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Published: Wednesday, 11/8/2006

Final arguments given in Noe trial

BY MIKE WILKINSON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Larry Kiroff, assistant Lucas County prosecutor, tells jurors that Tom Noe ran a shell game. Larry Kiroff, assistant Lucas County prosecutor, tells jurors that Tom Noe ran a shell game.
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Tom Noe is a "swindler and a thief" who turned his local coin business into a criminal enterprise and a co-worker "into a crook," an assistant Lucas County prosecutor told jurors during closing arguments yesterday.

In the last day of arguments before jurors begin deliberating today, John Weglian said Noe immediately began stealing money from the millions he got from the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation to invest in rare coins in 1998 - and then bought only a few coins over the next seven years.

In between, Mr. Weglian said Noe lavished himself with waterfront luxury homes and the watercraft to go with them, and other items using coin fund money he wasn't entitled to.

"The moment he got control - he began stealing it," Mr. Weglian said.

Using words like flim-flam, con, and shell game, prosecutors yesterday tried to fill out their portrait of Noe as the criminal-in-chief with his former vice president Tim LaPointe as his accomplice.

Noe attorney Bill Wilkinson called the charges unsupported. Noe attorney Bill Wilkinson called the charges unsupported.
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In response, Noe's defense attorneys told jurors that the evidence does not support the charges. They said investigators did not look at some evidence and disregarded others.

"This case is a perfect example of pounding a square peg into a round hole," said defense counsel John Mitchell.

Judge Thomas Osowik of Lucas County Common Pleas Court will go over instructions with the jury this morning before they begin deliberations.

When they deliberate, jurors will be confronted by boxes of records and the testimony of 53 witnesses. The deliberations will represent the last hours of freedom for Noe. He is expected to be taken into federal custody after the verdict - whether he's acquitted or convicted.

He'll begin serving the 27-month sentence given him on Sept. 12 for violating federal campaign finance law. Noe illegally poured more than $45,000 into the re-election campaign of President Bush in 2003.

The verdict will come a little over 18 months after The Blade revealed the Noe coin funds in April, 2005. Within days, an investigation was launched by the state and investigators soon seized the coin fund assets and said millions were missing.

Terry Gasper, the former chief financial officer of the bureau, pleaded guilty to federal and state corruption charges. The trial of two bureau brokers charged with bribing Gasper begins today.

Combined with other scandals involving public officials, Democrats were expected yesterday to win statewide offices they haven't held since 1994, taking over for a Republican Party that Noe helped to build with his donations and advice.

But the specter of Noe's political clout, which nearly went unaddressed during the trial, was brought back into play yesterday - at first by the defense.

Defense attorney Bill Wilkinson said Mr. Weglian never substantiated his claim, made during opening statements three weeks ago, that Noe had "friends in high places" who helped him get the money.

Instead, Mr. Wilkinson said the bureau's top officials approved two $25 million investments in coins for the right reasons: A diversified investment that made money. He said officials poured more money into the funds after a bureau auditor raised serious questions about the fund.

If the bureau knew how Noe was operating his business and yet retained - and increased - its coin holdings, Mr. Wilkinson said they were consenting to his handling of their money. And if they consent, he said, there couldn't be a theft.

"What better proof do you have?" Mr. Mitchell said.

Assistant prosecutor Larry Kiroff attacked that premise, saying the phony inventories and balance sheets sent to the bureau were designed to deceive it. "If this was all above board and everything was fine, why would there be a loan called a coin purchase?" Mr. Kiroff asked.

Investigators uncovered hundreds of fraudulent inventories and dozens of phony invoices that they said were used to hide the stolen money.

"If everything was all right, why all this clandestine, secretive stuff?" Mr. Kiroff said.

Both defense attorneys and prosecutors turned to Mr. LaPointe for help. Mr. Wilkinson said he was an unreliable witness because he had a deal with prosecutors; Mr. Weglian said he came forward and admitted wrongdoing.

"Nobody in the case had a bigger reason to tell a lie," Mr. Mitchell said. "And nobody had a bigger reason to please the prosecutors."

Mr. Weglian defended Mr. LaPointe, who faces seven felonies in connection with his role at Vintage. Mr. Lapointe told jurors how he and Noe schemed to create phony inventories to hide the missing money.

"He loves Tom Noe, you could tell that. But he was used by Tom Noe. He was turned into a crook by Tom Noe," Mr. Weglian said.

As he had done recently, Mr. Wilkinson used empty ice buckets to show how money flowed into the Vintage account from the coin funds and other sources. He said prosecution witnesses agreed that it is difficult to figure out which money - coin fund or Noe's own - paid for items.

"You just can't tell," he said.

After Mr. Wilkinson finished, Mr. Kiroff was the last to address the jury. After talking for about 50 minutes, he seized upon the ice buckets. First, he pointed out that Noe didn't have enough money in the account to cover his expenses without the bureau's money.

In April, 1998, the first full month Noe had the coin fund money, his checking account would have been nearly $2 million in the hole without the more than $2 million he transferred into it from the coin funds.

To make a final point, Mr. Kiroff turned the buckets over. Animated, he said they represented a "living model" of what Noe operated with the coin funds - a shell game. Noe used the different accounts to keep everyone guessing, Mr. Kiroff said.

"It's a shell game and it's designed to keep you from knowing where the money came from," he said.

"And he used that same shell game he used on the BWC to con this jury. Don't let him," he said.

Contact Mike Wilkinson at:

mwilkinson@theblade.com

or 419-724-6104.



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