Elections & Voting
Bush and the Noe factor in Ohio's rigged 2004 election
By Evelyn Pringle
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jun 12, 2006, 00:41

By late afternoon on November 2, 2004, nationally, all the exit polls showed John Kerry winning with 50.8 percent of the votes and showed George W Bush with 48.2 percent, meaning Kerry had a 2.6 percent lead over Bush.

But when the vote counts came in at the end of the day, Bush had 50.9 percent of the votes and Kerry had 48.1 percent, meaning Bush received 2.8 percent more votes than Kerry.

According to Ron Baiman, PhD, from the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois in Chicago, who has 16 years of experience teaching statistics to both graduate and undergraduate college students, there would be about one chance in 900,000 of that kind of statistical error occurring.

Ohio was the most important state to Bush. He could not win without it. He spent so much time in the state that people began to wonder whether he had left a forwarding address to Ohio.

At his last campaign rally in the state, a mere four days before the election, Bush bestowed special praise on a husband and wife team who, in hindsight, were more helpful to Bush than any other politicians in Ohio, as far as rigging the election.

�I want to thank my friends Bernadette Noe and Tom Noe," Bush told the audience at the Toledo rally, "for their leadership in Lucas County.�

After the speech, Bush and his wife met with Tom Noe and his wife backstage, to thank them for their "work on the campaign," according to the October 30, 2004 Toledo Blade.

As it turns out, Bush had a lot to be thankful for. During the campaign, Noe earned the title of �Pioneer,� which means he raised at least $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney campaign.

However, Tom Noe was rewarded by Bush with an appointment as chairman of a committee of the US Mint that advises the US Treasury secretary on designs and themes for coins and congressional medals.

According to a Treasury Department press release, Noe was recommended for the appointment by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and nominated by Treasury Secretary John Snow.

Noe was the guy to know in Toledo-area politics for many years. He chaired not only the Lucas County Republican Party, but also the Lucas County Board of Elections and, in 2004, the regional Bush-Cheney campaign.

As a regional chairman of the campaign, according to the April 8, 2005, Toledo Blade, Noe had frequent contact with Karl Rove, met with the President, and received White House invitations.

According to emails obtained by the Blade, from Ohio Governor Bob Taft's office, Noe used his influence to obtain an invitation to a White House ceremony honoring the Ohio State football team and once in the White House, Noe was invited to attend an "Ohio political strategy session."

In 2002, Bernadette Noe, took over the post of chairman of the Lucas County Board of Elections, and is largely credited with playing a key role in rigging the 2004 election in Ohio.

While Tom Noe was still BOE Chairman, he made the acquisition of electronic voting machines, bragging about how fast they were installed. But in 2004, even before election day, Lucas County was up to its neck in problems with the now infamous Diebold Opti-Scan voting machines.

The dirty tricks in Lucas Country started long before election day. For instance, the Democratic headquarters was broken into and key voter data was stolen.

In the months before the election, when voting rights activists mounted a court challenge to Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell's partisan handling of provisional ballots, Tom Noe intervened on Blackwell's behalf. Blackwell also served as co-chair for the Ohio Bush-Cheney campaign,

While Tom handled the court business, Bernadette worked to reverse the Ohio tradition of allowing provisional ballots to be cast in precincts other than the one in which voters were registered and helped disenfranchise many inner-city Toledo Democratic voters.

On November 2, 2004, during the election, inner city voting machines broke down and polls opened late. The Toledo Blade reported that the sole machine at the Birmingham polling site in east Toledo broke down at about 7 am, and that per order of Secretary Blackwell, there were no paper ballots available for backup.

At one school the voting machines were locked in the principal�s office, and the principal just happened to call in sick election day. Another school in west Toledo temporarily ran out of ballots.

In precinct after precinct, African-American voters were disenfranchised as the waiting lines grew to three, four and five hours, forcing thousands to leave without voting.

The Blade discovered that in the summer of 2004, 28,000 voters were "erased" from the Lucas County registration rolls and found the purge included voters like Barbara and Ralph George "who first registered to vote for John F. Kennedy in 1960 and had lived in the same East Toledo house for 44 years."

After a job well done in Lucas County, in January 2005, the happy Noe couple co-sponsored Ohio�s inaugural ball in Washington, and according to the Blade, "Mr. Bush and Mr. Noe embraced. The president then hugged Mrs. Noe."

