TOLEDO, Ohio – A former GOP fundraiser was sentenced to 18 years in prison Monday for embezzling at least $1.1 million from a state investment in rare coins, part of a scandal that contributed to the Republican Party's loss of the governor's office.
Tom Noe, a politically connected coin dealer, was convicted last week of theft, corrupt activity, money laundering, forgery and tampering with records.
He faced a minimum sentence of 10 years on the corrupt activity charge, the most serious one.
"Based on a review of the record, a short prison term would demean your conduct," Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Osowik told Noe.
Noe, who was fined $120,000, also will serve two years and three months in federal prison for pleading guilty earlier this year to funneling $45,000 to President Bush's re-election campaign.
The scandal surrounding the $50 million investment that Noe managed for the Bureau of Workers' Compensation dogged the state GOP for more than a year, culminating this month with Democrats winning a U.S. Senate seat and four of five statewide offices after 12 years of Republican rule.
Prosecutors accused Noe of stealing from the investment for a lavish lifestyle as soon as he started getting the money in 1998 from the state insurance fund for injured workers.
For the first time, prosecutors calculated how much Noe stole and put that number at $13.7 million.
Investigations into the coin investment led to ethics charges against Republican Gov. Bob Taft, who pleaded no contest to failing to report golf outings and other gifts. Four former Taft aides pleaded no contest to similar charges.
Noe, who declined to make a statement before sentencing, stared blankly with his head titled as the penalty was imposed. His upper lip twitched briefly.
Defense attorneys asked the judge for the minimum 10-year sentence, saying that other high-profile convicted felons had received less time for taking more money. Attorney John Mitchell urged Osowik to consider that Noe is unlikely to repeat his crimes.
"Common sense is gonna tell you that in no way, shape or form would he ever be in a position that he could be able to do this or anything similar to this again. I think it's important to consider that this was a one-time crime and set of circumstances that I think will never echo at any point in the history of this state again," Mitchell said.
Workers' comp gave Noe $25 million in 1998, followed by another $25 million in 2001 to invest in rare coins. Democrats charged that Noe got the money because of his ties with the GOP.
The judge described the crime as an "elaborate scheme of theft on a large scale."
"You continued to spend the bureau's money at what I thought was a shockingly, alarmingly large rate, and done for one purpose: to present some type of a facade that you had a bottomless cup of wealth and luxury at your disposal, when in fact it was at the state's expense," Osowik said.
As Noe was led out of court in handcuffs, his wife mouthed "bye" to him and his sister gave him a wave. Two jurors who found him guilty also were among people watching in the courtroom.
Prosecutors said Noe used the money to pay off business loans and pay for a home in the Florida Keys. Prosecutors did not indicate whether he used the money to make campaign contributions to Republicans, including Bush and Taft.
Defense attorneys during the trial insisted Noe had permission to invest the money and that the coin fund produced $7.9 million in profits over seven years.
Noe's former right-hand man testified that he borrowed rare coins and faked records with the approval of his boss. Timothy LaPointe, Noe's close friend, said they both intended to repay the money.
Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro last week said he will renew efforts through a civil lawsuit to seek at least $4 million that Petro charges Noe took from the coin investment for personal use.
Investigators began looking at the coin investments after The (Toledo) Blade revealed the funds' existence in April 2005. State officials initially defended the investment, saying it earned more than $15 million. But then Noe's attorney told investigators the fund had a possible shortfall of $10 million to $12 million.
Authorities raided Noe's businesses, where they seized coins, several $10,000 bills and collectibles such as a Christmas card signed by Jackie Onassis and Beanie Babies.
Before the investigation began, Noe was a member of state boards that oversee the Ohio Turnpike and Ohio's public universities. He was a top GOP fundraiser who gave more than $105,000 to Republicans including Bush and Taft in 2004.