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Government and Politics


Ohio IG reports on "coingate" a decade later -- and critics question why
Open government advocates and Democrats say there's no new investigation of the key questions
by WKSU's STATEHOUSE CORRESPONDENT JO INGLES


Reporter
Jo Ingles
 
Tom Noe is in prison; other records are expunged in a scandal that led Gov. Bob Taft to plead guilty.
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Ohio' Inspector General Randall Meyer has released his report on the investigation of Coingate --  a decade after the scandalous investment was discovered. As Ohio Public Radio' Jo Ingles reports, the report itself is raising new questions.

LISTEN: Coingate a decade later

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The Inspector General finds no new wrongdoing in this report on the scandal that involved a $50 million investment with Tom Noe, a Republican operative who invested money from the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation into things like Beanie Babies and collectable coins.

Noe is serving an 18-year prison sentence for stealing nearly $5 million from the fund. In the months after the scandal broke, it uncovered influence peddling by the investment chiefs at worker’s comp. Lobbyists and aides had accepted tickets to sporting events, condo stays, cash and other perks. Eventually, the scandal hit the state’s top Republican, then-Gov. Bob Taft, who ended up pleading no contest to four ethics violations.

Meyer’s report concentrates on Noe, but he also concluded the state has changed the way it handles investments since that time to safeguard against bad investments. And Meyer recommends the state continue to follow those new laws and policies.

Why the delay, and where are the transcripts?
But the head of Ohio’s Democratic Party, Chris Redfern, says the IG didn’t do his job. 

“Randy Meyer’s investigation wasn’t to investigate the crimes of Lucas County.  It was to investigate how Tom Noe came to get millions of dollars in state government or the control of it and what he did with it. We will never know the truth now because Tom Charles, and now Randy Meyer, a good Republican supported by Republican Govs. George Voinovich, Bob Taft and now John Kasich, has chosen to look the other way.

“It’s a fact that this inspector general has spent more time investigating and bringing disciplinary charges against park rangers for using out of state licenses improperly than he has investigating millions of dollars stolen that belongs to the taxpayers.”

Meyer, through his spokesperson, declined to comment on the report.

The Ohio Republican Party’s Chris Schrimpf also declined comment. But a spokeswoman for a group that watches state government isn’t holding back. Catherine Turcer with Common Cause Ohio says she can’t understand why this report is coming a full decade after Toledo Blade reporters discovered the crimes.

Expunged records
“There’s nothing in here that would suggest they needed years and years to get this together. And in fact, one of my favorite things in the report, was how they explain some of the individuals were not only prosecuted, found guilty, convicted, but in fact their records had already been expunged by the time this report was released.”

Turcer’s group wanted to find out everyone who was involved with the scandal from the beginning, but she says this report didn’t even try to answer those questions.

“It is fairly typical when government entities release these types of investigations to provide transcripts of interviews. But this is not what was included. And so what we are getting is the kind of summary that we could have gotten from newspaper reports or looking at some court records. We are not getting that peak behind the curtain to what happened during the investigation.”

Turcer says she’s not sure what her group will do in response to this report.

But Redfern says many of the records that couldn’t be accessed before because they were part of the investigation should be available for inspection now. And issues that haven’t been answered in this report can be raised during the coming months.

The real question is whether Ohioans still have an interest in Coingate one decade later.

 

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