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Published: Tuesday, 9/6/2005

Noe's relationship with auction house raises questions

BY JOSHUA BOAK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Tom Noe bragged in a 2005 newspaper advertisement that profits from Ohio s $50 million rare-coin investment crushed the stock market s flabby returns.

But in reality, more than 20 percent of the coin funds assets were supplied to Greg Manning Auctions Inc., a publicly traded auctioneer of postage stamps, rare coins, and sports memorabilia.

The coin funds acquired stock in Greg Manning Auctions at below-market rates in 2002. They sold off much of their holdings in 2003, generating a $2.38 million profit.

Wire transfers, e-mails, and cashed checks show that Mr. Noe was more than just a shareholder in Greg Manning Auctions. He was one of its chief creditors, entrusting the company with $10.7 million from the coin funds.

Mr. Noe s cozy relationship with Greg Manning Auctions raises multiple red flags, according to the firm charged with recovering the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation s assets.

As much as $13 million is missing from the coin funds. And Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro has accused Mr. Noe of stealing $4 million from the state s investment to buy automobiles, powerboats, and a Florida Keys vacation home.

William Brandt, president of Development Specialists Inc., the company hired to liquidate the coin funds, said he was alarmed by the $4.2 million in loans and $6.5 million transferred to Greg Manning Auctions.

It left us with a level of discomforture, said Mr. Brandt, adding that questions about these 2001 and 2002 transactions caused him to immediately collect the loans and take possession of the rare coins allegedly purchased with money from the transfer.

Mandatory filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission state that the $4.2 million in loans came from a privately held capital fund.

The filings also indicate that the loans repayment schedule was repeatedly suspended. Monthly checks from Spectrum Numismatics only paid for interest on the loan and never any of the principal.

The nature of adjusting the things after the fact betrays some of the concerns about these funds and their supervision, Mr. Brandt said.

These questions are future issues we will take up soon, he said.

Mr. Noe also created the Spectrum Fund, which transferred $6.5 million to Spectrum Numismatics International, a California-based subsidiary of Greg Manning Auctions responsible for buying and selling antique coins.

The SEC filings contain no specific mention of the Spectrum Fund. Spectrum Numismatics and the Spectrum Fund have the exact same Union Bank of California checking account number, according to the coin funds records.

It is unclear whether Greg Manning Auctions included or excluded the rare-coin inventory allegedly bought via the Spectrum Fund in its annual statements.

Greg Manning, the company s chief executive and namesake, did not return phone calls.

The company s chief financial officer, Larry Crawford, did not respond to e-mail.

Despite these loans and wire transfers, Greg Roberts, the president of Spectrum Numismatics and a director for Greg Manning Auctions, needed more cash from the coin funds, arranging for short-term loans that are also unmentioned in SEC filings.

Andrew Glassman, one of Mr. Roberts colleagues, sent an e-mail to Tim LaPointe, an associate of Mr. Noe, on Aug. 15, 2003.

Per Greg s conversation with Tom, Spectrum would like to borrow $400,000, it read.

Spectrum understands that we will pay the money back by September 15, 2003. Spectrum will pay $4,000 interest for this loan.

The loan arrived before the day ended. Similar month-to-month loans totaling $1.5 million continued through February, 2004, each of them repaid at annual interest rates of 12 percent.

Mr. Glassman declined to comment for this article.

While the coin funds handed out these short-term loans, Mr. Noe began selling off the stock he acquired almost two years earlier.

On Jan. 14, 2002, the stock ticker only lists 6,700 shares of Greg Manning Auctions trading hands. The share price held steady at $1.81.

The historical stock records mask what happened on that wintry Monday.Using money from Ohio s rare-coin funds, Mr. Noe bought 500,000 shares in Greg Manning Auctions for $1.15 each, a 36 percent discount on the market rate.

One of the coin funds appears to have purchased stock directly from Greg Manning Auctions, according to a National City Bank wire transfer listed in its general ledger.

With its low share price, Greg Manning Auctions slummed at the bottom of a troubled NASDAQ, the stock exchange wounded by a recently burst tech bubble.

The company posted losses of $16.3 million in 2001 and $13.17 million in 2002.

But owning stock in Greg Manning Auctions turned out to be one of the savviestinvestments the coin funds made.

During the course of 2003, Afinsa Bienes Tangibles S.A., a Spanish postage stamp and collectibles dealer, cemented a 72 percent stake in the company and the stock s price rose.Mr. Noe unloaded the bulk of the coin funds holdings that autumn for a profit of $2.38 million, quintupling their original investment in less than two years.

The coin funds continued to sell off the stock through this May, making a total profit of $2.73 million.

Contact Joshua Boak at:jboak@theblade.com or 419-724-6728.



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