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Published: Friday, 9/1/2006

Penalty rises for 4 GOP campaign conduits

BY MIKE WILKINSON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Turns out, there really isn t such a thing as a free lunch. Or even a deeply discounted one.

The four Republican women who accepted Tom Noe s money in order to attend a $2,000-a-plate luncheon fund-raiser for President Bush in 2003 will have to pay far more to pick up the final tab.

In addition to the $1,000 fines they faced for violating state ethics laws, The Blade has learned that Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber, Toledo City Councilman Betty Shultz, former Toledo mayor Donna Owens, and former state representative Sally Perz will each have to pay $4,125 for their share of the $16,499 cost to investigate them.

Judge Mark Reddin of Bowling Green accepted their pleas in June in Toledo Municipal Court and fined each $1,000. But he also ordered them to pay the cost of the investigation.

With the penalty total rising to $5,125 each, the women now face a stiffer punishment than Gov. Bob Taft or any of his four former aides who were all found guilty of similar ethics offenses stemming from their relationships with Noe.

It is so frustrating because you want the kind of penalties that make it so clear that this should never ever happen, said Catherine Turcer, legislative director for Ohio Citizen Action, a public policy advocacy group. Clearly, you need to get the message that money laundering is wrong, but so were the other ethics violations.

Governor Taft was fined $4,000 for failing to file complete ethics-disclosure statements. Prosecutors said he failed to disclose dozens of golf outings and gifts he received from lobbyists and businessmen, including Noe.

State officeholders are required under Ohio law to disclose the source of gifts valued above $75.

Four former gubernatorial aides former chief-of-staff Brian Hicks, Cherie Carroll, Doug Talbott, and Doug Moormann also were found guilty of ethics violations, all misdemeanors. Mr. Talbott was also found guilty of receiving Noe cash and laundering it into three Ohio Supreme Court races.

The four Lucas County women were the only ones, besides Noe, to face any charges related to his illegal funneling of more than $45,000 into the re-election campaign of President Bush.

In October, 2003, Noe gave money to 24 people, including the women, to attend the Bush fund-raiser in Columbus. Records show he gave $1,950 to Ms. Shultz and $1,900 to Ms. Owens; each then wrote checks for $2,000 to the Bush campaign. Noe also gave $3,900 to Ms. Perz and $3,750 the Ms. Thurber; each took their husbands to the event and paid $4,000.

State law requires certain public officials to disclose the source of all gifts greater than $75. Technically, the women, who each testified before a federal grand jury investigating Noe, were charged with failing to disclose the meal portion of the fund-raiser.

The other alleged conduits testified before the grand jury or cooperated with the investigation. The U.S. attorney s office has said it elected not to charge them because they cooperated.

Noe will be sentenced Sept. 12 in U.S. District Court in Toledo for his conviction on three federal campaign counts. He pleaded guilty to charges that he funneled the money into the Bush campaign. He faces more than 30 months in prison.

In compiling the cost of the ethics investigation, the Ohio Ethics Commission computed how much it had to pay for the interviews with the suspects and witnesses. The tab also includes the cost borne by the Ohio inspector general s office and the Ohio Highway Patrol, which aided in the investigation.

The final bill was forwarded recently to Lynn Grimshaw, the special prosecutor hired to handle the cases.

The $16,499 includes the cost of the primary investigators to interview the women and other witnesses. It does not include supervisory or administrative oversight of the investigation.

Mr. Grimshaw said yesterday that he has not sent the bill yet and said he is trying to determine what procedure he should follow.

Ms. Thurber declined comment and Ms. Perz and Ms. Owens could not be reached. Ms. Shultz pointed out that she approached the Ethics Commission and that they did not approach her. She declined further comment.

Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said Ms. Thurber and Ms. Shultz should no longer be public officials. Ms. Thurber did not seek re-election but will hold her post until December. Ms. Shultz was re-elected last year to another term on city council.

It just doesn t make sense, Mr. Redfern said. They knowingly violated federal campaign finance laws.

Contact Mike Wilkinson at: mwilkinson@theblade.com or 419-724-6104.



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