COLUMBUS Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer said yesterday that Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett told him Tom Noe may have illegally funneled contributions into his re-election campaign last year.
Based on Mr. Bennett s information, Chief Justice Moyer placed a $1,000 contribution he received from H. Douglas Talbott, a lobbyist and former aide to Gov. Bob Taft and former Gov. George Voinovich, into an escrow account for the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation.
Mr. Talbott was among numerous Republicans called to testify in June before a federal grand jury investigating allegations that Mr. Noe illegally contributed to President Bush s re-election effort.
Mr. Noe, a former Toledo-area coin dealer, was indicted Oct. 27 on three felony counts related to the alleged laundering of $45,400 into the Bush-Cheney campaign.
Prosecutors allege Mr. Noe gave 24 people money to funnel into the campaign. Mr. Noe pleaded not guilty to all charges during a brief hearing in U.S. District Court in Toledo on Oct. 31.
Chief Justice Moyer said Mr. Bennett called him Oct. 31 or Nov. 1 to let him know of his suspicions about the contribution.
I didn t want anything to do with a conduit, Chief Justice Moyer said.
I had no idea. There s no way the candidate can know that someone else has given someone money to give to a candidate, he said.
Two other Republican Supreme Court justices, Terrence O Donnell and Judith Lanzinger, also have put aside money that their campaigns received from Mr. Talbott at a joint fund-raiser with Chief Justice Moyer, which was held July 25, 2004, at the Catawba Island residence of Mr. Noe and his wife, Bernadette.
Mr. Noe, who is under a federal and state investigations for his handling of a failed $50 million state investment in rare-coin funds, was chairman of Justice Lanzinger s campaign.
Philip Richter, executive director of the Ohio Elections Commission, said he has talked with investigators looking into Mr. Noe and that he expects they will file a complaint against the one-time Republican fund-raiser.
Within the last few weeks, Mr. Richter said he met with officials from the Inspector General s Office who wanted to know what the elections commission would need in order to consider a violation of state election law.
In the case regarding Mr. Noe, Mr. Richter said it is a distinct possibility that the matter would be given to prosecutors.
This case has established itself as a little bit outside the norm, he said.
Under Ohio law, it is considered an unclassified misdemeanor to use a conduit to make a campaign contribution, The penalty is a fine of up to $10,000.
If any wrongdoing comes along, we won t turn our heads, Inspector General Tom Charles said.
In a Nov. 1 letter to his campaign treasurer, Justice Moyer wrote that the $1,000 contribution from Mr. Talbott was likely money given to Mr. Talbott from Tom Noe for the purpose of avoiding the contributions limits on campaign donations to Supreme Court justices.
Calling the contribution clearly inappropriate, the chief justice asked campaign treasurer Fred Mills to place $1,000 into the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation escrow account.
Chief Justice Moyer said he thought Mr. Bennett had talked separately to Justices Lanzinger and O Donnell.
Chief Justice Moyer, who said he wasn t aware of any other contributions he has received from other alleged conduits of money from Mr. Noe, said he has not been contacted by investigators and he has not contacted them.
Chief Justice Moyer said he hadn t seen any need to call investigators.
The investigators are investigating. I have no reason to call them.
They are doing their investigation, and I would assume they would cover that. This is not something that Bob found that he doesn t think they will find, he said.
Mr. Bennett didn t return messages seeking comment.
Mr. Talbott is under investigation by the Ohio Ethics Commission for failing to disclose a $39,000 loan he received in 2002 from Mr. Noe to help him purchase a home in the Ottawa County resort town of Lakeside, Ohio. Mr. Talbott s attorney, Roger Synenberg, declined comment.
Justice Lanzinger, who lives in Toledo, wouldn t speak with a Blade reporter who dropped by her residence seeking comment.
Justice Lanzinger received two other contributions last year from people listed as Noe conduits. In July, she received $1,750 from Sue Metzger, a former executive assistant at Mr. Noe s coin business in Monclova Township.
Mike Boyle, a local businessman and the son of longtime Democratic power broker Bill Boyle, also contributed $1,000 to her campaign.
Justice O Donnell, who lives in the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River, wouldn t reveal who alerted him about the need to place Mr. Talbott s campaign contribution into an escrow account.
I was made aware there was a contribution I had received [that] was a conduit contribution. When I learned about that, it didn t take 24 hours to figure out what had to be done, he said.
William Wilkinson, an attorney for Mr. Noe, said his client has absolutely not provided money to others for the purpose of making campaign contributions.
He also said he is unaware of any allegation of money laundering at the state level against Mr. Noe and it is unclear to him how anyone other than Mr. Noe or Mr. Talbott could credibly inform the judges that they had received laundered contributions.
On July 19, 2004, Mr. Noe transferred $50,000 from the state s Capital Coin Fund II to his business for coin purchases.
The transfer came just six days before the Supreme Court candidates fund-raiser at the Noes Catawba Island home.
Mr. Noe and his wife, Bernadette, contributed $4,000 to Chief Justice Moyer and $3,500 to the campaign of Justice O Donnell.
On Aug. 15, Mr. Noe contributed $1,000 to Mr. Taft s campaign and gave $2,000 to the Republican National Committee on Aug. 16.
Mark Rickel, a spokesman for Mr. Taft, said investigators have not inquired with his office about possible improper contributions.
Both Mr. Noe and Mr. Talbott have made contributions to the governor s campaigns.
No one has contacted our office indicating, or asking us, or suggesting, that contributions were inappropriate, Mr. Rickel said. If it is proven that [there was] an improper contribution, the campaign will direct the funds to the appropriate entity.
On June 7, five Supreme Court justices announced they would set aside campaign contributions from Mr. Noe until the investigations into the former Toledo-area coin dealer ended.
Chief Justice Moyer and Justices O Donnell, Lanzinger, Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, and Maureen O Connor received a combined $23,510 from Mr. Noe, and his wife, Bernadette.
Blade Columbus Bureau Chief James Drew and Blade Staff Writer Mike Wilkinson contributed to this report. Contact Steve Eder at:firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.