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Published: Sunday, 5/15/2005

Toledo-area coin dealer counted on GOP ties to bolster business

BY MIKE WILKINSON
AND JAMES DREW
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

In the last six weeks, the world of Toledo-area coin dealer Tom Noe has been turned upside down.

First, The Blade reported details of the state s $50 million investment in Mr. Noe s rare-coin business, triggering an avalanche of unwanted publicity for the prominent Republican fund-raiser.

Then, just two weeks ago, the U.S. attorney s office in Cleveland confirmed that Mr. Noe is facing an FBI investigation for possible violations of campaign-contribution laws.

On Monday, after weeks of fresh reports that raised new questions about the investment sparked an Ohio inspector general investigation, the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation decided to dissolve its seven-year, rare-coin deal with Mr. Noe.

And Tuesday, Mr. Noe resigned from coveted positions on the Ohio Board of Regents and the Ohio Turnpike Commission.

Long a force in Republican politics, Mr. Noe no longer has a state contract or the cachet that comes with gubernatorial appointments. He and his wife, Bernadette, like her husband a former chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, have put their Maumee condominium up for sale and reportedly are looking to leave the Toledo area.

But few doubt that Mr. Noe, who declined to be interviewed for this story, will recover.

If they want proof, they just have to look back a little more than a dozen years when he rebuilt his life from the depths of personal and financial despair.

Mr. Noe, with employee Kevin Savage in 1995, has bounced back from personal and business turmoil in the past. Mr. Noe, with employee Kevin Savage in 1995, has bounced back from personal and business turmoil in the past.
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Back in September, 1992, Thomas W. Noe s world was rapidly changing.

His previous marriage failing, Mr. Noe decided to move out of his $800,000 custom-built home in Sylvania Township and into a modest West Toledo apartment.

It was a mighty fall.

Just a few years earlier, Mr. Noe could boast of a net worth of $2.4 million, and his coin business had more than $6.4 million a year in sales. By 1992, a year after his business had suffered what he called a huge loss, he figured he was more than $16,500 in debt.

As Mr. Noe tried to support a lifestyle that didn t match his income, the financial strain was crushing.

I was liquidating assets as quickly as I could to appease banks so they wouldn t foreclose on myself and my business, he testified during divorce proceedings.

Despite the tough times, he continued to find money to give to politicians and others.

In 1991 and 1992 combined, court records show, Mr. Noe sent $29,200 to GOP politicians or the Republican Party and nearly $11,000 to charities.

Those contributions raised the eyebrows of Jude Aubry, the attorney representing Mr. Noe s estranged wife, especially since Mr. Noe had stopped paying the lease on her car.

But Mr. Noe made it clear that he felt they weren t frivolous expenses.

He viewed the contributions just like his 1992 elevation to chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party and his volunteer work on various boards.

They were, he said, essential to his coin business. The political and volunteer work put him in contact with people who would buy coins from him.

At one point in his divorce, Mr. Noe was asked by an attorney if his chairmanship of the county Republican Party had enhanced his business.

He had a blunt answer in his sworn testimony: I think it s kept me alive.

In 1993 court testimony, he identified two of his new, politically connected clients: Paul Mifsud and Vince Panichi.

Mr. Mifsud was chief of staff for then-Gov. George Voinovich. Mr. Panichi was the governor s campaign treasurer. The two, Mr. Noe said, had introduced him to other party chairmen in northeast Ohio who control a lot of money.

Over the next 12 years, Mr. Noe would meet more people and make more connections. In time, he would convince the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation to invest $50 million with two rare-coin funds that he controlled.

Tom Noe and his wife, Bernadette Noe, now own this $1.85 million, 4,800-square-foot home in the Florida Keys. Tom Noe and his wife, Bernadette Noe, now own this $1.85 million, 4,800-square-foot home in the Florida Keys.
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His tiny apartment near Westgate and its rented furniture are just a faint memory: Mr. Noe and his wife, Bernadette, now own a $480,000 condo overlooking the Maumee River in Maumee; a $600,000 cottage in Ottawa County s Catawba Island Township, and a $1.85 million, 4,800-square-foot home in the Florida Keys. The couple is building a $150,000 addition to the home in the Keys, which has a pool and waterfall.

He is a member of Inverness Club, golfs with the governor, entertains U.S. senators, and rubs elbows with the richest and most powerful people in the country. He even helped elect President Bush and received his praise.

