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Published: 6/27/2006

4 'conduits' are expected to be charged; Toledoans allegedly broke state ethics law on Noe gifts

BY MIKE WILKINSON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Four Toledo women - including two elected officials - are expected to be charged tomorrow with violating state ethics law for their roles in Tom Noe's scheme to avoid campaign finance limits.

Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber, Toledo City Councilman Betty Shultz, former Toledo mayor Donna Owens, and former state representative Sally Perz are expected to be charged with first-degree misdemeanors for failing to disclose gifts from Noe.

If charged and convicted, they face up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

Each of the women, along with 20 other people, received money directly or indirectly from Noe so they could attend a $2,000-a-plate fund-raiser for President Bush in October, 2003.

As elected officials, Ms. Thurber and Ms. Shultz were required to file disclosure forms with the Ohio Ethics Commission that listed their sources of gifts. Because both Ms. Owens and Ms. Perz were gubernatorial appointees, they too were subject to the ethics laws.

None disclosed the money from Noe.

Noe, 51, pleaded guilty in May to all three federal counts he faced for illegally laundering more than $45,000 into the Bush re-election campaign. Prosecutors said he had pledged to raise $50,000 for the President at the fund-raiser and then, when his friends either couldn't attend or couldn't afford the event, he began giving them money to go.

Noe faces between 24 and 30 months in prison and a substantial fine according to federal sentencing guidelines.

The four women are the only ones to face legal repercussions for accepting Noe's money. Attorneys for the alleged conduits have said their clients were given immunity from federal charges because they cooperated with the Noe investigation.

For the women, however, the deal with the U.S. Attorney's Office did not protect them from Ohio ethics laws.

Other alleged conduits include Ms. Perz's daughter, Allison, Noe's brother-in-law, Joe Restivo; two former aides to Governor Taft, and other political and social friends.

Lynn Grimshaw, a special prosecutor assigned to the case, is expected to file the charges tomorrow morning, municipal court administrator Pamela Roberts said.

A 2 p.m. hearing on the charges is scheduled for tomorrow before visiting Judge Mark Reddin of the Bowling Green Municipal Court.

Mr. Grimshaw said yesterday he intends to be in Toledo today and in court tomorrow. However, he said he could not say exactly what will happen. He said he was still talking with the women's attorneys yesterday.

"Something's going to happen [tomorrow]," he said. "I can't say for sure what."

Both Ms. Shultz and Ms. Owens acknowledged they'll be in court tomorrow. But neither would say how they would plead or what they expected to happen.

"I can't tell you until we go to court," Ms. Owens said.

Ms. Perz and Ms. Thurber could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Grimshaw was appointed by Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates to handle the case because Ms. Bates' office represents Ms. Thurber in her capacity as a county commissioner.

Gene Zmuda, presiding judge of Toledo Municipal Court, said Mr. Grimshaw had asked the court to allow him to file charges against the women. Because of a potential conflict of interest involving Ms. Shultz, who, as a city councilman, oversees the court's budget, Judge Zmuda asked the Ohio Supreme Court to appoint a visiting judge. The court picked Judge Reddin.

The ethics charges mirror those leveled against several gubernatorial aides and the governor himself. Gov. Bob Taft was found guilty last year of failing to disclose more than four dozen free golf outings and other gifts from lobbyists and businessmen, some from Noe.

A Franklin County judge fined the governor $4,000 and ordered him to write a letter of apology to the citizens of Ohio.

Mr. Taft's former chief of staff, Brian Hicks, was convicted in July for failing to disclose below-market rate vacations he took in 2002 and 2003 at Noe's home in the Florida Keys. Mr. Hicks was fined $1,000 for not disclosing the gifts from the coin dealer.

Noe still faces more than four dozen other felony counts in Lucas County Common Pleas Court on allegations that he stole millions of dollars from two rare-coin funds totaling $50 million he managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation. His trial is set for October.

He is free on $500,000 bond.

Contact Mike Wilkinson at:

mwilkinson@theblade.com

or 419-724-6104.



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