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Published: Thursday, 4/7/2005

Noe awaits ethics ruling on role in UT start-up

BY MIKE WILKINSON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Tom Noe could resign from the Ohio Board of Regents depending on a ruling from the Ohio Ethics Commission regarding his role with a start-up company based at the University of Toledo, The Blade has learned.

Mr. Noe is vice president and an investor in Hi-Genomics LLC, a company formed to take advantage of the research of UT professors Steve Goldman and Sairam Rudrabhatla.

Mr. Noe, a local coin dealer and a prominent Republican, is also chairman of the Ohio Turnpike Commission.

The Blade has reported this week that Mr. Noe manages two rare-coin funds in which the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation has invested $50 million. Ohio Democrats have called for an investigation into the deal with Mr. Noe in part because of his role raising money for Republicans in the state.

Mr. Noe yesterday did not return a phone message seeking comment. But one of his attorneys, fellow Ohio Board of Regent James Tuschman, returned a call to The Blade.

Mr. Noe sent a letter Dec. 7 to David Freel, executive director of the Ohio Ethics Commission, requesting an advisory opinion, Mr. Tuschman confirmed. "He was aware of the situation and wanted to avoid even the appearance of impropriety," Mr. Tuschman said.

There has been no response yet from the ethics commission, he said.

Mr. Tuschman, a Toledo attorney, said he is among the lawyers who represent Thomas Noe Inc and the two Capital Coin funds.

Depending on the commission's answer, Mr. Noe told the commission that he may resign from the regents, step down as vice president of the company, or assign his "ownership interest" to a third party not under his control. His goal, he wrote, is to "prevent conflicts of interest."

Hi-Genomics is a company still in its infancy. Its method for rapid and efficient plant genetic engineering was developed by Mr. Goldman and Mr. Rudrabhatla. UT holds the patent to the method, and Hi-Genomics licenses the patent from the university.

The company delivered its first contract to an outside firm a month ago, but a nondisclosure agreement keeps the name of the customer in confidence. Mr. Goldman is the scientific adviser to Hi-Genomics, which leases space and equipment from UT.

Frank Calzonetti, vice provost for research, graduate education, and economic development, is aware of the request with the ethics commission. He said a university employee talked with a board of regents staff member about the issue.

The university passed rules governing the creation of start-up businesses based on university research. Under the rules, it would be a conflict if a member of the university's board of trustees was an investor, Mr. Calzonetti said, because the start-up company has a university licensing agreement that must be approved by the trustees.

But, it is unclear if that same conflict extends to the regents, who oversee Ohio's public colleges and universities.

Mr. Noe, a Republican, was appointed to the Ohio Board of Regents in 1995 to complete a vacated term and reappointed for a full nine-year term in 1999. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In his letter to the state, Mr. Noe said he is general partner in a partnership that owns 23 percent of Hi-Genomics and that he is a personal guarantor of a line of credit bank loan for the company. The company did not make money last year, Mr. Noe reported.

Attorney Peter Silverman is also an investor in Hi-Genomics. Mr. Silverman, a Democrat, is a member of the Toledo Board of Education and a longtime friend of Mr. Goldman. Mr. Goldman said he has known Mr. Noe for 15 years.

"Steve has developed an innovative technology," Mr. Silverman said. "I always urged him to go into business. Tom always urged him too."

If the business takes off, it could bring money to the university through its licensing and royalties agreement.

Mr. Goldman was a GOP candidate for state representative in 2004 but withdrew from the race against State Rep. Peter Ujvagi (D., Toledo). Mr. Ujvagi later defeated attorney Mike Goulding in the race.

Mr. Goldman is director of the plant science research center at the university while Mr. Rudrabhatla is assistant director.

Columbus Bureau Chief James Drew contributed to this story.

Contact Mike Wilkinson at:

mwilkinson@theblade.com

or 419-724-6104.



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