Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Coins and Ohio

Mean Mr. Mustard
said he hadn't had time to read much about Ohio and their coin scandal. So I'm providing a terse summary of what I've read so far, most of it from The Progress Report by The American Progress Action Fund. However, the best bits (in my opinion) are first and relate to the end bits, so you'll get an evolving picture as you read. Keep in mind this doesn't detail all of it - there are so many crooked deals going on that it's dizzying. And, of course, this in no way reflects on the integrity of their voting system.

Think Progress
"A Lance Armstrong Jersey... "

Toledo Blade
Workers' comp bureau concealed $215M loss; Taft, Petro knew about fund's woes many months ago

COLUMBUS - The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation admitted today that it lost $215 million in a high-risk fund that few people knew about.The bureau had invested $355 million with a Pittsburgh investment firm, MDL Capital Management, beginning in 1998.But last year, after diverting $225 million into a fund that works like a hedge fund, the fund lost $215 million. Although the bureau has known about the loss since last year, Gov. Bob Taft was notified about it today.

Progress Report (the rest of the post...)
Coin dealer Tom Noe bought access to right-wing politicians in Ohio and across the nation with generous campaign contributions. Now, the taxpayers of Ohio are paying the price. Through his purchased connections, Noe convinced conservative leaders in Ohio to invest $50 million in rare coins. Under the deal, Noe would take state money from a fund for injured workers and use it to buy and sell coins around the country, keeping 80 percent of the profits for himself. At least $12 million of that investment is now missing. Now, high-profile politicians across the country with close connections to Noe are struggling to avoid the political fallout.

WHERE DID THE MONEY GO?: The details are still murky. But Noe gave a portion of the funds to convicted felon Mark Chrans, who pleaded guilty to perjury and laundering drug money through his coin shop in 1986. Chrans used state money "to pay off personal debt," then declared bankruptcy. Noe wrote off $850,000 in state funds given to Chrans as a business loss. Also under investigation is "the sale of a coin purchased with state money for $122,990 and sold for a penny." And Noe's coin and collectible shop was filled with merchandise illicitly purchased with state funds. Among the items seized by authorities were a Mickey Mantle autographed poster, George W. Bush silver cufflinks and 18 cases of Beanie Babies. Investigators also seized "hundreds of rare coins, Cuban cigars [and] ... 3,500 bottles of wine" from Noe's home.

WHAT'S $50 MILLION AMONG FRIENDS?: Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell said last month that he had few concerns about the highly unorthodox investment in rare coins because the amount of money involved was so small. Blackwell told the Toledo Blade in April, "[w]hen you run a fund the size of $18 billion and you're looking at $50 million, beyond what one's disposition might be, is that an irresponsible amount of risk? Most people would say no." Blackwell had accepted $3,000 in campaign contributions from Noe, which, under intense political pressure, he returned last week.

BUSH TO KEEP $100,000 RAISED BY NOE: Some of the money stolen from Ohio's taxpayers may have found its way into George Bush's campaign coffers. Appropriately, Bush has decided to donate $4,000 that Noe contributed to his 2004 presidential campaign to charity. But Bush plans on keeping $100,000 that was raised by Noe for the campaign last year. So the principle seems to be that Bush will not keep money from an individual who likely engaged in criminal conduct. If the same individual, however, collects big checks from all his friends and presents them to Bush in a big bundle, that's fine. The FBI is also investigating "whether Mr. Noe violated campaign-finance laws." The probe centers on "an October, 2003, fund-raiser in Columbus that generated $1.4 million for the Bush campaign."

ARNOLD TO KEEP $10,000 DONATED BY NOE: California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger received $10,000 from Noe, and he's keeping it. Schwarzenegger fundraiser Marty Wilson said, "The allegations about Mr. Noe became public a year after we accepted his contribution ... we had no reason at the time to question his contribution and have no intention of refunding the money.'' So, according to Schwarzenegger, it's OK to keep money that may have been stolen from taxpayers, as long as you didn't know it was stolen at the time you received it.

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