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Tom Noe, the once high-flying Republican financier who soared from college dropout to a millionaire coin dealer advising governors, was found guilty yesterday of stealing from the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation and using the cash to erase debts and to buy and furnish million-dollar homes.
Noe, 52, now faces at least 10 years in a state prison, a far cry from the waterfront homes that prosecutors said he acquired with the state's money.
The verdict came less than a week after a corruption-weary electorate swept the GOP out of power in Ohio.
The jury of eight women and four men passed a similar judgment on Noe, who spawned a scandal that tarred the Republican Party and contributed to the stinging defeat last week.
"It's a commentary on a system that hopefully we'll never see again. At least not in this state," said Lucas County Prosecutor Juila Bates.
Noe stood stoic and showed no emotion when the verdicts were read. He was immediately handcuffed and taken into custody by U.S. marshals so he could begin serving a 27-month federal sentence for illegally funding President Bush's re-election.
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Noe's wife, Bernadette, and his sister and brother-in-law consoled his daughters as they sobbed moments after Judge Thomas Osowik read the verdicts.
Ms. Noe showed no emotions as the verdicts were read.
The jury found Noe guilty on 29 counts, including the two most serious charges that trigger a mandatory 10-year sentence. All told, he could face a maximum of 72 years in state prison, although prosecutors doubt
Judge Osowik would impose such a sentence.
"He's certainly facing a significant amount of time," said Jeffrey Lingo, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor.
Jurors also agreed that Noe should forfeit more than $1 million in shares he held in a Florida coin-grading company.
He was acquitted of 11 charges, including money laundering and tampering with records.
His attorneys declined to comment after the verdicts.
With his conviction, Noe's fall from grace is complete. He entered the jail yesterday without a cent, bringing only a Rosary.
Less than two years ago he was the toast of Columbus, a go-to Republican heavyweight who had snared respected appointments to prominent government boards.
Once a regular at the ritzy Morton's steak house in Columbus, where he picked up the steak-and-wine tab for the aides of Gov. Bob Taft, Noe was a guest last night of the Lucas County jail, where dinner included a fried chicken patty, mashed potatoes - likely instant - corn bread, a brownie, and orange juice. The meal's cost: $1.09.
Sentencing for his crimes will take place on Monday.
After the verdict, Ms. Bates was flanked by a prosecution team whose work cost more than half-a-million dollars and tens of thousands of hours.
She called the team heroic, extracting the truth from more than a million pages of documents.
"I think justice was done and I think the citizens should feel their case was fairly and justly tried," Ms. Bates said.
After a little more than three weeks, 53 witnesses, and thousands of documents, jurors mostly agreed with the prosecutors' belief that Noe was a well-heeled crook who used his friends, family, and business associates to steal millions from the $50 million in coin funds he managed on behalf of the bureau.
The money was showered on homes and bought a boat and paid off hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
None of it was spent on coins, prosecutors said, and one witness said Noe claimed the coin fund money was "an ATM" he could tap at will.
But jurors found Noe not guilty of several charges and prosecutors said that showed they clearly took their job seriously and pored over the evidence.
While investigators had more than a year to sift through the evidence, jurors got a three-week crash course on Noe 101, Mr. Lingo said.
"It was a very intelligent jury, you could tell by the questions they asked," Mr. Lingo said. "They worked very hard."
As they entered the courtroom, the 12 jurors did not look at Noe; they looked serious, businesslike. Mr. Lingo noted the obvious. "You could see the strain on their face when you talk to them."
Although the jury declined to talk with reporters at the courthouse, one of them, Mark Kiel, said later in an interview that each of the 40 counts was discussed in detail.
One charge, the theft of more than $1 million that triggered the mandatory 10-year sentence, took almost a day.
"I think everybody had good views and points and debated very well," said Mr. Kiel, who lives in Springfield Township. "I think it was good. We went through a lot of documents making sure everyone was comfortable and sure."
Asked if jurors were able to quickly decide on certain charges such as the allegations of forgery, Mr. Kiel said: "There's not one count that we didn't go through in great detail."
Prosecutors told jurors that Noe kept two sets of books and that he used phony sales records to hide the thefts. They brought in a dozen coin dealers and collectors to tell jurors that those records were fraudulent.
All the while, they portrayed Noe as a man who took the state's money to buy million-dollar homes in the Florida Keys, on Catawba Island, and in Monclova Township and Maumee. He paid for landscaping, dock work, even Sea Doos with the state's money that was set aside for injured workers, prosecutors said.
