Tom Noe and his defense team were dealt a severe blow yesterday when a Lucas County judge rejected almost every attempt to winnow down the criminal charges the former local coin dealer faces.
Judge Thomas Osowik of Common Pleas Court denied defense motions to suppress evidence, drop charges, and force more information from prosecutors. He did agree to consolidate eight theft charges into one, dropping seven.
With the rulings, Noe now faces 46 counts of theft, forgery, money laundering, tampering with records, and racketeering. He was indicted on 53 counts and is accused of embezzling more than $3 million from rare coin funds he managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.
If convicted, the former Lucas County Republican chairman and prominent GOP fund-raiser still faces potentially dozens of years in prison. The racketeering charge - engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity - carries a 10-year minimum sentence. His trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 10.
"It definitely keeps us in the case, and now we're going to go forward with the trial," Lucas County prosecutor Juila Bates said. "This is very good."
Attorneys for Noe declined to comment.
Even when Judge Osowik sided with defense attorneys in his ruling, he still found in favor of prosecutors. While he agreed to consolidate the theft charges, he disagreed with Noe's attorneys and let stand another aggravated theft charge that is a first-degree felony and could bring a 10-year prison term.
If the judge had agreed with the defense team, the first-degree felony would have been reduced to a third-degree felony that carries a penalty of 1 to 5 years.
The decision was also a blow to the defense because third-degree felonies do not carry a "presumption of incarceration," and first-time offenders often do not serve time.
It is unknown whether the rulings will spur Noe's attorneys to discuss a plea bargain with prosecutors.
Ms. Bates has been cagey about any talks with Noe's defense team, but yesterday she reiterated her earlier claims that she would listen to anything defense attorneys have to offer.
"We're here every day, willing to discuss the case, willing to discuss the evidence," Ms. Bates said.
The Ohio General Assembly amended the state's criminal statutes in 2003 and made aggravated theft of more than $1 million a first-degree felony. Because prosecutors argued that Noe's crimes continued after the law changed, Judge Osowik agreed that he should face that charge.
The consolidation of the other theft charges are allowed under state law if the crimes occur in the defendant's "same employment, capacity, or relationship to another."
The defense said consolidation should apply because Noe's alleged crime was the by-product of his continued work for the Workers' Compensation bureau. Judge Osowik agreed, except for the first-degree felony.
As Ms. Bates and her team of prosecutors learned of the judge's ruling, several members of her office were traveling across the country pursuing evidence.
Ms. Bates said investigators were in Michigan, California, and New Jersey working on the case, although she declined to say more specifically what they were doing.
Noe's attorneys had asked Judge Osowik to suppress evidence found during a May, 2005, search of his business; to drop 16 counts because of statute of limitations claims; consolidate the nine theft charges, and force prosecutors to be more specific about what evidence they intend to use.
The judge rejected every request except the consolidation.
"The underlying theory is still there; the charges are still there," Ms. Bates said.
"It's clear the judge looked at this and took it apart piece by piece."
Noe is free on $500,000 bond pending his trial, which could stretch over two months. He is scheduled for a Sept. 12 sentencing in federal court for his conviction for illegally funneling more than $45,000 into the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.
Defense attorneys had hoped to suppress evidence in the Lucas County case by attacking the affidavit used to secure the search warrant.
But Judge Osowik, while agreeing in part to their argument, pointed out that some of the most "credible" evidence came from Noe's own attorneys, who had told state officials just prior to the search that there was a "shortfall" of between $12 million and $13 million. He denied the motion.
The defense also claimed that an internal audit of the Noe coin funds begun by Workers' Compensation bureau in 1999 should have triggered the clock on the six-year statue of limitations.
Judge Osowik denied the motion, however, ruling that the audit was raised on concerns about risk to the bureau's funds and did not suggest criminal wrongdoing.
Noe's team had also asked for greater detail on what evidence it would face at trial. The attorneys argued that they did not know enough about which of the 600,000 pages of records involved in the case would be presented and called it finding a "needle in a haystack."
But Judge Osowik rejected that motion too, ruling that Ms. Bates' office had pointed to numerous specific documents - including Noe's own bank records. Judge Osowik wrote that the prosecution has made the search "much less daunting and has distilled the pile to a manageable level."
Several other motions remain unresolved pending an Aug. 31 pretrial hearing, including a call to exclude some evidence at trial.
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