A former high-ranking aide to Gov. Bob Taft has testified before the federal grand jury investigating presidential campaign contributions and Tom Noe, The Blade confirmed yesterday.
H. Douglas Talbott, a lobbyist and former aide to both Governor Taft and former Gov. George Voinovich, slipped quietly into the federal courthouse, unnoticed by local media.
Afterward, he would not discuss what he said to the grand jury.
"I can't disclose what I said. It's private. It's a secret proceeding," Mr. Talbott said.
Like the other witnesses who appeared Wednesday and again yesterday, Mr. Talbott contributed money to President Bush's re-election campaign. He gave $2,000. However, Mr. Talbott was the only witness to appear who was not from the Toledo area.
The Blade reported yesterday that Mr. Talbott said he accepted $39,000 from Mr. Noe so he could buy a home in Lakeside, Ohio.
Mr. Talbott said he accepted the money as a "loan" from Mr. Noe in September, 2002 - after leaving the governor's office in May, 2000, to become a lobbyist. Mr. Talbott said he has not repaid the money to Mr. Noe but plans to do so.
Yesterday, the grand jury resumed hearing testimony and heard from five other people, including Sally Perz, leader of the Lucas County Republican Party.
But Ms. Perz, in remarks after her two-hour appearance, tried to put distance between the local GOP and Mr. Noe, a long-time benefactor.
Ms. Perz, a former state representative, said Mr. Noe "has dragged all of us through this," referring to the burgeoning scandal regarding his coin business and campaign contributions.
"It saddens me, as chairman of the Republican Party, that we have to walk through this dark time," Ms. Perz said in a prepared statement.
She and her daughter, Allison, appeared before the grand jury. Their attorney, Barry Savage, said they cooperated fully with the U.S. attorney's office.
But Ms. Perz, who told The Blade months ago that she has done consulting work for Mr. Noe and who received campaign contributions from him, expressed disgust over recent events surrounding his failed coin investment for the state and the investigation into possible campaign finance violations.
"We are all being dragged through this, and it is very unfortunate," she said.
Allison Perz did not comment after appearing before the grand jury. She runs the Ohio Council of Community Schools, which includes 24 charter schools. Her mother was one of the creators of Ohio's charter school law.
In interviews with The Blade earlier this year, both Sally Perz and her husband, Joe, said Mr. Noe had nothing to do with the $2,000 that each gave to the Bush campaign on Oct. 30.
Mr. Perz was not called to testify, and it is unknown if Sally Perz repeated that assertion during her grand jury appearance, which is closed to the public.
David Bauer, the assistant U.S. attorney in the Toledo office, said little after the grand jury session ended yesterday. "The investigation is continuing," he said.
The grand jury next meets in early July, and it is possible that it could hear additional testimony or reveal other evidence related to the case.
Grand juries are convened to determine if there is enough evidence to indict an individual and can be used to gather information. In addition to the prosecutors, who control the sessions, the jurors themselves can ask questions and request information.
In addition to the Perzes, three others testified yesterday, including former Noe employee Susan Metzger.
Ms. Metzger was an office assistant at Vintage Coins and Collectibles. During the 2004 presidential campaign, she was the chairman of the Lucas County Bush-Cheney effort and in the past, she has been paid by the county Republican Party for consulting.
She declined to comment yesterday, except to say she is unemployed because the coin shop is closed. "Sue Metzger's looking for a job," she said before leaving the U.S. District courthouse.
Two unidentified local businessmen also testified yesterday. Their attorney, Jeff Zilba, said they wished to remain anonymous.
The U.S. attorney's office is investigating whether Mr. Noe broke federal campaign laws by giving money to others in order for them to contribute to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. City council member Betty Shultz and Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber testified Wednesday, as did former Toledo mayor Donna Owens. All are Republicans.
Ms. Thurber's husband, Sam, testified Wednesday as well, as did Joe Kidd, a former director of the Lucas County Board of Elections.
The witnesses contributed to the Bush-Cheney campaign in either October or November, 2003. Each contributed $2,000, except for Ms. Thurber and her husband, Sam, who each gave $1,950.
Investigators are reviewing the contributions, made to the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2003, and whether Mr. Noe was the source of those contributions. Many of the contributions occurred at or around a Oct. 30, 2003, fund-raiser in Columbus, which raised $1.4 million for the President's re-election campaign.
Federal campaign laws limit individuals to contributing $2,000 per candidate in each election. It is a violation of federal law to pass campaign contributions through another person to skirt individual contribution limits.
For years Mr. Noe has been a prominent player in both the local and state GOP. Like his wife, he is a former chairman of the county party. He and Ms. Noe have donated thousands of dollars to both local candidates and to the county party. The party still owes Mr. Noe $63,000 for loans made in 2002 and 2004.
It is unclear if or when those loans will be repaid.
Ms. Perz, who took over the chairmanship earlier this year, was asked how the current events will affect the party. "It strengthens it," she said.
Wednesday, Ms. Thurber also expressed anger with Mr. Noe, who she once said was "family" to her. She said she was "shocked, saddened, and deeply disappointed" with the turn of events.
Blade staff writer James Drew contributed to this report.
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