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Published: Thursday, 5/26/2005

* Developing news * Artwork, autographs also purchased with Bureau of Workers Comp money; judge orders Noe to produce coins

BY STEVE EDER AND JAMES DREW
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

COLUMBUS In addition to investing in rare coins and real estate, prominent Toledo area Republican Tom Noe used state money to invest in autographs, paintings, and other collectibles, Mr. Noe s attorney told state officials.

When bureau fraud investigators entered Mr. Noe s office in Monclova Township yesterday, Mr. Noe s attorney informed them that the state owned investments including cards, autographs, paintings, and other collectibles, said Jeremy Jackson, the bureau s press secretary.

The bureau is trying to confirm that and if so, how much Mr. Noe s Capital Coin invested in the items.

Absolute outrage is how Mr. Jackson described the reaction of James Conrad, the bureau s administrator-CEO, that the Capital Coin Fund had invested in collectibles.

Mr. Jackson also coinfirmed that the bureau has discovered a $530,000 loan that Mr. Noe's fund made to an unknown person. The loan was secured with collectibles, he said.

Meanwhile, for a third consecutive day, Mr. Noe yesterday refused to show state fraud investigators who visited his headquarters any of the rare coins he says were purchased with $50 million in state money.

An official from the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation - the agency which gave him the money - said if Mr. Noe does not cooperate by 8 this morning, the bureau has asked the attorney general s office to take legal action so the bureau can have access to its assets.

On Monday, state fraud investigators attempting to take an inventory of the coins held at Mr. Noe s Monclova Township headquarters were turned away. They were refused entrance again Tuesday. They were allowed yesterday to enter the office, which houses Mr. Noe s Vintage Coins & Collectibles business, but were not shown any of the state s coins, said Jeremy Jackson, a spokesman for the bureau.

In our eyes, there is not one legitimate or compelling reason that we should not have access to our assets, Mr. Jackson said. We ve actually entered the facility, but each time we asked or attempted to see our coins, we were met with excuses or continued stonewalling and that is going to stop.

Mr. Jackson said to protect the state s assets, the bureau has instituted around-the-clock surveillance at the Monclova Township office. He said no suspicious activity had been detected as of last night.

We are not going anywhere, Mr. Jackson said. These are our coins.

The Blade first reported April 3 that the bureau has invested $50 million in Mr. Noe s rare-coin venture since 1998. The bureau is charged with paying the claims of injured workers.

Mr. Noe and his Ohio lawyer, Bill Wilkinson, did not return calls yesterday seeking comment.

Earlier this month, the bureau decided to dissolve the coin venture amid concerns about its management. As many as 121 state-owned coins valued at about $400,000 have been reported missing or stolen from the coin fund.

State fraud investigators said they gained entry to Tom Noe's Vintage Coins and Collectibles in Monclova Township but were not able to see any of the rare coins owned by the state. State fraud investigators said they gained entry to Tom Noe's Vintage Coins and Collectibles in Monclova Township but were not able to see any of the rare coins owned by the state.
LISA DUTTON / TOLEDO BLADE Enlarge

Mr. Noe has agreed to step down as the general manager of the coin funds after a successor is chosen.

A number of state officials and agencies, including Gov. Bob Taft, the inspector general, auditor, secretary of state, and Ohio Ethics Commission have called for investigations or audits into the coin fund, Mr. Noe, and people associated with the state s investment.

Additionally, Mr. Noe, a prominent Republican fund-raiser, is under investigation by the FBI for possible campaign-finance violations concerning contributions to the Bush re-election campaign.

Jen Detwiler, a spokesman for state auditor Betty Montgomery, who has called for a special audit of the coin fund, said yesterday the auditor s office had representatives at the Noe headquarters who were also stopped from inspecting coins.

We are concerned that the state has invested in coins and we ve yet to see any, Ms. Detwiler said. It s a big concern.

Acting on orders from Governor Taft to execute a complete inventory of coins owned by the state, investigators yesterday also converged upon locations in Sarasota, Fla., Broomall, Pa., and Evergreen, Colo., where Mr. Noe or his subsidiaries are holding state-owned coins.