Mr. Noe s life story is an oft heard one of how an ambitious college dropout combined his gregarious personality and street-hewn business savvy with a knack for meeting the right people with the right money.

But it is also a story of how charity and politics became a core business itself the business of being Tom Noe.

Former Toledo Mayor Donna Owens, with Mr. Noe at a 2004 event, introduced him to the head of the Bureau of Workers' Compensation in 1996. The state coin deal followed in 1998. Former Toledo Mayor Donna Owens, with Mr. Noe at a 2004 event, introduced him to the head of the Bureau of Workers' Compensation in 1996. The state coin deal followed in 1998.
MORRISON / BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

Kermit Stroh remembers Mr. Noe as a political up-and-comer.

Both were on the Bowling Green State University Board of Trustees when Mr. Stroh marveled at Mr. Noe s energy.

He would go places, Mr. Stroh thought. He had a handshake for everyone, boundless energy, and ambition.

He hasn t got a lazy bone in him that I know. He s got a lot of entrepreneurial spirit. He s around. He knows a lot of people, Mr. Stroh said recently. Tom Noe he s outgoing, you can t miss him, when you put all those things together.

It was the same energy that drove Mr. Noe to get involved raising money for his Catholic parish in Sylvania and to sit on Catholic University of America s fund-raising board of regents.

Simply put, Mr. Noe said his community involvement is good business. I think the more I give, the more I get back, he told a young entrepreneurs group in 1993.

That attitude and a proven ability to raise money made him popular. He s been invited to sit on numerous boards, helping raise money and shape strategic decisions.

His list of boards is impressive: Catholic University, Lourdes College, Bowling Green State University, the Ohio Board of Regents, the Ohio Turnpike Commission. Locally, he has helped numerous groups, from St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center s foundation to Central City Ministries.

Mr. Noe is known to take his volunteer work seriously, devoting hundreds of hours a year. He digs right in to the issues, said Mike Beazley, who worked with Mr. Noe on the Bishop s Council on Education, which studied how to best support Catholic education in the Toledo Diocese.

There are always people on boards who aren t actively involved in leadership, said Mr. Beazley, a longtime Democrat who is the Lucas County administrator. Tom was active in leadership.

The board meetings, Mr. Noe told the young entrepreneurs in 1993, created business opportunities. For someone who had moved to Toledo from Florida in 1981, he needed those doors opened.

So I got involved in all these, Mr. Noe told the group, and this is really how I built my client base. I had no clients when I moved to Toledo, and now I have about 700 clients in the northwest Ohio area that I deal with.

That s one of the reasons why I ve always been pretty successful raising money because I actually take my client base and I m not afraid to go ask them for money, he told the group.

But Mr. Noe s testimony during his divorce proceedings cast his activities in a different light.

Certain boards, he said, did not help build his business.

I just felt that I was on too many boards at the time, and some of the boards that I was on were not really giving me the type of client base and introduction to people that I wanted to have, he testified.

And so I made a conscious decision to just concentrate on the ones that I felt could help my business the most, he said.

Tom Noe, at a Bowling Green State University basketball game in 1996, is an avid fan of the Falcons. In the past, he has turned to contacts at the school with a rare-coin proposition. Tom Noe, at a Bowling Green State University basketball game in 1996, is an avid fan of the Falcons. In the past, he has turned to contacts at the school with a rare-coin proposition.
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Long before Mr. Noe was appointed a trustee at Bowling Green State University by former Governor Voinovich, the Bowling Green native was a wide-eyed fan of everything orange and brown.

Although he would only attend BGSU for two semesters, Mr. Noe is one of the school s biggest fans, turning up at all sorts of campus and sporting events. In time, he would get to know the well-heeled on campus. And, in time, he would convince them to invest in his rare-coin business.

John Laskey, a former BGSU trustee, was among a group of people whom Mr. Noe sold on rare coins.

Through his BGSU contacts and friendships, Mr. Noe pulled together potential investors to pitch a syndicate, like a mutual fund, that would hold rare coins as an investment, Mr. Laskey said. Mr. Noe was trying to raise $250,000 to start the fund, and each of the investors gave $25,000, he remembered.

I was going to be a big shot and diversify my funds. I knew Tom, and at that time, a bunch of us went over and we all got notes at the old Capital Bank, he said. Each of us threw in $25,000.

At the time, Mr. Noe wasn t on the board of trustees, which he would join in 1991.

After four or five years in the investment, Mr. Laskey decided he wanted his money back.