However, on April 8, 2005, it started raining on the Noe�s parade when the results of an investigation into the Lucas County election turned up so much dirt that it forced Secretary Blackwell to fire the entire Lucas County Board of Elections.

The investigation cited over a dozen 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.

Over the years, Tom Noe and his wife were equally generous to all Republican candidates for state office, federal office, and even judicial seats on the Ohio Supreme Court.

In fact, five of the seven Supreme Court justices were Noe beneficiaries receiving over $23,000 in contributions from the husband and wife team. In 2004, Tom was even the campaign chairman for Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger.

Noe was known to be a close associate of Ohio Senator George Voinovich and Ohio Governor Robert Taft, and had long been called northwest Ohio's "Mr. Republican."

And Noe's generosity to Ohio politicians did not go unrewarded. In addition to his leadership positions in the GOP, he was appointed to the Ohio Turnpike Commission, the Bowling Green State University board, and the Ohio Board of Regents, which has authority over the state's educational system, including the management of funds.

In 1997, Noe even gained access to state funds when the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) started a program allowing for investments other then stocks and bonds, and Noe cut a deal to buy and sell rare coins as an investment for the BWC.

It seems that Noe was given authority to invest $50 million in coins and other collectibles such as baseball cards, and, under the contract, 80 percent of the profits were to go to the worker's compensation fund and the remainder to Noe's business.

The Toledo Blade was the first to run a story on Noe�s gig with the state on April 3, 2005.

Within 20 days after Blackwell fired the BOE, it started pouring on the happy couple. On April 28, 2005, the Blade reported that Gregory White, US attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, had confirmed that his office, in conjunction with the FBI, was looking into Tom Noe's fundraising activities, as chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in northwest Ohio.

"We have publicly confirmed the investigation of Mr. Noe in relation to some campaign contributions," Mr White told the Blade.

Parallel to the federal probe, the Blade noted, was the investigation of the Lucas County and Franklin County Offices of the Prosecutor into Noe's inability to account for $10-12 million of the BWC�s funds.

Less than a month later, on May 26, 2005, state law enforcement officials, acting on behalf of prosecutors, raided Noe's company, Vintage Coins and Collectibles, trying to find out what happened to the $10-12 million missing from the $50 million belonging to BWC.

The distinct possibility has been raised several times, that Noe may have funneled some of the mysteriously missing money to politicians.

According to the May 31, 2006 Toledo Blade, the Noes have given more than $200,000 to politicians over the last 16 years and their �giving increased substantially," the Blade noted, "after the Bureau of Workers� Compensation in 1998 gave him the first of two $25 million payments to invest in his rare-coin funds."

In April 2005, the Blade reported that two of the state's investments, gold coins valued at $300,000, had been lost in the mail. On May 31, 2005, the Ohio Attorney General's office reported that nearly $7 million worth of coins were unaccounted for.

Noe apparently has a bad habit of losing rare coins. According to court documents filed in a previous case involving lost coins, on the evening of November 30, 1996, Noe claimed that $203,588 worth of coins and currency were stolen out of the backseat of his car and tried to collect on the loss with a claim to an insurance company.

About a month and a half before the theft, Noe had purchased an insurance policy from the Homestead Insurance Company, which included coverage for the loss of inventory by way of theft, that had gone into effect on October 17, 1996.

However, Homestead refused to pay the claim, citing two different exclusionary clauses. Noe sued the company and lost, and then he appealed that decision and lost.

On April 27, 2005, the federal probe into Noe's funneling of money to the Bush campaign reached a turning point when FBI agents raided Noe�s home, and searched it for three hours looking for evidence of violations of federal campaign laws.

In the summer of 2005, Tom Noe was described by the Free Press, as a high-roller crony of Ohio Governor Taft, Ohio Senator George Voinovich and President Bush. But that that wasn't all.

It seems as though the Noes had a give-and-take arrangement with just about every Republican politician in the state. On June 5, 2005, Ohio�s Republican Attorney General, Jim Petro, acknowledged that Bernadette may have successfully lobbied his office to direct thousands of dollars in contracts to her law firm to collect debt on behalf of the state.

