17 October 2014

Convicted felon Tom Noe, former Lucas County (Toledo) Republican Party chairman, stole $13.7 million in the so-called “Coingate” scandal during the Voinovich and Taft administrations. Major daily newspapers in Ohio like the Toledo Blade and the Columbus Dispatch are finally getting around to pondering: Why has there been no investigation and final report from the Ohio Inspector General’s office on this important scandal?

A Blade editorial asks the key question: “What is the state trying to cover up?”

Let us explain it to them.

Why there’s no report on the Coingate scandal is because it intersects with money –laundering into a presidential campaign and Voinovich’s ties to organized crime.

Tom Noe was northwest Ohio's “Mr. Republican” and a close Bush/Rove crony. He served two years for illegal money laundering into the 2004 Bush/Cheney campaign. He is now serving an 18-year term in state prison for stealing from the state’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC).

As owner of Vintage Coins and Cards in Maumee, Ohio, Noe raised more than $100,000 to become a Bush Pioneer/Ranger. But Noe was more than a mere fundraiser.

Noe was hired to manage a rare coin investment fund for the BWC. Governor George Voinovich’s administration created the myth that Noe was a financial genius. What he actually managed in a Maumee strip mall was more like a baseball card and Beanie Baby shop with a few coins.

Former Ohio Republican Attorney General Jim Petro called Noe’s investment practices a “Ponzi scheme.”

During the 2004 election, Noe’s wife Bernadette chaired the scandal-torn Lucas County Board of Elections that played a significant role in suppressing poor and minority voters to put Bush back in the White House.

Petro documented that on May 31, 1998, Noe received the first of two $25 million payments from then-Governor Voinovich’s BWC. Noe promptly laundered $1.375 million into his personal or business account. Meanwhile, he laundered money into Republican Party campaigns. Among others, he and Bernadette made a $4500 and a $ 2500 contribution to then-Secretary of State Bob Taft's successful campaign for governor, at a time when Brian Hicks was Taft's top aide.

Hicks later appeared in court to answer charges that he failed to report vacation trips he took to Noe's $1.3 million home in the Florida Keys in 2002 and 2003.

Noe also sent $2000 to Governor Voinovich’s successful U.S. Senate campaign. Noe's high-flying financial dance is rooted in the gubernatorial corruption of his good friend Voinovich, and the Guv’s shady Chief of Staff, the late Paul Mifsud. Mifsud became a statewide symbol of official corruption and illegality when he was sent to jail for six months for accepting favors from a contractor and destroying the government records on a sweetheart construction deal he engineered for his then-fiancée’s house. Mifsud made the mistake of giving the bid to a controversial contractor named T.G. Banks, who allegedly did the job in exchange for state contracts.

Mifsud was responsible for much of Tom Noe's rapid rise. Mifsud took both Banks and Noe under his wing. He made Noe Chair of the Lucas County Republican Party in 1992. Noe says the job “kept me alive.”

In 1993, Noe testified in his divorce case that Mifsud and Voinovich's treasuer Vincent Panichi were now his coin clients. Panichi later figured in a 1996 money laundering scandal involving donations from Banks' underage nieces of $1000 each to the Voinovich campaign.

Panichi also told a grand jury that Voinovich had approved a $60,000 illegal payment from his 1994 gubernatorial campaign fund to his own family's business, headed by his brother Paul Voinovich. The Governor later said Panichi probably told him this, but he hadn't heard it because his hearing aid was turned off or malfunctioning.

A very public high roller, Mifsud openly bragged of alleged ties to the CIA. He also claimed membership in the secretive Knights of Malta, running the Maltese American Foundation. The Knights and the CIA have been accused in various news reports of working together in covert operations around the globe. Mifsud never talked to the Free Press. But the late Republican Franklin County Sheriff Earl Smith and other high-ranking law enforcement sources and Republicans say Mifsud's CIA connections were real.

Noe's Coingate goes to the Bush family through Mifsud, whose connections to George Herbert Walker Bush date from the 1970s. Regardless of his alleged CIA connections, Mifsud chaired Bush the elder’s Cuyahoga County Bush for President Committee in 1979. Mifsud was also vice chairman for Ohio’s 1988 Bush for President Committee.

Voinovich appointed Noe to the Ohio Board of Regents. Noe has no college degree. But in 1999, Taft re-appointed him to a full 9-year term. Noe's Toledo was uniquely rife with corruption and illegality in the run up to the 2004 presidential election.

The outing of how Noe and his wife may have used their clout to steal votes in Lucas County's “Votegate” should be central to any Inspector General report. Election Day in Ohio 2004 was defined by partisan chaos, confusion and theft everywhere in that county. Well before Election Day, Lucas County's Democratic headquarters was broken into. Key voter data went missing.

Blackwell's investigation of the Lucas County BOE revealed no less than thirteen areas of "grave concern" including “failure to maintain ballot security”; “inability to implement and maintain a trackable system for voter ballot reconciliation”: “failure to prepare and develop a plan for the processing of the voluminous amount of voter registration forms received”; “issuance and acceptance of incorrect absentee ballot forms”; and “failure to maintain the security of poll books during the official canvas.” The election in Lucas County had become so infamous that on April 8, 2005 Blackwell fired the entire County Board of Elections. Bernadette Noe resigned in December, 2004.

For an Inspector General to investigate and report on Noe he would have to look at the organized crime connections in the Voinovich administration and the massive corruption, election irregularities and money-laundering aspects of the Coingate scandal related to Bush’s Ohio victory in 2004.