COLUMBUS — The Blade filed a lawsuit with the Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday to force the state inspector general to release his report of the “Coingate” scandal, nine years after the investigation began and six years after its last prosecution.
The lawsuit noted it has been two years since Inspector General Randall J. Meyer’s office reversed position and announced it would complete the report after initially saying it would not. It also says that annual reports issued in recent years by the office have stopped mentioning any ongoing investigation of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
The job of inspector general is appointed by the governor, and in this case, Mr. Meyer was appointed by then Gov.-elect John Kasich on Dec. 29, 2010. His term coincides with the governor’s.
The inspector general serves at the pleasure of the governor and could be removed at any time after he is given written notification. When a new governor is elected, that person may choose to keep the inspector general in his job or replace him.
In December, 2008, former Toledo-area coin dealer Tom Noe, 59 — now Ohio “Inmate A589407” — began serving an 18-year sentence for stealing $13 million from $50 million in rare-coin and collectibles funds he operated for the state-run insurance fund for injured workers.
“There can be no doubt that [the inspector general’s] investigation of the Noe-related investments and ancillary matters is now complete and that it has been complete for the past several years,” reads the lawsuit filed for The Blade by Toledo attorney Fritz Byers. “Nor can there be any doubt that [the inspector general’s office has] failed to ‘prepare a detailed report’ of the investigation as required by [state law],” the suit reads.
Noe, a former Lucas County Republican Party chairman, is incarcerated at the Southeastern Correctional Complex in Lancaster, Ohio, on theft and other convictions from 2006 related to the BWC scandal. He previously served two years in federal prison for illegally laundering campaign contributions, through several notable area Republicans, to the 2004 re-election campaign of President George W. Bush.
Noe continues to try to overturn his state conviction, with his latest appeal in U.S. District Court in Akron.
The inspector general’s office declined to comment.
“I will wait for the court’s action on the matter and defer any comment until there is a legal resolution, and the report of investigation is issued,” Deputy Inspector General Carl Enslen responded in an email.
The lawsuit notes that in February, 2012, Mr. Meyer’s office indicated no final report would be issued because no one directly involved in the investigation was left in his office to write it. The office also indicated all investigation-related court proceedings had ended.
The inspector general at the time of the investigation was Tom Charles, who in 2011 became Governor Kasich’s director of public safety. He is now working with JobsOhio, the private, nonprofit economic development corporation.
Soon after stating it would not issue a Coingate report, Mr. Meyer’s office reversed position in 2012 and said it would complete and release the report after all. Two years later, it remains quiet as to when that will happen.
The Blade submitted a public-records request on Jan. 23 for the final report and for a legally mandated “fiduciary review” of the BWC investments referred to in the inspector general’s 2006 annual report.
The government watchdog group Common Cause separately submitted a public-records request last week, asking for documents to “confirm that your office is working to issue the report” as well as a list of all individuals interviewed during the investigation.
The Blade’s lawsuit contends these reports are public records and, if they have not yet been completed, the office is in violation of its legal duty. It asks the high court to order the documents' release or, alternatively, to order the office to complete them and make them publicly available.
“I guess I won’t be introducing the legislation I had drafted to require it to be completed by Dec. 31 of this year,” said state Rep. Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island), who chairs the Ohio Democratic Party. “I suspect the inspector general will pay a little more attention to the will of the people than he will mine.
“This kind of attention is long overdue,” he said. “It’s the obligation of this inspector general and any inspector general to meet the letter and standards of the law.”
The Ohio Republican Party said it is not involved in the legal matter and declined to comment.
There were 19 criminal convictions associated with the scandal, which stemmed from The Blade’s 2004 and 2005 investigation of fraud, mismanagement, and influence peddling by Noe at the BWC, within the governor's office, and throughout state government. Then-Gov. Bob Taft in 2005 became the first sitting Ohio governor to be convicted of a crime when he pleaded no contest to four misdemeanor ethics violations for failing to report gifts, including Noe-related golf outings.
Following the scandal, Republicans lost every statewide, nonjudicial elected office in 2006 except for one — auditor of state.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.