TOLEDO, Ohio – A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced a GOP fundraiser at the center of an Ohio political scandal to two years and three months in prison for illegally funneling $45,000 to President Bush's re-election campaign.
Tom Noe, a former Toledo-area rare coin dealer whose large donations made him a powerful political figure, apologized in court for the scheme to give friends money to donate to Bush to fulfill his promise to generate $50,000 for a presidential fundraiser.
Noe said he arranged the scheme because "in 2003 I was pressured by Bush-Cheney officials to become a Pioneer," a name the campaign gives to people who raise $100,000.
The campaign money-laundering scheme was the largest prosecuted under the 2002 campaign finance reform law, which set limits on donations, prosecutors said last October.
U.S. District Court Judge David Katz told Noe that he was trying to feed his ego and made a stupid decision.
"He has risen in the past to positions of respect and power and he violated the trust of those who placed him in those positions," Katz said.
Noe pleaded guilty to three charges, including exceeding federal campaign contribution limits. He was sentenced to two years and three months on each count but will serve the sentences at the same time. Prosecutors were seeking no more than four years.
Noe still is charged with stealing at least $1 million from an ill-fated $50 million rare coin investment that he managed for the state workers' compensation fund. Investigations into the coin investment led to Gov. Bob Taft's no contest plea and conviction last year to charges the he failed to report gifts, such as golf outings.
The coin investment has been a major embarrassment for Ohio's ruling Republicans and given Democrats a better shot at winning state offices this year, including the governor's office that has been under GOP control since 1991.
Noe, who also was fined $136,200 Tuesday, will not have to serve his prison sentence for the Bush donations until after his trial in state court in the coin investment case.
Prosecutors said Noe gave $45,000 directly or indirectly to 24 friends and associates, who made the Bush campaign contributions in their own names, allowing him to skirt the $2,000 individual contribution limit.
Federal prosecutors say Noe funneled the donations because he wanted perks such as invitations to the White House and the president's ranch in Texas, and he wanted to impress various state officials.
Prosecutors first suggested a prison sentence of at least two years, but last week said Noe, 51, should get a longer sentence because he schemed to corrupt the election process.
Noe's lawyer argued that his client should be sentenced to community service instead of prison time because he already has been shamed publicly.