Mr. Noe s attorneys that required the coin dealer and his wife to gain court approval before selling off assets above $15,000.

The ruling came a day after Mr. Noe s attorneys acknowledged that up to $13 million was missing from the coin funds.

In yesterday s ruling, Mr. Cain said the May 27 order was cast in the preliminary stage of the case and very little evidence had been gathered.

He added, [The state] has collected and submitted a great deal more evidence at his point.

Mr. Wilkinson said no real evidence has been presented in the case.

Evidence comes at a trial or an evidentiary hearing, Mr. Wilkinson said.

We ve not heard any witnesses testify yet. It s using the word evidence loosely.

Mr. Wilkinson said it s unclear whether Mr. Noe would attend a deposition set for Aug. 30.

It is something we will work out with the attorney general, said Mr. Wilkinson, who added certain questions could be sensitive given the ongoing criminal investigations into Mr. Noe s activities.

Mr. Wilkinson said all alternatives are still under consideration, including Mr. Noe invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination if a deposition moves forward.

Judge Cain s order yesterday said Mrs. Noe would be required to attend a deposition on Aug. 31.

Attorneys for Mrs. Noe said the attorney general has not yet proved that the Noes relied on the coin funds for their lavish purchases, nor have they clearly shown that Mrs. Noe played a role in the fund.

Judge Cain, though, in yesterday s ruling, said invoices from Mrs. Noe and her former law firm, Shindler, Neff, Holmes, & Schlageter, to the coin funds raised the specter of fraud.

The attorney general released multiple invoices last week that showed Mrs. Noe billed coin subsidaries for $2,946 between 2001 and 2002. All of the details in the billings were blacked out by the attorney general s office.

Based on an unaltered invoice that he received from a third party, Mike O Callaghan, one of Mrs. Noe s lawyers, said that his client did not perform any legal work for the coin funds and that the court s decision is unfounded. The only unredacted invoice is one dated Feb 1, 2002, and that clearly shows that she did not bill any time for legal services for work performed for the coin fund, Mr. O Callaghan said. And I fully anticipate that the remaining invoices will demonstrate the same thing.

The invoice Mr. O Callaghan referenced only lists John Schlageter, Jr., who was previously Mrs. Noe s colleague, as billing a coin fund partnership $1,073. However, the sole name on the invoice s letterhead belongs to Mrs. Noe.

Separately, lawyers for Mrs. Noe filed a motion yesterday to limit the attorney general s ability to access their client s bank accounts and other personal records, calling such attempts a gross invasion of her privacy.

The protective motion said that the records sought by the attorney general would show Mrs. Noe s weekly grocery expenses, bills paid to doctors and other health care providers, and her investment allocation in a modest pension fund.

One must conclude that the attorney general s true intent is not discovery, but annoyance, embarrassment, and ultimately, oppression and yet another press release, the filing said.

Staff writer Joshua Boak contributed to this report.

Contact Steve Eder at:seder@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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