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Published: Wednesday, 2/18/2009

Attorney argues that Noe didn t steal

BY STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Tom Noe is serving an 18-year sentence for stealing $13.7 million from a rare-coin venture with the state. Tom Noe is serving an 18-year sentence for stealing $13.7 million from a rare-coin venture with the state.
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An attorney for Tom Noe Tuesday said that, because the state of Ohio gave the convicted rare-coin dealer an unbelievable amount of authority in managing the state s $50 million rare-coin funds, he should not have been convicted of theft.

Bill Wilkinson, a Columbus lawyer representing Noe in his appeal, tried to make the case that Noe was acting within the scope of his contract with the state when he used coin-fund cash for his personal benefit. Noe is serving an 18-year prison sentence for stealing $13.7 million from the rare-coin venture with the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation.

The contract allowed wide authority, said Mr. Wilkinson. What he did [with the money] didn t make any difference

During a 45-minute hearing Tuesday, Noe s attorneys squared off with prosecutors, asking the three-judge Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals panel to overturn the onetime GOP power broker s 2006 conviction on 29 charges relating to his management of the rare-coin fund.

Noe is an inmate at Hocking Correctional Facility in southeastern Ohio serving the first year of the 18-year sentence imposed upon him after Lucas County Common Pleas Court jurors convicted him on corruption, forgery, theft, and money- laundering charges.

Noe s attorneys based the appeal on their contention that the coin dealer s transactions which included transfers of millions of dollars to his personal and business accounts, trading rare coins with himself and close associates, and using the state s money for his personal benefit were allowed under his arrangement with the state.

Once the bureau invested $50 million in the coin funds, the money belonged to the coin funds, Mr. Wilkinson argued, at one point pulling a handful of cash out of his pocket and telling the court that the situation would be like him complaining that a corporation lost his money after he bought stock in it.

Attorneys for Noe also argued that intense media scrutiny on the case, including more than 1,000 articles published in The Blade, hurt Noe s chance for a fair trial.

It was impossible for Tom Noe or anyone else to get a fair trial in such circumstances, said John Mitchell, Noe s Cleveland-based attorney. The Toledo Blade launched an intense media onslaught against Tom Noe.

On April 3, 2005, The Blade first reported on Noe s rare-coin pact with the state, raising questions about its management and how Noe persuaded the state to buy gold coins. In the months that followed, Noe s attorneys acknowledged that up to $13 million was missing from the coin funds.

The controversy triggered the formation of a state and federal task force to investigate corruption in state government. The investigation, which has not formally ended, netted nearly 20 convictions, including former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft s on ethics charges for failing to report gifts from Noe and others.

John Weglian, the chief of the special units division of the Lucas County prosecutor s office, said during yesterday s hearing that there was no evidence that jurors were influenced by what was in the newspapers and on television.

That presupposes people read The Blade for the purpose of finding out about Tom Noe, said Mr. Weglian, adding, Some do.

Mr. Weglian said during the hearing that he read Noe s attorney s basis for his appeal with astonishment.

He is not allowed to use [the state s] property for his own personal wants and needs, Mr. Weglian said.

Mr. Wilkinson, in his closing statements, said that Mr. Weglian seemed angry and that the public is clearly angry with Noe and the Bureau of Workers Compensation for what occurred with the rare-coin fund.

They are angry with Mr. Noe, but the question is whether Mr. Noe did something wrong, Mr. Wilkinson said.

Noe was not present for yesterday s hearing, which is typical for appeals court hearings. Members of his family, including his daughters and son, were on hand for yesterday s hearing, although his wife, Bernadette Noe, who lives in Florida, was not present.

Noe began his state prison term in October after spending nearly two years in federal prison for making $45,400 in illegal contributions to President George W. Bush s re-election campaign in 2004.

Contact Steve Eder at: seder@theblade.com or419-304-1680.



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