According to the Free Press, Noe had even once donated money to Attorney General Petro�s campaign.

The news surrounding the disappearance of state funds intermingled with campaign finance violations involving state officials kept getting worse and worse over the summer. On June 8, 2005, media reports said that the BWC had concealed over $215 million in losses and that Governor Taft had been aware of the situation for months.

A week later, on June 14, 2005, Governor Taft sent a letter to the Ohio Ethics Commission admitting that he failed to disclose perks and favors from Noe, stating that it has, "recently come to my attention that I failed to list a number of golf outings or events on my financial disclosure forms over the past several years."

On July 22, 2005, Attorney General, Petro, said Noe stole millions of dollars by using a "Ponzi" scheme to fabricate profits.

On August 27, 2005, Noe took a swipe at Taft, when his attorney released a statement saying that on May 13, 2001, Noe told the governor about the rare-coin fund he operated for the BWC at a Toledo area golf club, after Taft had claimed that he did not know anything about the coin investment with Noe until April 3, 2005, when the Toledo Blade first reported it.

The first hammer dropped on October 27, 2005, when Noe was officially charged with illegally funneling $45,400 to the Bush-Cheney campaign that was raised at a $2,000 per ticket fund-raiser in Columbus, Ohio in October, 2003, by Noe making contributions in the names of others.

The scheme allowed Noe to ignore the $2,000 limit on individual donations by passing the money through 24 friends and associates, described as "conduits" by investigators.

Some of the known "conduits" are four current or former Ohio elected officials, including Toledo City Councilman Betty Shultz, Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber, former state Representative Sally Perz, and former Toledo Mayor Donna Owens.

Court records also show that Noe�s brother-in-law, Joe Restivoand, and two former aides to Governor Taft also served as funnels.

All of the conduits signed donor cards that stated they were the source of their donations even though each knew that Noe made the contributions, prosecutors said. Each politician now faces state ethics charges for failing to disclose the money they received from Noe.

On May 31, 2006, critics took it as a sign that the hammer may be ready to fall on a whole slew of crooked politicians when Noe entered a guilty plea in the US District Court in Toledo to three felony charges related to violating campaign finance laws and told the judge that he agreed "to accept responsibility to spare my family and friends the further embarrassment of any additional court proceeding."

On June 1, the Blade reported that Bush and the Republican National Committee returned a total of $6,000 in direct contributions from the Noes and said, �State and federal politicians -- from Mr. Taft to Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the Republican nominee for governor, to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- have returned tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from Noe and his wife.�

At the time of Noe's indictment, a senior Justice Department official said the case represented the largest campaign money laundering scheme prosecuted by the DOJ since the new campaign finance laws were enacted in 2002.

Ironically, its now known that Bush's reelection could have been derailed by a reporter at the Toledo Blade, the same newspaper that has been out front on the investigation into this whole matter from the beginning.

According to Bill Frogameni in Salon.com, on October 6, 2005, the Blade's chief political columnist, Fritz Wenzel, was told of Noe's campaign finance violations as early as January 2004, but never gave the information to the Blade.

He learned of the violations from a Republican by the name of Joe Kidd, who was then the director of the Board of Elections, who was actually feuding with Bernadette Noe at the time, and retaliated against her by telling Wenzel that Noe was illegally funneling money to the Bush-Cheney campaign and running a questionable coin investment with the state.

According to Salon, sources confirmed that Kidd told them he had this conversation with Wenzel at the time.

However, as it turns out, both Wenzel and his son had personal relationships with the Noes, who even attended the son's wedding.

In fact, in March 2004, a couple of months after Wenzel got the tip, his son was elected to the Lucas County Republican Central Committee, and from April 15, 2005, to the end of May 2005, Wenzel's son was on the payroll of the Ohio Republican Party.

Wenzel's silence did not go unnoticed. A month before Wenzel left the Blade, in a speech at the Lucas County Republicans' annual dinner, Bernadette announced that Wenzel would be leaving the Blade to run his consulting firm and wished him well.

It is also now known that many Republican officials in Ohio suppressed the news of the campaign finance violations to save the Bush campaign. The Blade has learned that the US Attorney�s Office knew of the allegations against Noe about three weeks before the election.

Moreover, by October 15, 2004, the FBI was involved, and the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice in Washington had sent an email to the US Attorney's office in Cleveland, to authorize the investigation.

