- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — A coin dealer and prominent Republican Party fundraiser at the center of an Ohio political scandal pleaded guilty yesterday to federal charges he illegally funneled donations to President Bush’s re-election campaign.

Tom Noe, once a powerful political figure who also raised money for Ohio Republicans, still is charged with embezzlement in an ill-fated $50 million coin investment that he managed for the state workers’ compensation fund.

The investment scandal 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, which has been under Republican control since 1991.

Investigators do not know whether Noe used money from the state coin fund for campaign contributions.

Noe, 51, was charged with exceeding federal campaign contribution limits, using others to make the contributions and causing the Bush campaign to submit a false campaign finance statement. He is accused of arranging a contribution scheme to raise $50,000 for Mr. Bush.

Yesterday, he said he pleaded guilty to “spare my family and many dear friends” the ordeal of a trial.

Noe, free on bond since he was indicted in October, is living in Florida. He faces up to five years in prison on each of three counts and a combined maximum of $950,000 in fines.

Federal prosecutors said in October that the case was the largest campaign money-laundering scheme prosecuted under the 2002 campaign finance reform law, which set limits on donations.

Prosecutors said Noe gave $45,400 directly or indirectly to 24 friends and associates, who made the campaign contributions in their own names, allowing him to skirt the $2,000 limit on individual contributions.

Noe wrote several checks just under the cap to avoid suspicion, according to prosecutors. All of the checks were written in the eight days leading up to a fundraiser in October 2003 at a downtown Columbus hotel.

Authorities said Bush’s campaign committee was unaware of the purported contribution scheme and unknowingly submitted a false campaign report to the Federal Election Commission.

In the other case, Noe has pleaded not guilty to a charge of stealing at least $1 million from the coin investment. A trial is scheduled for Aug. 29.

Investigations into Noe’s coin investment led to Gov. Bob Taft’s no-contest plea and conviction in August to charges he accepted golf outings and other gifts that he did not report.

Noe’s work for the Republican Party allowed him to meet with the president during several of Mr. Bush’s visits to Ohio. Noe and his wife also attended an inaugural ball in 2005.

Noe personally contributed more than $105,000 to Republicans including Mr. Bush and Mr. Taft during the 2004 campaign.

The Bush-Cheney campaign donated $6,000 it received from Noe and his wife to charity. The rest of the money donated at the 2003 Bush fundraiser remains with the Republican Party.

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