New Twist in ‘Coingate’: Ohio Newspaper Ads

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(AP) A prominent GOP fundraiser whose investment of state money in rare coins touched off a scandal that led to Gov. Bob Taft’s conviction on ethics charges instructed his lawyer to release documents their camp says proves the investor wasn’t concealing the arrangement. Taft, a Republican, has said Tom Noe “made a great effort to conceal” his role in managing the $50 million investment for the state’s insurance fund for injured workers.

Noe asked Taft last weekend to take back his statement. When the governor did not issue a retraction, he approved the release of information that would “prove the governor’s allegations to be false,” Noe’s attorney, William Wilkinson, said Wednesday.

Among the documents Wilkinson released were newspaper ads that Wilkinson said appeared in four publications between 2003 and February of this year. The ads publicized Noe’s coin company by touting investments on behalf of the state. “To our way of thinking, the most powerful way to disprove an allegation of concealment of a fact is to demonstrate that it was publicized,” Wilkinson said.

One the ads boasts of Noe’s 30 years of knowledge in the coin industry. “In fact, Tom is so successful, he was selected to manage two multimillion dollar coin funds on behalf of an Ohio state agency,” the ad reads. Noe received $25 million from the state in 1998, and another $25 million to invest in 2001.

Wilkinson also said Noe discussed the coin investments with Taft after the two played golf together in May 2001. Taft has maintained that he did not know of Noe’s investments until reading newspaper reports about them in April of this year.

A spokesman for the governor reiterated that Wednesday. “The governor wants to say again that Tom Noe did not tell him personally about the coin investment,” spokesman Mark Rickel said.

Noe’s investment dealings with the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation also were a frequent topic of conversation when Noe wined and dined various state officials at a downtown Columbus steakhouse, Wilkinson told The Associated Press. The governor didn’t attend what’s come to be known as the Noe Supper Club, but he knew members of his administration were there, Wilkinson said.

The governor pleaded no contest last week to four misdemeanor ethics violations for not reporting that he was treated to numerous golf outings, including two with Noe.

The state’s ongoing investment scandal, which led to Taft’s conviction, began with revelations about Noe’s investments in rare coins and has ballooned to include $300 million in losses at the workers’ comp bureau. Noe, owner of Vintage Coins & Collectibles in the Toledo suburb of Maumee, has acknowledged that up to $13 million is missing from the investments, and Attorney General Jim Petro has accused him of stealing as much as $4 million.

In another development, contributors who donate more than $250 to Ohio politicians would be banned from doing business with the workers’ comp bureau under a proposal modeled after a law in New Jersey banning political donors from vying for large state contracts. “It does not prohibit you from giving money to politicians, but if you do, it allows us not to give them our business,” said Bill Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO and a member of the Workers’ Compensation Oversight Commission.

The commission might vote on the measure as soon as Thursday’s meeting, Burga said. The commission also planned to discuss a new report that found widespread problems with the workers’ comp bureau’s handling of its $14 billion portfolio.

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