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Published: Saturday, 11/12/2005

Feds identify local figures as conduits

BY MIKE WILKINSON AND JAMES DREW
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

An affidavit filed in April with the U.S. District Court in Toledo shows that Betty Shultz, a Toledo city councilman; Maggie Thurber, a Lucas County commissioner, and Donna Owens, a member of the Ohio Industrial Commission, took checks from Mr. Noe before writing their own to the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Ms. Owens is a former mayor of Toledo who served as state commerce director under Gov. George Voinovich.

The affidavit is the first evidence from federal investigators about who was involved in the money-laundering case.

It also reveals, for the first time, that prosecutors believed that Mr. Noe s wife, Bernadette, was involved.

In laying out its evidence, the FBI felt there was probable cause to believe that Mr. and Mrs. Noe had conspired to violate federal campaign-finance laws.

In one instance, Mrs. Noe was present when Mr. Noe exchanged checks for the fund-raiser, according to the FBI s affidavit.

All but one of the people identified in the affidavit testified before the federal grand jury that returned a three-count indictment against Mr. Noe late last month. He is charged with violating federal campaign-finance laws that could result in up to 15 years in prison and a fine of nearly $1 million.

Mrs. Noe was not indicted, and no one has indicated she will be. At the time of the donations, she was chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, a post her husband had held.

The U.S. Justice Department has said the Noe case is the largest campaign money-laundering scheme prosecuted since new campaign-finance laws were enacted by Congress in 2002.

The donations, allegedly given to attend an Oct. 30, 2003, fund-raiser in Columbus that generated $1.4 million for the Bush-Cheney campaign, helped propel Mr. Noe to the status of a Bush Pioneer, or someone who helped raise at least $100,000 for the campaign.

Ohio House Minority Leader Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island) yesterday called on Ms. Shultz to resign her Toledo council seat and said Ms. Thurber should consider whether the citizens of Lucas County could be better served.

Any elected official who knowingly participated in a scheme to funnel money into any campaign should resign immediately because they violated federal and state campaign-finance laws, he said.

There was a concerted effort not only to violate campaign-finance law but to do it in a way that they would not be caught. The devious nature of these allegations calls for the resignations of elected officials, he said.

In the week before the fund-raiser, Mr. Noe wrote 10 checks totaling $31,100 to the alleged conduits.

In two cases identified in the affidavit, Mr. Noe exchanged checks with the conduits on the same day, once meeting in a local restaurant.

Another unnamed conduit told investigators that he had attended seminars with Mr. Noe regarding campaign finance and that there was no way that Mr. Noe could not have known these transactions were illegal. He told investigators that both men knew it was illegal at the time they exchanged checks.

Toledo lawyer Jon Richardson, who is representing Mr. Noe, said he could not comment on the contents of the affidavit.

The affidavit has been sealed by the court since it was used April 27 to get approval to search Mr. Noe s former Maumee condominium that evening. It was the same day that Greg White, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, acknowledged that Mr. Noe was under investigation.

The affidavit also reveals that investigators believe Mrs. Noe s brother, Joe Restivo, was a super conduit who took money from Mr. Noe and gave it to two others who attended the Oct. 30, 2003, fund-raiser in Columbus.

Jerry Phillips, Mr. Restivo s attorney, said his client cooperated with the investigation and turned over records in response to a subpoena.

He was not asked to testify before the grand jury, Mr. Phillips said.

The federal investigation is one of several involving Mr. Noe. Ohio officials have said Mr. Noe has stolen millions of dollars from two rare-coin funds he operated for the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation, which invested $50 million with him, beginning in 1998.

The Blade was the first to report in April that the state had invested in the coin funds. Since then, Mr. Noe has been at the center of a scandal that has led to high-profile convictions and political turmoil.

In the affidavit, FBI Special Agent Thomas Pearson of the Toledo office told the court how he twice went through the couple s garbage outside their condo. Items found included computer printouts of legal statutes pertaining to election law and statutes pertaining to convicted felons holding public office.

Investigators sought the search warrant in order to obtain more records that may have been related to the donations, including computers.

Mr. Redfern, who decided not to seek statewide office next year, said he supports amending state law so that any elected official who is convicted of violating campaign-finance laws would be barred from running for office again.

Referring to the information about Ms. Shultz in the search warrant affidavit, Mr. Redfern said it was a shame that the voters didn t have this information as clearly as they will have it now.

On Tuesday, Ms. Shultz was re-elected to an at-large seat on Toledo City Council, finishing fifth.

Other notable people identified as receiving checks from Mr. Noe include Sally Perz, a former state representative, and Joe Kidd, who was the director of the Lucas County Board of Elections at the time.

Other conduits identified in the affidavit include Mike Boyle, a local businessman; Jeffrey Mann, a local jeweler; Phil Swy and Barton Kulish, co-workers of Mr. Restivo; Allison Perz, Sally Perz daughter; Sam Thurber, Ms. Thurber s husband, and Susan Metzger, Mr. Noe s executive assistant.

In the indictment, prosecutors said there were a total of 24 conduits to whom Mr. Noe gave $45,400. Several of them were identified after the affidavit was filed.

Contacted by The Blade yesterday, the alleged conduits or their attorneys declined comment.

The details contained in the affidavit contradict what some of the alleged conduits have told The Blade since early this year. When asked in April what she knew about the investigation, Ms. Thurber said she had no details.

I don t need Tom and Bernie to give me money to give to Bush, she said then.

Joe Perz, who attended the fund-raiser with his wife, Sally, told The Blade in April that Mr. Noe had nothing to do with their checks to the Bush campaign.

Bank records revealed in the affidavit show Mr. Noe gave Sally Perz a check for $3,900 on Oct. 23. She wrote a $4,000 check to the campaign the next day.

We ve sent donations to the President on our own, Mr. Perz said in April. Tom Noe had nothing to do with that.

Likewise, Ms. Shultz told The Blade that she used her personal funds to pay for the fund-raiser. Bank records show, however, that Mr. Noe wrote her a $1,950 check on Oct. 23; she wrote a $2,000 check to the campaign on Oct. 24.

She has repeatedly declined comment on the case.

In an interview with The Blade in December, when the newspaper was checking out rumors of a laundering investigation, Mr. Noe said he had given money to Mr. Kidd.

But he denied it was for a campaign contribution to the Bush campaign. He said he had given money to Mr. Kidd and his estranged wife many times over the years.

You don t know me very well. I m a very charitable guy, said Mr. Noe in the earlier interview. When I see someone who is down ... I help them out.

Staff writers Steve Eder and Joshua Boak contributed to this report. Contact Mike Wilkinson at:mwilkinson@theblade.com or 419-724-6104.



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