COLUMBUS - Tom Noe's legal problems continued to mount yesterday as the Ohio Elections Commission referred him for possible prosecution for illegally funneling campaign contributions to at least one state candidate through former employee Susan Metzger.
The commission unanimously found that Noe violated election law by concealing or misrepresenting the source of campaign contributions.
By a 6-1 vote, it asked that the prosecutor in either Lucas County or Franklin County consider pursuing a formal criminal charge against the former Toledo-area coin dealer and GOP fund-raiser.
Noe is serving a 27-month federal sentence for illegally pouring more than $45,000 into the re-election campaign of President Bush in 2003.
"This is enough to show that Mr. Noe, as he did in the federal system, has funneled contributions to state candidates," said Rick Brunner, the attorney representing Marc Dann, who filed the complaint last year while he was a Democratic candidate for attorney general.
If convicted in the state campaign-funding case, Noe could face a fine up to $10,000.
The commission voted 4-3 to hold a full hearing on the alleged role of Ms. Metzger, Noe's former executive assistant. She is accused of serving as a conduit for campaign cash laundering to at least one state candidate. The commission expressed concerns about unsuccessful attempts to reach her under her married and maiden names. She did not attend yesterday's hearing.
The case against her is based largely on an article in The Blade in September in which Ms. Metzger admitted outside the Lucas County Courthouse to serving as a conduit for $5,000 of Noe contributions. There was, however, just one contribution made directly in Ms. Metzger's name, $250 to Betty Montgomery's unsuccessful campaign to return as attorney general.
"All we have is a newspaper article ...," said Noe's attorney, Craig Calcaterra.
Mr. Calcaterra had urged the commission to delay a decision in Noe's case, saying Noe's transfers from jail in Lucas County to federal prison facilities in Michigan, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Florida made it next to impossible for him to respond to allegations submitted by Mr. Brunner in February.
Those assertions claimed Noe used Ms. Metzger and others to funnel money to the campaigns of then-Gov. Bob Taft, Ms. Montgomery, Attorney General Jim Petro, Supreme Court justices, and other state candidates.
The commission declined to accept Mr. Calcaterra's argument and, given Noe's lack of response, accepted the assertions as admitted facts in the case against him.
"If you had a full pardon, would you have been able to get a hold of him?" asked Commissioner William Ogg, a Democrat.
"Absolutely," Mr. Calcaterra said.
Although he supported finding that Noe had violated election law, Chairman Martin Parks was the sole vote against referring the case for prosecution. He declined to reveal what other punishment he had in mind.
Later, he joined Mr. Ogg and William Mallory, a Democrat, in opposing holding over the Metzger case for a full hearing at a later date, most likely in August.
At Mr. Brunner's request, the complaint against the Montgomery campaign was dismissed. He noted the campaign did not appear to be aware of the scheme and returned the $250.
The 58 admissions of fact submitted by Mr. Brunner surrounded a series of admitted and alleged Noe conduits, including Ms. Metzger, local businessman Michael Boyle, former Taft aide Doug Talbott and his wife Susan, Noe's brother-in-law Joseph Restivo, former state Rep. Sally Perz and her husband Joe, former Toledo Mayor Donna Owens, former Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber, and former county elections director Joe Kidd.
All but Mr. Boyle, Mrs. Talbott, Mr. Restivo, Mr. Perz, and Mr. Kidd have been convicted of a crime related to Noe.
Mr. Calcaterra objected to the introduction of a deposition taken of Mr. Talbott, which he argued was old news and unrelated to Ms. Metzger's allegation.
"It's like they're saying, 'He's guilty of something, so he must be guilty of what I've accused him of,'•" he said.
Besides the federal campaign-financing conviction, Noe was sentenced last year to 18 years in prison for embezzling millions from an investment in rare coins he managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.
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