COLUMBUS — “Ego,” “power”, and “grandiosity,” Tom Noe “had all that,” the former Toledo area coin dealer's ex-wife on Thursday told the Ohio Parole Board that could hold his fate in its hands.
“He thought he could handle those coin funds,” Bernadette Restivo said. “He had no intention to steal from Ohio or even mismanage for the state of Ohio. He was too big for his britches, and got caught up in believing his own PR.”
She told the board that she believed the former Lucas County Republican Party chairman was more stupid than criminal.
Thomas "Tom" W. Noe, the former Toledo-area coin dealer, is serving an 18-year prison term at Hocking Correctional Facility.
COLUMBUS DISPATCH/SHARI LEWIS Enlarge
A decade after he began his state prison sentence for stealing from an unusual $50 million investment in rare coins by Ohio’s insurance fund for injured workers, Noe got his chance to directly make his bid for early release to the board.
He was interviewed by the board for nearly two hours away from the eyes of media via video conference from the Marion Correctional Institution, where he is serving his time on theft, racketeering, and other charges.
Afterward, the board proceeded with his public clemency hearing. Noe couldn’t be seen and could no longer participate, but Noe was able to watch and hear what was going on. Ms. Restivo looked directly at the video screen several times during her testimony, and his current attorney, Barry Wolford, gave his invisible client a thumbs-up before beginning his testimony.
Toward the end of the hearing, the board’s acting chairman, Trayce Thalheimer, summed up the board’s dilemma.
“What’s better — a pound of flesh or money, make him serve the remaining eight years or get some of the money back?” she asked Lucas County Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Pituch.
The board has twice before unanimously recommended — without interviewing Noe — that Gov. John Kasich not commute his 18-year state sentence to time served. The Republican governor agreed with the board the first time, but on the second pass he requested the board hold a full hearing.
So Noe and his supporters made personal pitches in hopes of getting four of the seven members present to change their minds. Whatever the board’s recommendation, it is not binding for Mr. Kasich.
The board expects to present its recommendation within 60 days.
In his clemency petition, Noe expressed remorse and said he is not the same man who was sent to prison — both stemming from the coin theft and the two years he served before that in federal prison for laundering campaign contributions to the 2004 re-election campaign of then-President George W. Bush.
He was convicted of 29 charges, 25 of them felonies. A racketeering conviction alone carried a minimum sentence of 10 years, about the amount of time he has served so far on his state sentence.
Nearly 20 relatives and friends of Noe attended on his behalf. Five testified, including Ms. Restivo, now an attorney in Florida. She indicated she may remarry Noe and had even looked into the possibility at one point of doing so in the waiting room of the prison.
She described herself as her ex-husband’s “best friend,” still married to him in the eyes of the Catholic Church.
When a board member noted that Noe could not be released into her custody as part of an interstate agreement with Florida if they are not married, Ms. Restivo replied, “We can work that out.”
“The reality is the politics that fed the ego was voracious, where he believed the he was bigger than he was,” she said. “He certainly doesn’t believe that now. He is extremely humble and has rejected any aspirations or thought of getting involved in any of that.”
Steve Ivy, Noe’s long-time friend and former coin-dealer colleague, said Noe still has a good reputation in the collectible coin industry and could successfully return to that line of business to begin the process of repaying $13 million-plus in restitution owed as part of his sentence.
“Tom got in way over his head,” he said. “He did not have the capabilities of doing what he did…Tom, if you can hear me, I’m sorry, but you were stupid.”
Countered board member Marc Houk: “You said he made a mistake. I think he made a conscious decision.”
One board member questioned how a convicted felon like Noe could expect to return to a coin-dealing business that depends on trust and whether a bonding company would be willing to insure him.
Also testifying were his current attorney, Barry Wilford; Richard Kerger, his former Toledo attorney; and Garrison Walters, a former executive at the Ohio Board of Regents who wrote a book on the Coingate scandal.
Mr. Walters said that, while Noe was guilty of tampering with records and possibly more, he believes he is a political prisoner. Noe was a victim of a “tense” political environment in Toledo, voluminous and unfair press coverage from The Blade, Republicans who were running scared, Democrats who smelled political blood, and a judge’s refusal to move the trial out of Lucas County.
That, he said, led to what he contends was an unwarranted 18-year sentence.
“If Tom Noe had not been involved in politics in Toledo, Ohio and somehow in the process incurred the wrath of [The] Blade, none of these things would have happened,” Mr. Walters said. “I do not believe there would have been a search warrant. I do not believe there would have been a [racketeering] charge.”
Ms. Thalheimer later challenged that argument when Mr. Wolford was at the witness table.
“I want to be honest with what I keep hearing: This is [The] Blade’s fault,” she said. “Mr. Wolford, that is what most people sitting in that chair today have stated. Maybe I am very naïve…, but I have a hard time believing…, no matter how reputable they are or how strong they are, that because of [The] Blade this man is spending 18 years in prison.”
Among other things, Noe has argued that the jury’s verdict in his trial might have been different if it knew at the time that, despite the theft of funds, the investment still made a profit for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
Mr. Kerger compared Noe’s 18-year sentence to the 12-year federal sentence meted out to Pittsburgh broker Mark D. Lay for losing $216 million of BWC funds in a risky hedge fund deal, 16 times the amount Noe was convicted of stealing. Lay stands to get out of prison in December after serving 10 years, about the time that Noe has served.
Mr. Pituch said he had advocated for the longer sentence.
“We think that the next 10, 20, 50, 100 people who stand in Tom Noe’s shoes, somebody who has access to government money and who thinks that no one is looking, if they steal that money they ought to pay a price — and a pretty hefty one at that.”
Barring clemency, Noe is not slated to leave prison until Oct. 22, 2026.
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