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May 31 date set for Noe to change not-guilty plea

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A federal judge in Toledo has set a date for Tom Noe to change his not-guilty plea in his campaign finance criminal case.

U.S. District Judge David Katz yesterday morning scheduled a hearing at 3 p.m. May 31.

On Wednesday, Mr. Noe indicated that he wanted to change his not-guilty plea on federal charges that he funneled more than $45,000 into the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in 2003.

Mr. Noe was allowed to contribute only $2,000 to the campaign.

One of Mr. Noe's Toledo attorneys, Jon Richardson, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

It is expected that Mr. Noe will plead either guilty or no contest to one or more of the three charges.

Federal sentencing guidelines allow for reduced sentences if the defendant accepts responsibility for the charges.

A greater reduction is possible if the defendant cooperates in other investigations.

Conviction on the charges carries a maximum 15 years in prison and a nearly $1 million fine.

Prosecutors allege that Mr. Noe funneled the money into the Bush campaign through 24 other people - "conduits" to whom he gave money so that they would attend a $2,000-a-plate fund-raiser in Columbus for President Bush.

There has been no indication that a plea in the federal case will have any bearing on the 53 felony charges that Mr. Noe faces in Lucas County. Those charges are related to his alleged theft or laundering of more than $3 million from two rare-coin funds that he operated on behalf of the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.

Mr. Noe has pleaded not guilty to all of those charges.

An Aug. 29 trial date has been set in that case.

Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates reiterated yesterday that a plea change on the federal charges does not mean there is a deal with her office.

She said county prosecutors are preparing for trial in their case.

Gov. Bob Taft told the Associated Press yesterday that he is "totally comfortable" that Mr. Noe has nothing more to say that could incriminate his administration.

A federal grand jury in Cleveland is hearing testimony and is reviewing evidence about broader problems within the investment department of the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.

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