And they brought in his co-defendant, Tim LaPointe, to tell them how it worked. Mr. LaPointe is a former vice president at Noe's Vintage Coins and Collectibles who faces his own trial next week.
He told jurors how he and Noe conspired to alter records to fool accountants checking out the viability of the coin funds and said he did it "for money and for Tom."
Noe's defense attorneys attacked Mr. LaPointe's credibility and made him a key component of their defense.
But Mr. Kiel said he felt Mr. LaPointe was "90 percent believable" and that the jury bought into most of his testimony. But he was not a deciding factor, he said.
"He was a piece of the puzzle, but he was definitely not the only piece," Mr. Kiel said. "He was no more important that any of the others."
Noe was found guilty of two theft counts, 18 forgery counts, four money laundering counts, four tampering with records counts, and one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, the most serious crime.
Jurors found him not guilty of seven money laundering counts and four counts of tampering with records.
The verdict marks the second time in less than two months that Noe was judged guilty.
U.S. District Judge David Katz sentenced Noe to 27 months in prison on Sept. 12 for violating federal campaign finance law. Noe illegally poured more than $45,000 into the re-election campaign of President Bush in 2003.
That same year Noe had secured a federal appointment as well: The Bush administration appointed him to the chairmanship of an important committee at the U.S. Mint.
When The Blade first reported the existence of the coin funds on April 3, 2005, Noe was a member of the Ohio Board of Regents, helping to set funding priorities for the state's public colleges and universities, and was chairman of the Ohio Turnpike Commission.
Within months, he would resign both posts, as well as the one at the U.S. Mint, as investigators converged on his business and began calling his acts criminal.
The investigation swelled, looking beyond Noe and finding a staggering $215 million hedge fund loss by bureau managers, and other investment losses at the bureau.
The scandal even found its way into the Governor's mansion. Gov. Bob Taft was found guilty of failing to report dozens of golf outings and gifts, some from Noe.
Several former aides to Governor Taft were found guilty for similar violations.
And in Akron, two stockbrokers are currently on trial for the alleged bribery of Terry Gasper, the same official at the Bureau of Workers' Compensation who was integral in helping Noe obtain his $50 million for the coin funds.
Over the last 18 months, Democrats have pounded their GOP brethren with Noe, claiming he was the symbol of a pay-to-pay culture that permeated the one-party Republican rule in Columbus.
He became a caricature for Democrats complaining about a "culture of corruption" in Ohio, a charge that was further inflamed by former U.S. Rep. Bob Ney's guilty plea for his connections to lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Democrats, led by Attorney General-elect Marc Dann, said the Noe and BWC scandal was proof that Republicans had put the state up for sale, creating veins of campaign cash for its supporters.
In fact, Noe's contributions, as well as those of other bureau money managers and brokers grew exponentially after the bureau radically changed its investment practices.
All told, Noe and his wife Bernadette have contributed more than $200,000 to candidates and GOP committees over the last 15 years - most of it after March, 1998, when he got the first $25 million.
At the time Noe got that money, he was living in a modest Waterville home with Bernadette.
A little over a year later they were building a 6,700-square foot home in Monclova Township.
By 2003, the Noes would build a million-dollar home on Catawba Island - again, prosecutors said, in part with hundreds of thousands of dollars that paid for landscaping, docks, even personal watercraft to play on. They began buying Florida real estate and now have a $5 million home in the Keys.
The Ohio General Assembly relaxed investment regulations on the bureau in 1997 and on March 31, 1998, the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation wired $25 million to Noe to invest in rare coins.
Prosecutors said the coin purchases themselves were rare. But within days of getting the first money, Noe began repaying debts to the bank and friends and associates.
With their verdict, jurors said they did not believe the defense that the thefts were loans and that he was entitled to use the money as he wished.
For the first time, Ms. Bates acknowledged that there were discussions with Noe on a possible plea agreement.
However, she said they happened before he was indicted and that he could not - or would not - provide useful information.
"As far as Mr. Noe was concerned, he was not of any assistance to us in terms of getting to the bottom of what happened," she said, with more than a dozen prosecutors and investigators standing around her. "The people who got to the bottom of what happened are standing here in front of you."
Then someone asked if Noe had tried to hide his crimes.
"Not good enough," Ms. Bates replied.
Staff writers Steve Eder, Meghan Gilbert, and Mark Reiter contributed to this report.
Contact Mike Wilkinson at: email@example.com or 419-724-6104.