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Published: 6/30/2006

Noe conduit suspected of Taft donation; ex-Rep. Perz not charged over campaign funds

BY MIKE WILKINSON AND JAMES DREW
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Fund-raiser Tom Noe, Gov. Bob Taft, and then-GOP National Chairman Ed Gillespie, from left, meet before the Lucas County GOP s Lincoln Day Dinner in Maumee in 2004.
Fund-raiser Tom Noe, Gov. Bob Taft, and then-GOP National Chairman Ed Gillespie, from left, meet before the Lucas County GOP s Lincoln Day Dinner in Maumee in 2004.
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It is probable that Tom Noe funneled money into Gov. Bob Taft s 2002 campaign through former state Rep. Sally Perz, according to a report released yesterday.

Investigators from the task force probing the expanding scandal involving Noe and the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation uncovered a Noe check to Ms. Perz for $2,500 on May 10, 2002 the day she gave the same amount to the Taft campaign.

It is a misdemeanor to funnel money into a campaign on behalf of someone else; the offense carries a maximum $10,000 fine.

The new details are contained in an investigative report produced by the Ohio inspector general. The report was used to prosecute Ms. Perz for failing to disclose $3,900 she received from Noe in October, 2003, to attend a fund-raiser for President Bush with her husband, Joe.

Ms. Perz was found guilty Wednesday of a misdemeanor ethics violation and fined $1,000 plus court costs and the cost of the investigation.

However, special prosecutor Lynn Grimshaw did not bring a conduit charge against Ms. Perz for the contribution to the Taft campaign, even though the inspector general s office said it was probable that the $2,500 evidences [Ms.] Perz s participation as an unlawful conduit in violation of state elections laws.

I simply made a decision as a prosecutor that I would be satisfied with Ms. Perz being convicted of one misdemeanor offense, he said yesterday.

Mr. Grimshaw, a Democrat and former prosecutor from Scioto County along the Ohio River, said he considered the conduit charge involving laundering money to the governor s 2002 campaign but agreed to a plea agreement on the ethics charge.

He acknowledged that the amount of money involved in the Taft contribution was considerable.

Clearly, $2,500 that ends up in Taft s campaign or $3,900 that ends up in Bush s campaign, those are significant, he said.

Governor Taft was convicted last year of four misdemeanor ethics violations and fined $4,000 for admitting that he accepted dozens of free gifts and free golf outings from Ohio businessmen, including from Noe.

But until yesterday, Mr. Taft had avoided the taint of the Noe money-laundering machine.

News of the Noe-Perz-Taft contribution marks the third instance in which Noe is accused of using others to launder campaign cash and exceed legal contribution limits.

In addition to the Bush and Taft campaigns, Noe funneled money into the campaigns of three Republican Ohio Supreme Court justices. A former Taft aide was found guilty of taking Noe money and making those contributions.

Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said he was stunned to learn that Mr. Grimshaw did not prosecute Ms. Perz for being a conduit into the Taft campaign.

It s a pattern of corruption that is quite clear and obvious, he said. I m dumbfounded by it, I m appalled by it.

According to the report, the conduit matter was referred to the Ohio Elections Commission. Officials from that commission could not be reached.

Mark Rickel, spokesman for Governor Taft, said he was not aware of the conduit allegation until yesterday. He did not believe that investigators had requested any information from the Taft campaign.

Obviously, if the law was violated, she should be prosecuted to the fullest extent, Mr. Rickel said.

Ms. Perz did not return a phone call to her home yesterday. On Wednesday, she did not answer questions and instead released a written statement. Her attorney, Barry Savage, challenged the release of the investigative report.

Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber, Toledo City Councilman Betty Shultz, and former Toledo Mayor Donna Owens also were found guilty of the same ethics charge as Ms. Perz and given the same fines by Judge Mark Reddin in Toledo Municipal Court.

The reports of those women were released Wednesday and, in the cases of Ms. Thurber and Ms. Owens, they showed that the women had accepted other meals from Noe in the past and had not disclosed them.

Ms. Thurber also vacationed at the Noe home in the Florida Keys with her husband, Sam.

The Perz report says the former Republican lawmaker, who it says Noe recruited in 1992 to run for office, declined to answer some questions about money from Noe on the grounds it could incriminate her.

She later told investigators, through her attorney, that she could not recall the details surrounding both the May, 2002, check from Noe and the check to the Taft campaign.

In an unsworn statement Ms. Perz provided to the task force investigating state corruption, she stated:

I have searched my memory and cannot recall the circumstances regarding the receipt of the check from Tom Noe nor can I recall the circumstances surrounding the issuing my [sic] check to Taft Bradley 02.

Mr. Redfern found that explanation hard to believe.

I can remember every $2,000 check I ve written to a political campaign, he said.

Since 1996, Ms. Perz has contributed nearly $12,700 to Ohio political candidates, according to the Ohio secretary of state s campaign finance database. The $2,500 contribution to the Taft campaign in 2002 dwarfs her next largest contributions, $1,000 each to Republican state Rep. Jon Husted and Republican state Sen. Randy Gardner.

Both Tom Noe and his wife, Bernadette, attended the May 10, 2002, fund-raiser for Mr. Taft and both contributed the maximum $2,500.

In February, former Taft aide Doug Talbott was convicted of three misdemeanor charges, including one of funneling Noe money into the campaigns of three Ohio Supreme Court justices in 2004.

Mr. Talbott, who managed the governor s appointments to state commissions until 2000, was found guilty and fined $3,960. He told investigators that he took a $1,960 check from Noe in 2004 and made contributions to Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, Justice Terrence O Donnell, and Judge Judith Lanzinger of Toledo in his own name.

Noe was chairman of Justice Lanzinger s successful campaign.

In addition to the conduit issue, the report indicates that Ms. Perz may have violated the state s conflict of interest laws.

At the time she took the $2,500 Noe check, she was lobbying for the University of Toledo, and Noe was a member of the Ohio Board of Regents.

Ms. Perz helped create Ohio s charter school laws and then helped to form what is now known as the Ohio Council of Community Schools, which her daughter, Allison Perz, now runs as its executive director.

Allison Perz also was identified as an alleged Noe conduit to the Bush campaign.

Sally Perz works for her daughter monitoring some of the charter schools sponsored by the council of community schools, which is based in West Toledo and oversees 45 charter schools statewide.

She was registered last year with the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee as a lobbyist for the council of community schools, White Hat Management, and several other charter school management firms.

The conduit news is the latest to evolve from the investigation of Noe, who faces more than four dozen other felony counts in Lucas County Common Pleas Court on allegations that he stole millions of dollars from two rare-coin funds totaling $50 million he managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation.

His trial in that case is scheduled for October. He is free on $500,000 bond.

Noe pleaded guilty in May to three federal charges related to the Bush fund-raiser and is awaiting sentencing, which could approach three years in federal prison.

Federal prosecutors have said that Noe gave money to friends and colleagues for the Bush fund-raiser because they either couldn t afford or couldn t attend the fund-raiser.

In her financial disclosure form covering 2003, when she received a $3,900 check from Noe, Ms. Perz listed her income at more than $272,000.

Of that amount, $100,000 was from the University of Toledo and $88,000 from her lobbying firm.

Staff writers Steve Eder and Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.

Contact Mike Wilkinson at: mwilkinson@theblade.com or 419-724-6104.



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