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Tom Noe's 2006 conviction for stealing millions from Ohio's injured workers' trust fund was upheld by the 6th District Court of Appeals yesterday, with the court ruling that Noe received a fair trial in Toledo.
More than 10 months after attorneys argued the merits of the criminal conviction against the former rare-coin dealer, one-time GOP fund-raiser, and past Lucas County Republican Party chairman, the appellate court released its decision affirming Noe's convictions and 18-year prison sentence.
He will remain in the state's Hocking Correctional Facility in Nelsonville, Ohio, where he arrived in 2008, after he finished serving nearly two years in a federal prison in Florida after pleading guilty to making $45,400 in illegal contributions to President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign.
The three-judge panel did reverse one portion of the sentencing phase, saying that Noe was not adequately told of his post-release control obligations at sentencing.
The decision means that Noe will return to Lucas County Common Pleas Court, either in person or via video conference, to be given the proper wording.
"I think that I agree with 99.9 percent of the court's decision and accept their decision in so far as the reasons behind it," John Weglian, chief of the special units division for the Lucas County Prosecutor's office, said. "I think it's a significant victory for all the people who worked on the case."
Noe was convicted in November, 2006, on several counts of theft and corruption stemming from charges that he stole millions of dollars from a rare-coin fund he managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.
A jury found him guilty of 29 charges of corruption, theft, money laundering, and tampering with records. He was found not guilty on 11 other charges, and several others were dismissed or consolidated.
Former Common Pleas Judge Thomas Osowik sentenced him to
18 years in state prison and ordered him to pay $13,747,000 in restitution, the cost of prosecution totaling $2,979,402, and $139,000 in fines.
None of the money has been paid.
In their appeal filed in June, 2008, his attorneys asked that Noe be acquitted on all 29 charges. They said he didn't receive due justice on at least seven occasions during his 2006 trial.
Among the points noted was the judge's decision to deny a request for change of venue despite what they termed a "media onslaught against him."
In the opinion, written by Judge Mark Pietrykowski, the judges dismissed the argument, saying that the extensive questioning of jurors was "thorough and careful" and proved that despite "volumes of articles, editorials, and cartoons," some potential jurors were "completely unaware of the case" while others were "suspicious of the veracity" of the reporting.
"… We cannot conclude that the pretrial publicity was sufficient to create a presumption of prejudice," the opinion stated.
In April, 2005, The Blade first reported on Noe's $50 million state rare coin investment deal, triggering a multiyear state investigation that uncovered massive corruption in the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, and led to charges against more than 20 public officials and money managers, including former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft on misdemeanor ethics charges.
Mr. Taft's conviction was a first for a sitting Ohio governor.
Noe's attorneys claimed not only should the trial have been moved but that the judge repeatedly erred in his handling of the case and that the prosecution failed to prove each element of the charges.
In the 53-page opinion, the Appeals Court judges dismissed each of the arguments and upheld the rulings made by Judge Osowik throughout the trial. The court also noted that the state presented the testimony of 53 witnesses and numerous exhibits and agreed that each element of the crimes were proven at trial.
The appeal was initially heard by Judges Pietrykowski, Arlene Singer, and William Skow, all Democrats.
After Judge Skow's death in June, Judge Sumner Walters, a retired judge from the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Lima, was assigned to hear the case by Ohio Supreme Court Justice Thomas Moyer.
Although attorneys for each side were given the opportunity to reargue the case before Judge Walters, neither the prosecutor nor the defense chose to do so, Mr. Weglian said.
Instead, Judge Walters, a registered Republican, listened to recordings of the oral arguments.
Noe's attorneys have 45 days to appeal the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Bill Wilkinson of Columbus, and John Mitchell of Cleveland, who represented Noe during the trial and its subsequent appeal, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Toledo attorney Rick Kerger, who entered the case on Noe's behalf about six months ago, said yesterday that the appellate court's decision will be appealed.
"The first step is to ask [the Ohio Supreme Court] to look at it, they only accept about five or six percent of the cases each year," Mr. Kerger said.
"There's also a question of how many, if any, of the justices would feel the need to recuse themselves from the decision because of their relationships with Noe" during his time fund-raising for the Republican Party.
In 2005, most of the justices went on record and recused themselves from civil lawsuits involving Noe.
Five justices on the Supreme Court announced in May, 2005, they would step aside and allow other judges to decide three public records lawsuits - one from The Blade - that had been filed against the state involving Noe's rare-coin funds at the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.
Chief Justice Moyer, as well as justices Judith Ann Lanzinger, Terrence O'Donnell, Maureen O'Connor, and Evelyn Stratton recused themselves from the cases because their campaigns had all received Noe cash - $23,510 in all.
Justices decide whether they will recuse themselves from the case and do not have to give a reason why.
Of Noe's team of attorneys, only two have contributed to the campaigns of sitting justices, according to a search of state records.
Mr. Wilkinson, who is a partner with Thomson Hine law firm, contributed to Justice Moyer a total of $1,324 in three transactions, the most recent in 1998.
Mr. Wilkinson also contributed $250 to Justice Stratton in 2007.
Mr. Kerger contributed $250 each to Justices Moyer and Lanzinger in 2004 as well as $250 to Justice Paul Pfeiffer in 1993.
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