GOP Fundraiser Asks to Change Not Guilty Plea on Illegal Donation Charges

A major GOP fundraiser charged in a scandal over a state rare-coin investment asked to change his not guilty pleas Wednesday on separate federal charges that he illegally funneled donations to President Bush's re-election campaign.

Coin dealer Tom Noe's attorney and the U.S. attorney's office jointly filed a request Wednesday asking a federal judge to set a change of plea hearing as soon as possible. The filing did not indicate what the new plea will be.

Noe had denied illegally funneling $45,400 in contributions to President Bush's re-election bid. He is accused of skirting the $2,000 limit on individual contributions by giving money directly or indirectly to 24 friends and associates, who then made the campaign contributions in their own names.

Noe's attorney, Jon Richardson, and the U.S. attorney's office in Toledo did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Noe also has been charged in state court with stealing at least $1 million of an ill-fated $50 million investment in rare coins that he managed for Ohio's workers' compensation bureau. He has pleaded not guilty in that case.

The investigation into the coin scandal has been a major embarrassment for Republicans, who dominate state politics. It prompted lame-duck Gov. Bob Taft and two former aides pleaded no contest to ethics charges.

In the fundraising case, federal prosecutors allege that Noe arranged a contribution scheme to fulfill his pledge to raise $50,000 for a Bush fundraiser at a downtown Columbus hotel Oct. 30, 2003. Ohio proved to be the pivotal state in Bush's 2004 re-election.

Noe wrote several checks just under the maximum allowable amount of $2,000 to avoid suspicion, the federal indictment said. All the checks were written in the eight days leading up to the fundraiser.

Federal investigators allege Noe made his friends and associates fill out contribution cards and forms falsely certifying they were making the contributions themselves. Prosecutors say the Bush campaign has cooperated with their investigation.

Noe, who lives in Florida, has been free on bond since he was indicted in October.

If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison on each of three counts and a combined maximum of $950,000 in fines. Those penalties could increase if Noe is found to have used money from the state coin fund to make the campaign donations.