COLUMBUS — Years since the last conviction, the Ohio inspector general on Thursday released his long-delayed final investigative report into the Coingate scandal.
But the nearly 100-page report includes no transcripts from interviews with witnesses. Roughly 500 pages of additional documents consist largely of contracts, meeting minutes, and court documents that were already public record.
The report by Inspector General Randall Meyer stated it first became aware of “potential wrongdoing” after a story was published in The Blade on April 3, 2005, about Tom Noe. Noe is the former Toledo-area coin dealer now in prison for stealing $13.7 million from the $50 million investment the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation made in rare-coin and collectible funds he administered.
The subsequent investigation into Noe spread from there, ultimately involving an investigative task force of multiple state and federal entities.
“The investigation also uncovered acts of wrongdoing not specifically related to Tom or his coin investment scheme,” the report reads. “It was uncovered that members of the investment selection and management team at OBWC were involved in a bribery scheme in order to personally profit from their authority to approve large investment payments.
“And finally, the investigation into Tom Noe uncovered one of the largest financial frauds in Ohio history in the form of a loss of over $216 million due to the fraud perpetrated by investment strategist Mark Lay,” it reads.
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The inspector general’s report does not state why it took nine years to issue the results of its probe.
The investigation of Noe’s coin and collectible dealings involved 17,000 pieces of evidence.
The report details how Noe falsified information to divert money into his own line of credit, personal debts he owed, related companies, builders, appliance vendors, and even U.S. Senior Open tickets.
“Tom Noe was able to obtain investment funds from OBWC, which were intended to be invested in rare and valuable coins,” the report reads.
“Out of the initial $25 million investment, Noe misappropriated $4,734,546 of taxpayer money for his own personal gain.”
The BWC later made another $25 million investment, and the misappropriation scheme continued.
The report pointed to cash and gifts that Noe had given to officials both inside and outside the BWC to curry favor. But it found that the corruption within the BWC went beyond Noe’s influence.
“[Then BWC chief financial officer Terrence] Gasper devised a scheme designed to defraud the public, the OBWC, and the citizens of Ohio,” it reads. “Gasper perpetrated a scheme where he would accept bribes in exchange for using his position and influence at OBWC to obtain and retain OBWC investment business for third parties.”
The report pointed to a check Noe wrote to Gasper’s girlfriend at the time that was truly meant for Gasper as part of broader bribery scheme involving those seeking to do business with the bureau.
Gasper was sentenced to 60 months in federal prison for racketeering. He also pleaded guilty to bribery and ethics charges in state court.
The report noted that the Capital Coin Funds investment ultimately showed a return of just over $6 million on BWC’s total $50 million investment after coin and other assets were sold and other steps were taken to recover funds.
But at sentencing, Noe was ordered to pay restitution to the state in the amount of $13.7 million, reflecting the proceeds he had directed away from the fund for his own purposes.
Noe also served time in federal prison for using others to launder contributions above legal limits to the 2004 re-election campaign of President George W. Bush.
He completed that sentence before starting his current 18-year sentence for theft and other Coingate-related convictions.
In all, 19 people pleaded guilty or were convicted, including then-Republican Gov. Bob Taft on misdemeanor ethics charges related to failure to report golf outings and other gifts, including some involving Noe.
The Blade specifically asked for witness interview transcripts in a public records request that ultimately led to the filing of a lawsuit by the newspaper against the inspector general to force him to release the report or finish it if it had not been completed. The Ohio Supreme Court had referred the case to mediation.
“The people of Ohio deserve better than being made to wait nearly a decade for the inspector general to issue a rehash of publicly available information, and to do even that only under compulsion of a lawsuit,” said Fritz Byers, The Blade’s attorney.
“The public’s legitimate disappointment in the quality of the report is compounded by the inspector general’s failure to release the investigative documents that support the report, which are themselves also public records,” he said. “Doing so, as his predecessor routinely did, would allow the public to make its own judgments about the subjects of the office’s reports.
“It is dismaying for the state official appointed solely to monitor and report to the public on allegations of public malfeasance to perform so belatedly, so poorly, and in so veiled a fashion,” Mr. Byers said.
The report indicates that the task force led by the inspector general’s office conducted interviews but says information protected by the grand jury remains confidential.
The report’s preface stresses no new resources were expended to reinvestigate the case to produce the report.
As of late January, the inspector general’s office had not interviewed Noe as he sits behind bars in southeast Ohio.
The office of Mr. Meyer, appointed by Gov. John Kasich in 2011, did not return a call for comment.
“The thing that most surprised me is that there’s really nothing new here,” said Catherine Turcer, of the government watchdog group Common Cause. “Meyer said in February of 2012 that this report would come, but I can’t see why it took so long.
“One of the things we need to better understand from the role the inspector general took is not just what happened — we can get that from media reports — but what happened in the inner workings of government,” she said. “Transcripts of interviews are background documents that we all need. It’s kind of like getting a book report but not having citations.”
Ms. Turcer pointed to a portion of a report noting that records associated with some of the convictions have been sealed.
“This report has gone on for so long that some things were not included because convictions have been expunged,” Ms. Turcer said.
The campaign of Ed FitzGerald, the Democratic Cuyahoga County executive who hopes to challenge Republican Gov. John Kasich this fall, criticized the report as turning a “blind eye to potentially damaging political investigations.”
In its response to the report, the BWC stated, “Today, OBWC is unquestionably a much more professional and accountable organization than it was in 2005.”
It pointed to its strong investment returns in recent years that paid for a $1 billion rebate given to employers last year.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern of Catawba Island called the report “a compilation of facts and anecdotes we already knew.”
“Where’s the investigation that they were doing?” he asked. “I’m struck by the fact that no one in state government cares any more about this.”
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.