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Published: 5/29/2005

The biggest outrage of all

Tom Noe finally has to face one very unpleasant reality: the protective circle of wagons that has surrounded him since "Coingate" first broke in early April is gone. The wagons have scattered.

His friends in high places, starting with Gov. Bob Taft, have at last decided that maybe it's a good idea to distance themselves from the man who has been so generous to them over the years.

The reason? Authorities now believe he may have misappropriated between $10 million and $12 million in public money, and, according to the Franklin County Prosecutor, may have converted it to his personal use.

That would be theft on a grand scale and an assault on the public trust as egregious as any this state has ever seen. If, as expected, charges are soon filed, and if he is convicted, Mr. Noe deserves the longest prison term the law allows.

For that matter, the resignation on Friday of James Conrad, director of the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, is grossly inadequate penance. His total lack of oversight aggravated this crisis, and he simply gets to walk away? No matter what, he must be held accountable.

But the buck didn't stop at Mr. Conrad's desk. Governor Taft belatedly accepted full responsibility for the scandal at a press conference Friday. Maybe he should follow Mr. Conrad's lead and get out.

He also should apologize - first to every citizen in this state for his utterly inept stewardship of public funds and his abuse of public trust, and second, to this newspaper for his verbal assaults on our reporting.

In fact, it is impossible to comment on all of this without noting that The Blade, which first broke this story in early April, was sharply criticized by Mr. Taft, Director Conrad, many Republicans, and some of our readers for our persistence in pursuing it.

The term "witch hunt" was tossed about freely.

But as the almost daily revelations mounted, public opinion has steadily shifted against Mr. Noe and the BWC, even as the governor and others continued to practice the fine art of denial.

Now that criminal charges are imminent, and prosecutors say they believe Mr. Noe may have converted a huge chunk of the public's investment to his personal use, we hear a much different tune from Mr. Noe's defenders.

Attorney General James Petro and Auditor Betty Montgomery kept their heads down for weeks, which provides an ironic twist to a quote by Ms. Montgomery in one of our Friday stories: "I hope my record will reflect after all these years that I am guilty of doing nothing."

Though she didn't mean it like it sounded, we couldn't have said it better ourselves. She and the attorney general did nothing until they were shamed into it. You can bet that the two of them have erased any trace of Tom Noe from their Palm Pilots; suddenly they are on the side of all that is good and righteous.

The shocking acknowledgement by Mr. Noe's attorney that between one fifth and one fourth of the state's original investment in the coin funds cannot be accounted for is only part of Mr. Noe's difficulties.

Almost overlooked in the furor over the state's foolish investment in rare coins has been the ongoing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. attorney's office into possible violations of campaign finance laws by Mr. Noe during the Bush re-election campaign.

The Noe scandal should outrage every Ohioan. The full force of the law must come down on those at the heart of it, and there must be no mercy shown to those whose arrogance perpetuated it.

Still think it's a Blade vendetta, Governor?



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