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Petro won't sue Lucas County GOP

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COLUMBUS - Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro has declined to sue the Lucas County Republican Party in order to recover $63,000 in loans made by Tom Noe, according to a letter from his office.

Mr. Petro wrote that Toledo lawyer Ben Konop, who made an initial inquiry on behalf of a local business, Tee Tops, has not "provided me with any evidence I could use in court."

"In reality, I have provided you with clear and convincing evidence that the transaction was a loan: the fact that it was officially classified as a loan by the party and that a portion of the money was repaid to Tom Noe by the party," Mr. Konop wrote in response to the attorney general.

Financial disclosures records - one titled "Statement of Loans Received" - made by the Lucas County Republican Party and filed with the county board of elections, were included with Mr. Konop's response.

The disclosures show that Mr. Noe extended a $40,000 loan on Oct. 22, 2002, and a $25,000 loan on Oct. 21, 2004, to the county party's candidates' fund. On Aug. 28, 2003, the party repaid $2,000 on the 2002 loan, county GOP records show.

Mr. Petro has accused Mr. Noe of stealing in excess of $4 million from the state's $50 million rare-coin investment from 1998 through this year.

In a June 23, 2005, letter sent to the county board of elections, the Lucas County Republican Party said that the loans were improperly approved by its former chairman, Bernadette Noe, Mr. Noe's wife. It said that Mr. and Mrs. Noe never intended for the loans to be repaid. The party reclassified them as contributions.

"Those are self-serving statements by current Lucas County Republican officials that are basically made with no reference to any legal authority," Mr. Konop said. "If you look at the timing of these reclassifications, it just so happens to be after the story about Noe broke."

The Blade first reported on April 3 that the state had invested $50 million in Mr, Noe's rare-coin funds, and about problems with the funds.

If Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell decides that the party received a loan, and not a contribution, Mr. Petro wrote that the money could be retrieved as part of his lawsuit against Mr. Noe and placed in an escrow account.

"We believe it's likely that Noe will be liable to the state for a large sum of money," said Mark Anthony, a spokesman for the attorney general. "We have an interest in securing all of his assets."

Mr. Konop, a former Democratic congressional candidate, noted that Mr. Petro and Mr. Blackwell are vying for the 2006 Republican gubernatorial nomination.

"The perception could be out there that this is because of political calculations, instead of looking out for the taxpayers and citizens of Ohio," he said.

Mr. and Mrs. Noe were not available for comment, according to their lawyers.

Contact Joshua Boak at:

jboak@theblade.com

or 419-724-6728.

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