I said, Hey Tom, where s the $25,000? And he got it back to me. It took him awhile, he said, saying Mr. Noe seemed OK with the decision. He would never let you know he was nervous; he laughs everything off.

Mr. Laskey, a Perrysburg resident who sold his Port Lawrence Title and Trust Co. in 1988 to focus on land development, said he didn t lose money nor did he make any. He said he would not invest in rare coins again.

Unlike managers who claim they have knowledge about certain investments and really do not, Mr. Noe understands rare coins, Mr. Laskey said.

I didn t know anything about coins; you did it as a friend. A guy comes to you and says, Hey, I got this deal. I always liked Tom.

Mr. Stroh, 72, the former BGSU trustee, can attest to Mr. Noe s sales pitch. He bought $5,000 worth of coins from him, a deal struck after they met at the university.

The Wapakoneta Republican chooses his words carefully to describe his coin investment with Mr. Noe. He didn t lose much money; he didn t make any, either.

It s a different type of an investment. It s just like everything else; some things are for one person and some things are for another, he said. With the rare coins, or anything else, it takes someone who understands that.

Tom and Bernadette Noe, at an inaugural ball in Washington earlier this year, have made more than $200,000 in political contributions over the last 15 years. Tom and Bernadette Noe, at an inaugural ball in Washington earlier this year, have made more than $200,000 in political contributions over the last 15 years.
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Besides rare coins and Falcon sports, Mr. Noe has another passion politics.

Born into a Bowling Green family headed by a Democrat and union member, Mr. Noe eventually became a self-deprecating Republican who appreciated his underdog status as chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party.

But underdog or not, Mr. Noe wanted the party to secure a higher profile.

Jim Seney, the former Republican mayor of Sylvania, said Mr. Noe recognized a glaring problem: Lucas County Republicans weren t raising money the right way. Five people would have five fund-raisers, diluting their impact.

He helped draft a better strategy by combining forces. Soon, Lucas County was putting up big numbers from fewer fund-raisers.

The effort was rewarded. More Lucas County Republicans including Mr. Noe got appointed to state boards.

It s put the Lucas County area ... in there with the rest of the state, said Mr. Seney, now executive director of the Ohio Rail Development Commission.

In addition to hosting fund-raisers and asking others to give, Tom and Bernadette Noe personally have contributed more than $200,000 to local, state, and federal candidates, parties, and political action committees over the last 15 years.

If you re a hitter, they pay attention, Mr. Seney said. And Tommy s a hitter. And a good one.

Folks in Columbus took notice. In time, Mr. Noe would be appointed to the boards of Bowling Green State University, the Ohio Board of Regents, and the Ohio Turnpike Commission.

And all that time and money would put Mr. Noe in contact with people like Mr. Mifsud and Mr. Panichi.

And, The Blade has learned, Mr. Noe has loaned $65,000 to the Lucas County Republican Party over the last three years, helping it remain viable in the run up to last year s presidential election.

The party has only paid back $2,000, records show.

Mr. Noe s fund-raising work on behalf of President Bush has garnered him the coveted status of a Bush Pioneer, which introduces him to a new group of potential clients.

When asked back in 1993 about his acceptance of the chairmanship of the county party, Mr. Noe testified in his divorce about how it helped his coin dealing.

It gives me additional credibility, Mr. Noe testified. And it also opens doors that I couldn t get into; it would enhance my business.

Tom Noe faces state and federal investigations and the liquidation of two state coin funds. Tom Noe faces state and federal investigations and the liquidation of two state coin funds.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

Mr. Noe has many friends in Columbus, and at times, he likes to treat them to dinner.

He often takes them to the wood-paneled Private Boardroom at Morton s steakhouse, where the bartender knows Mr. Noe by name, the waiters wear black, and everything is top shelf.

It s a culinary destination in Columbus, where corporate and political clients can easily spend $100 on a meal for one, with appetizers up to $19 and steaks running $34 on up. It s all a la carte, meaning a $34 steak buys only the steak. Vegetables, potatoes, salad, each carries its own price, and its adds up.

Inside the business, set near the Capitol on Front Street, Mr. Noe would host what unofficially became known in Columbus power circles as the Noe Supper Club, an occasional event, by several accounts, steeped in expensive steaks, flowing drinks, and large tips. In the board rooms, adorned with paintings, Mr. Noe would pick up the tab.