According to the Blade, records released in June 2005 show that high-ranking aides to Governor Taft also worked to suppress revelations about the BWC�s $215 million hedge fund loss in the final days before the election.

On September 27, 2004, documents show that the BWC�s administrator-chief executive, James Conrad, learned about the loss and in an October 26, 2004, email, Conrad said that the �entire value� of the portfolio was down about $225 million.

As for the media getting information about Noe shenanigans, he had the whole state tied up in knots. When a case by the Blade seeking access to Noe-related records ended up before the Ohio Supreme Court, all five of the justices who had received contributions from Noe had to recuse themselves.

Critics say the scale of the scandal at the BWC could have definitely made a difference in the presidential race. But instead of alerting the public, on election day, a Columbus law firm was hired as special counsel, by Republican Attorney General Petro�s office to investigate the hedge fund matter.

On February 13, 2006, the final shoe dropped and Noe was indicted on 53 felony charges. A grand jury charged Noe with 22 counts of forgery, 11 counts of money laundering, 8 counts of tampering with records, 5 counts of grand theft, 6 counts of aggravated theft, and one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

According to a February 13 Associated Press article, Ohio Inspector General Tom Charles said investigators know where the money went, but would not say where.

"Investigators," the AP said, "were looking into whether any of the stolen money was donated to political candidates."

On May 31, state Senator Marc Dann, a Democrat, told the Toledo Blade that he thinks Noe will be able to cut a deal because he had so much information on other people involved.

�He knows where a lot of the bodies are buried, and not buried. He knows what Jim Conrad knew about this, who in Bob Taft�s office facilitated the second $25 million, who in George Voinovich�s office facilitated the first $25 million investment, and so he has a lot of information that only he knows about the rare-coin investment,�

Senator Dann said. If the recent history of revelations is any indication, many more bodies may indeed be unearthed.

So far the investigation has led Governor Taft and two of his former aides to plead no contest to ethics charges. On July 29, 2005, Brian Hicks, Taft�s former chief of staff, and Cherie Carroll, Hicks' executive assistant, admitted that they took gifts from Noe.

Hicks pleaded no contest to knowingly failing to list on financial disclosure forms that he and his family stayed at Noe's home in Florida in 2002 and 2003, and Carroll pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of "recklessly" accepting meals from Noe valued at over $500.

On February 9, the Ohio Elections Commission referred two other former Taft aides for prosecution. H Douglas Talbott faced charges for, and admitted, that he funneled money from Noe to three Ohio Supreme Court justices and accepted a $39,000 loan from Noe, and J Douglas Moorman was referred because he failed to report a $5,000 loan from Noe.

On June 1, the Blade reported that Bush and the RNC returned a total of $6,000 in direct contributions from the Noes.

�State and federal politicians,� the Blade said, �from Mr. Taft to Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the Republican nominee for governor, to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- have returned tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from Noe and his wife.�

However, the Bush gang is not too anxious to turn over any more money. Instead, the Blade said, �Mr. Bush and his political advisers are taking a wait-and-see approach.�

"We have and will continue to fully cooperate with the investigation," said Aaron McLear, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. "We will make appropriate transfers as directed by the court."

The latest fatality in the rare-coin scheme, is Terrance Gasper, the BWC�s former chief financial officer, who played a central role in the scheme and is reportedly cooperating with federal and state authorities as part of a plea agreement in which he pleaded guilty on June 7 to one count of violating the RICO Act by accepting money and other gifts and perks in exchange for doling out millions of dollars in state investments to firms.

Gasper also pleaded guilty to a felony count of money laundering for accepting $25,000 from Noe and a misdemeanor charge of failing to disclose sources of income, gifts and other perks from 1999 to 2005 on his annual ethics filings.

The RICO charge carries a 20-year maximum prison sentence, and Gasper faces a maximum five-year sentence and a $10,000 fine on the state charges, according to the Toledo Blade.

According to June 7 Associated Press article, �Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said he expects more people to be charged this month.�

And the AP reports that �Gasper said he was "more than willing" to help prosecutors,� so who knows who will end up in the slammer next.

Evelyn Pringle is a columnist for OpEd News and an investigative journalist focusing on exposing corruption in government.

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