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Published: Tuesday, 8/16/2005

State set to spend an extra $645,000 on coin investigation

Bates Bates

COLUMBUS - The cost of the state's decision to invest in rare coins keeps rising for Ohio taxpayers, and it's not for a gold double eagle or a Morgan silver dollar.

The state auditor's office is set to spend an extra $645,000 on its investigation into the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation's $50 million investment with coin dealer Tom Noe.

The extra money - to help pay for a forensic accountant in Toledo and for the appraisal of more rare coins - adds to the estimated $6.5 million already spent unraveling the botched coin investment with Mr. Noe, a connected GOP contributor and a former chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party.

Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates, who is running a criminal investigation of her own into Mr. Noe and his rare-coin investments, was behind the request.

Ms. Bates' office needs help analyzing the 500 financial accounts and more than 2 million records her office has uncovered through subpoenas and grand jury testimony given in Toledo, she said.

She asked State Auditor Betty Montgomery for the accounting help from Crowe Chisek, a firm already working on a special state audit of the rare-coin investments.

In exchange, Ms. Montgomery's special audit will now include evidence from the normally sealed grand jury testimony and records from Toledo, Ms. Bates said.

"The only way to really find out what happened is to follow the money," Ms. Bates said. "We didn't feel it was something the Lucas County taxpayers should pay for. We'd have to hire someone, and it's pretty expensive to do."

The Ohio Controlling Board, a panel of lawmakers that reviews requests and releases money from the state budget, approved the additional money: $450,000 to pay Crowe Chizek (including $150,000 for Lucas County), and $195,000 for Sotheby's, the New York auction house hired to appraise the state's rare coins and to sell them.

State Sen. Ray Miller, a Columbus Democrat and a member of the controlling board, said the investigation was really more expensive than $6.5 million because the time that state employees spent dealing with the morass of coin deals and other investments that make up the defunct Capital Coin funds has not been factored.

John Weglian, the chief investigator for the Lucas County prosecutor's office who was on hand yesterday at the controlling board meeting, said the crush of records and newly found rare coins have snowed in his office and that professional accounting help was desperately needed.

He said that "after the barn was open" many investigators walked through and that coordination was required to deal with the complex records from the scandal, dubbed "Coingate" by Democrats.

"It's not the kind of task that lends itself to a quick resolution," he said.

Doug Lumpkin, chief operating officer for the auditor's office, said that rare coins at three new locations had been discovered and that more money was needed to retrieve and appraise them.

He would not give details, saying it was part of confidential information gathered during an investigation.

Ms. Bates also would not give any details about the new coins, but did say new information had been uncovered. She said she would not release it until the criminal investigation is complete.

"We are uncovering extra information all the time. I just think it's going to be a long, arduous process," she said. "There's so much information, so many years of documents and information."

Mr. Weglian said money cannot be legally recouped through a criminal investigation. But he said that a change to the state's racketeering law would take care of that.

"There is no remedy available on the criminal side for the purpose of recovering this money," he said.

"It's possible that the legislature might amend the state RICO statute."

The only state law that allows for recouping financial losses through a criminal investigation is an anti-gang statute, he said.

Contact Christopher Kirkpatrick

at: ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 614-221-1766.

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