COLUMBUS - Prosecutors plan to file three misdemeanor charges against H. Douglas Talbott, a former high-ranking aide to Govs. George Voinovich and Bob Taft, for allegedly violating state ethics and campaign finance laws through his dealings with former coin dealer and Republican fund-raiser Tom Noe.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said yesterday that he and Columbus prosecutors will "move forward quickly" to file charges against Mr. Talbott but didn't know if it would be today or early next week.
Mr. O'Brien announced the pending charges shortly after the Ohio Elections Commission concluded that Mr. Talbott violated state campaign finance law by funneling money from Mr. Noe to three Republican state Supreme Court candidates. The commission voted 6-0 to refer the matter to the Franklin County prosecutor's office. If convicted, Mr. Talbott could face a fine up to $10,000.
Mr. O'Brien said prosecutors plan to charge Mr. Talbott for failing to disclose on his annual financial disclosure statement a $39,000 pay-ment he received from Mr. Noe in September, 2002. He left the governor's office in May, 2000, to become a lobbyist.
Mr. Talbott also will be charged with failing to disclose meals and other gratuities he received as a member of the "Noe Supper Club" - a group of Columbus insiders who accepted lavish dinners from the coin dealer at Morton's steakhouse, a popular upscale hangout for the politically connected.
It is a first-degree misdemeanor to falsify an ethics form, with a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
When Mr. Talbott worked for Mr. Taft as director of boards and commissions, Mr. Noe was appointed to the Ohio Board of Regents and the state's commemorative quarter committee.
Mr. Talbott, who lives in the Columbus suburb of Worthington, has said he took the $39,000 from Mr. Noe as a loan to help him purchase a home in the Ottawa County resort town of Lakeside. He was required to list the payment and the gratuities he received from Mr. Noe because Mr. Taft had appointed him to the state Board of Cosmetology.
Mr. Talbott, 41, did not attend yesterday's Elections Commission meeting and declined comment on the matter.
In a letter to the commission, Mr. Talbott's attorney, Roger Synenberg, wrote: "Mr. Talbott is not contesting the allegations set forth in the complaint and has no objection to the Ohio Elections Commission going forward with respect to this case." Mr. Synenberg declined further comment.
Yesterday marked the first time that the Elections Commission, since it became an independent agency 10 years ago, has found a campaign finance law violation involving a "conduit" - a person who takes money from a contributor who wants to evade individual contribution limits, Executive Director Philip Richter said.
"It's incredible, isn't it?'' said commission member Ben Marsh, a Maumee attorney, referring to the allegations that have swirled around Mr. Noe since The Blade in April, 2005, first reported problems with the state's failed $50 million rare-coin investment that Mr. Noe managed. "It goes on and on and on."
Mr. Talbott told investigators that he took a $1,960 check from Mr. Noe in 2004 and made contributions to Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, Justice Terrence O'Donnell, and Judge Judith Lanzinger of Toledo "in his own name, rather than in the name of the actual donor, Tom Noe,'' the complaint stated.
Using $1,040 of his own money, Mr. Talbott then wrote three $1,000 checks to the campaigns of Judge Lanzinger, Chief Justice Moyer, and Justice O'Donnell on July 25, 2004, from the bank account of his lobbying firm, Hurst Government Consulting.
Mr. Noe was chairman of Justice Lanzinger's successful campaign.
Mr. Talbott was among numerous Republicans called to testify in June, 2005, before a federal grand jury in Toledo investigating allegations that Mr. Noe illegally contributed to President Bush's re-election effort in October, 2003. Like other witnesses, Mr. Talbott contributed money to President Bush's re-election campaign with money from Mr. Noe and was not charged by the federal grand jury.
Mr. Noe, a former Toledo-area coin dealer, was indicted Oct. 27 on three felony counts related to the alleged laundering of $45,400 into the Bush-Cheney campaign. He has pleaded not guilty.
Mr. Richter said he expects investigators will file a complaint against Mr. Noe for using Mr. Talbott as a "conduit" for the Supreme Court contributions.
Under Ohio law, it is considered an unclassified misdemeanor to use a conduit to make a campaign contribution. The penalty is a fine of up to $10,000.
State Sen. Marc Dann, a Democrat from suburban Youngstown who has been a vocal critic of the Republican leadership's handling of the scandal, sent a letter to Mr. O'Brien yesterday asking him to use the Talbott case as basis for a more extensive investigation into political money-laundering on the state level.
"Doug Talbott could probably shed a lot of light on how this is done on a regular basis," Mr. Dann said. "If the only person to launder money into a Republican campaign is Doug Talbott on behalf of Tom Noe, then I'd buy everybody in the city of Toledo lunch."
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Prosecutors plan to file three misdemeanor charges against H. Douglas Talbott, a former high-ranking aide to Govs. George Voinovich and Bob Taft, for allegedly violating state ethics and campaign finance laws through his dealings with former coin dealer and Republican fund-raiser Tom Noe.