Bureau officials were able to secure coins at a subsidiary office in Wilmington, Del.. The state-owned coins are in the process of being sent by truck to Columbus for review by the end of the week, said Mr. Jackson. He said state officials learned the coins were already boxed for a trade show in Atlanta, so the bureau decided to have the coins brought to Columbus rather than sending inspectors to Delaware.

Investigators were to begin the inventory process on Monday, but Mr. Noe s attorney, Mr. Wilkinson, advised the coin dealer to bar inspectors from the locations until his lawyers could be on hand during inspections.

The inspectors yesterday for the first time were allowed access to Mr. Noe s Monclova Township office, and the Pennsylvania office of Delaware Valley Rare Coin. On Tuesday - the same day the state sued Mr. Noe to gain control of the coin funds - inspectors were permitted to begin making an inventory of the coins held in offices in Evergreen, Colo., and Sarasota, Fla., with Mr. Noe s lawyers present.

Mr. Noe s Denver attorney, Dan Levin, said the inspection was running smoothly at the Colorado office. He said it was too early to tell if any coins are missing.

It s basically very cooperative, he said. Our clients really are being very cooperative from what I can see.

Mr. Levin said the inspectors appear to be meticulous and detailed in going over their inventory. He said employees in the Colorado office have been helping investigators place coins and understand their record- keeping system.

They are actively assisting the inspectors, Mr. Levin said. The inspectors don t know where everything is. Our clients are cooperating with them fully and showing them where everything is and going over each item with them.

Early yesterday, Mr. Jackson appeared confident that similar progress would be made at Mr. Noe s Ohio office.

We had every reason this morning to believe the reviews would go on accordingly, he said. In the other locations, things appear to be progressing at the expected pace.

But, in Mr. Noe s main office in Monclova Township, Mr. Jackson said investigators heard excuses that the inventory isn t fully prepared or we ll get [a coin] to you in a half hour.

Those [excuses] aren t going to pass muster anymore, he said.

Mr. Jackson said to the best of my knowledge he believed Mr. Noe could be found in contempt of Tuesday s court order requiring him to provide the bureau with reasonable access to the assets.

I believe it opens the door to more aggressive legal action, he said. We don t know what the logic is. But [today], we intend to have access to all of our coins.

Kim Norris, a spokesman for state Attorney General Jim Petro, said the state received word that Mr. Noe s Capital Coin will comply today with the inventory check at the Monclova Township site.

We are hopeful they will comply, but if they don t we are prepared to take immediate action, Ms. Norris said.

The attorney general s office believed it had legal access to all five sites where inventory is being held, Ms. Norris said. She cited a preliminary injunction that a Franklin County judge ordered on Tuesday that immediately froze the assets of the coin funds. On Tuesday, Mr. Petro asked Judge David Cain of Franklin County Common Pleas Court for an order to turn over complete control of the coin funds to the bureau.

The judge agreed, ordering Mr. Noe to stop selling, transferring, disposing of, or removing any of the assets of the coin funds without the state s permission.

But state Sen. Marc Dann, a Democrat from suburban Youngstown, said the attorney general sued Mr. Noe too late, and Mr. Petro should not have agreed to a preliminary injunction that Mr. Noe accepted.

If we had a real attorney general, we would be inside, blocking Noe out, Mr. Dann said.

Mr. Dann said the state should ask a judge to order the coin inventory held, either by using a receiver or letting the state take possession until legal issues are resolved.

They made a deal with Noe s lawyer about this inspection. Has it dawned on them that they have broken the deal? I m a dumb divorce lawyer from Youngstown. If one of [my] client s husbands had a rare coin collection, I d have control of it, he said.

Mr. Jackson said the assets of the coin fund would not be physically removed until the inventory is finalized.

The primary thing is making sure all the coins are accounted for, Mr. Jackson said. Once that process is completed, we ll move forward on figuring out how to marshal the assets and where to marshal them to.

Staff writers Christopher D. Kirkpatrick and Mike Wilkinson contributed to this report. Contact Steve Eder at: seder@theblade.com or 419-724-6728.



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