Tom Noe, the GOP fund-raiser at the heart of Ohio's biggest political scandal in a generation, was sentenced today to 27 months in a federal prison for illegally funneling money into President Bush s re-election campaign.
U.S. District Court Judge David Katz also ordered Noe to pay $136,200 in fines for sending more than $45,000 into a 2003 Bush fund-raiser by using two dozen friends and associates including several current and former local Republican elected officials in violation of federal election laws.
Noe, 52, remains free on bond until the conclusion of his trial next month on 46 felony counts in state court related to allegations that he stole millions from a $50 million rare-coin fund that he managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.
Noe, a former Maumee rare-coin dealer whose large donations made him a powerful political figure, apologized in court for the scheme to give friends money to donate to Bush to fulfill his promise to generate $50,000 for a presidential fund-raiser.
Noe said he arranged the scheme because in 2003 I was pressured by Bush-Cheney officials to become a Pioneer, a name the campaign gives to people who raise $100,000.
The campaign money-laundering scheme was the largest prosecuted under the 2002 campaign finance reform law, which set limits on donations, prosecutors said last October.
Judge Katz told Noe that he was trying to feed his ego and made a bad decision.
He has risen in the past to positions of respect and power and he violated the trust of those who placed him in those positions, Judge Katz said during sentencing.
Noe had pledged to raise $50,000 for the fund-raiser and, overall, raised more than $100,000, earning him Pioneer status. Prosecutors said he raised the money in an attempt to win invitiations to the White House and the President s Crawford, Texas, ranch.
After having trouble finding enough donors, Noe began writing checks to a number of friends and associates, underwriting many of those who attended the $2,000-a-plate Columbus fund-raiser. The Noe conduits included Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber, Toledo City Councilman Betty Shultz, former state representative Sally Perz, and former Toledo mayor Donna Owens; two former aides to Gov. Bob Taft, and other political and social friends.
The federal case is separate from a 46-count indictment against Noe in state court, in which he is alleged by prosecutors to have stolen millions from the $50 million rare-coin fund investment he managed for the Ohio BWC.
Prosecutors allege he used money from the coin fund to pay the Bush conduits, however they said it was merely fortuitous for him that it wasn t proven. State coin-fund money, they said, poured into his checking account just prior to the Bush fund-raiser, although there was other money in the account as well, an amount that would have covered the $45,400 he gave to the conduits.
Combined with the state charges, the accusations against Noe prompted candidates from across the state and country to return their Noe campaign cash.
For Noe, the sentencing is but one coda in his political swan song.
Two years ago he was attending parties at the White House and had the ear of Ohio's governor. A college dropout, Noe was appointed to head the Ohio Board of Regents and the Ohio Turnpike Commission; he served on a key committee of the U.S. Mint, and he helped plan and implement the strategy that helped President Bush win Ohio and the nation.
Now he faces time behind bars and possibly an even longer term if he is convicted in Lucas County Common Pleas Court. His trial on the state charges begins Oct. 10.
The fallout from the Noe scandal has been far reaching. It contributed to the historic plunge of Governor Taft s approval rating and emboldened Democrats to mount for the first time in years substantial campaigns for numerous statewide offices.
The scandal also contributed to the political downfall of Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, who lost to Ken Blackwell in the Republican primary for governor. Ohio Auditor Betty Montgomery, a frequent target of Democrats as the scandal unfolded, dropped out of the governor s race and ran instead for her old job of attorney general. All had received Noe campaign cash.
In Lucas County, Ms. Thurber did not run for reelection. Ms. Shultz, however, was reelected to council despite her connection to Noe. She has more than three years remaining on her term.
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