SHARI LEWIS Enlarge
COLUMBUS — Two years ago today the Ohio inspector general’s office reversed position and decided it would issue a final report of its investigation of the “Coingate” scandal that reached from Tom Noe’s office in Monclova Township to the governor’s residence in Bexley.
But no report has been released.
Noe, a former coin dealer and past chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, was sentenced eight years ago to 18 years in state prison for stealing $13 million from $50 million in rare-coin investments he operated for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
BLADE INVESTIGATION: The Coingate Scandal
The Southeastern Correctional Complex in Lancaster where Noe, 59, remains incarcerated is about 30 miles from the halls of state government where Noe once wielded influence, served on prestigious panels such as the Ohio Board of Regents, and was able to convince the state’s privately operated insurance fund for injured workers to make an unusual and now prohibited investment in coins and collectibles.
State law requires the inspector general to prepare a detailed report following each investigation. Traditionally, the report would be followed with the release of the transcripts of interviews conducted during the investigation.
But Inspector General Randall Meyer’s office this week continued its practice, since its reversal of position, of refusing to comment on when the Coingate report will see the light of day.
“Our policy is to not talk about investigations until after a report of investigation is issued,” Deputy Inspector General Carl Enslen wrote in an email. “No timeline has been set for issuance of the report of investigation.”
Sam Gresham, chairman of the government watchdog group Common Cause, said it is considering a lawsuit to try to force the inspector general’s hand.
“There’s a point where going back and complaining about the past means you’re not focusing on what’s going on right now,” said Common Cause’s Catherine Turcer. “And yet, if the inspector general gets away with not releasing reports as they’re required to do, what’s going to happen in future scandals?
“You always hope that serious problems and misdoings will be corrected, that there will be changes in the law, more oversight, and basic changes so that people can expect better,” she said. “I worry that we will, in fact, forget our history unless we actually correct this.”
Noe’s indictment followed a yearlong investigation by The Blade that discovered missing and stolen coins, massive mismanagement of the state coin-investment funds, and influence peddling.
Noe began his 18-year state sentence in December, 2008, after serving two years in federal prison for using several notable area Republicans to launder campaign contributions to the 2004 re-election campaign of then President George W. Bush. The two investigations overlapped.
Noe’s state conviction was upheld by the 6th District Court of Appeals in 2009, and in 2010, the Supreme Court of Ohio refused to grant a hearing on his appeal.
Toledo attorney Rick Kerger, who is handling Noe’s appeal, said Wednesday that he is still awaiting a decision by a U.S. District Court judge in Akron regarding Noe’s appeal to vacate his state conviction and seek a new trial. A further appeal will be filed, he said, if it’s denied.
The Noe scandal resulted in 19 convictions, including then-Gov. Bob Taft’s no contest plea to misdemeanor ethics charges for failing to report gifts, including Noe-connected golf outings. It marked the first criminal conviction ever of a sitting Ohio governor.
In 2011, as he was being named Gov. John Kasich’s director of public safety, outgoing Inspector General Tom Charles said the grand jury investigation had not been closed. A year later, Mr. Meyer’s office confirmed that nothing else would be coming out of the courts, but raised concerns that some of the files have been restricted through the grand jury.
It said at the time it would not issue a final report because no one directly involved in the investigation was left in the office to write it. A day later it reversed position but has been quiet since.
The Noe scandal swept Republicans from all but one nonjudicial statewide office. Not surprisingly, Chris Redfern, state Democratic chairman and state representative for Ottawa and Erie counties, wants to see what is in those files.
“The Coingate report is several years overdue if guided by the criminal indictments and prosecutions in the case,” he said. “The fact of the matter is Tom Noe sits in prison, and we don’t fully know the conspiracy that sent him there …
“There is no defense in delaying the issuance of this report,” Mr. Redfern said. “My fear is it’s going to be a whitewash, that it’s just going to sweep all of the facts under the rug.”
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.