Brian Hicks, Gov. Bob Taft s former chief of staff, said he knew about the meals. He said he did not attend but knew that one of his longtime aides did.

Monica Caraway, who handles reservations at Morton s in downtown Columbus, confirmed that Mr. Noe has been one of our clients. She said she did not know how many times Mr. Noe had rented one of the two private rooms each can seat 36 people.

For Mr. Noe, politics and food have often mixed.

It was during a 1996 lunch set up by former Toledo Mayor Donna Owens that Mr. Noe first met James Conrad, administrator of the Bureau of Workers Compensation, which manages an $18 billion fund that helps protect injured workers.

Ms. Owens and Mr. Noe had known each other for years: During her bids for Toledo mayor in the 1980s, Ms. Owens could rely on financial help from Mr. Noe. He donated $6,400 combined in her 1985, 1987, and 1989 races.

In 1996, at the time of the lunch, Ms. Owens was director of the state Commerce Department and one of Mr. Conrad s peers in the Voinovich administration.

Mr. Conrad said Ms. Owens arranged the meeting because she felt there was an individual that I should get to know from the Toledo area.

With a 1996 change in state law, the bureau could invest its reserves in a broader range of investments.

The trio talked about Toledo, Mr. Conrad said. And I am sure, although I can t be specific, the fact that he had a coin fund came up at that time, he said.

Did he express interest in doing business with the bureau?

I would assume that he did. Again, that was nine years ago. I don t really remember the conversation in detail, he said. It was not a memorable event for me.

Mr. Noe confirmed to The Blade that the meeting was set up by Ms. Owens. She declined comment last week, citing the ongoing FBI investigation of Mr. Noe.

More than a year later, in December, 1997, Mr. Noe made his pitch for a bureau-funded coin investment. On March 31, 1998, it was approved by Mr. Conrad, and the first $25 million was sent by wire transfer from the state to Mr. Noe s coin fund.

Although his signature is on the deal, Mr. Conrad said he did not push for it. His investment advisers vetted the proposal and acted appropriately, he said, and politics had nothing to do with the decision.

Although he said he was leery of Mr. Mifsud the former governor s chief of staff who also knew Mr. Noe from earlier dealings with him, Mr. Conrad said he is unaware if Mr. Mifsud worked behind the scenes to help Mr. Noe.

Mr. Mifsud, who served as the governor s chief of staff from 1991 to 1996, pleaded guilty in 1997 to two misdemeanors: obstructing official business and an ethics violation.

He spent six months in a prison work-release program after pleading guilty to accepting a home-improvement project at a cut rate from a contractor who had received millions of dollars in unbid state contracts.

When The Blade asked Mr. Noe in March whether he had talked with Mr. Mifsud, who died in May, 2000, about the proposal, he replied: No. Go ahead, call him.

At the time the bureau awarded Mr. Noe the money, Mr. Mifsud was no longer working for the governor.

Few people who meet Mr. Noe forget him. He is always in motion, always talking. He s the guy at football games who s always suggesting what the next play will be.

You know, he s a B.S.-er; he s a promoter. He loves the action, said Mr. Laskey, the former BGSU trustee. He wants to be a player.

But the next chapter in Mr. Noe s riches-to-rags-to-riches story is unclear.

No longer on the turnpike commission or the board of regents, Mr. Noe said he has chosen to focus on his personal and professional life.

He s still attending coin shows. At a show last week in St. Louis, he ran into a friend and former mentor.

Jim Halperin, a fellow coin dealer, hired Mr. Noe back in the mid-1970s to work at his Boston-area coin shop. He remembers the Ohio native as someone with supreme confidence who helped him build his New England Rare Coins into a big enterprise.

He had tremendous energy and people skills, Mr. Halperin said in an interview from his Dallas office. And he is a smart guy.

What awaits Mr. Noe is considerable: A federal investigation, a state investigation, and the forced liquidation of the two state coin funds totaling $50 million. The strain has been apparent on him and his wife, who has sent out e-mails to friends asking them to pray for her husband.

But Mr. Halperin said his former employee is holding up. They only fleetingly talked about his current situation in St. Louis.

He s an upbeat kind of guy, Mr. Halperin said, and he s handling it better than most people would.

Martin Holmes, who represented Mr. Noe in his 1993 divorce, said his former client is a resilient man who has lent assistance to many people and causes.

I hope that he bounces back, he said. He s a good man.

Blade staff writers Christopher D. Kirkpatrick and Steve Eder contributed to this report.

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



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