COLUMBUS -- New charges filed against Ohio Governor Bob Taft's former top aide
have blazed a new trail between "Coingate" and the GOP theft of the
2004 presidential election.
Brian Hicks appears in court today to answer charges that he failed to report
vacation trips he took to Coingate mastermind Tom Noe's $1.3 million home in
the Florida Keys. A top Taft aide for a dozen years, Hicks stayed at Noe's place
in 2002 and 2003. Another Taft aide, Cherie Carroll, is charged with taking
some $500 in free dinners from Noe.
Noe is a high-roller crony of Taft, US Senator George Voinovich and President
George W. Bush. Noe charged the Ohio Bureau of Workman's Compensation nearly
$13 million to invest some $58 million. Ohio Attorney-General Jim Petro, to
whom Noe once donated money, says some $4 million disappeared into Noe's pocket.
The new charges against Taft's former aide are at the edge of Coingate's links
to Bush, Voinovich and organized crime. Through Noe's wife Bernadette, those
links extend to the GOP theft of Ohio 2004.
Tom Noe, northwest Ohio's "Mr. Republican" and a close Bush/Rove
crony, is under federal investigation for making possibly illegal contributions
to the Bush/Cheney campaign.
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. The New York Times dubbed him Toledo's
"Mr. Republican," the GOP "man to see" in northwest Ohio.
While Tom chaired the regional Bush-Cheney campaign, his wife Bernadette chaired
the scandal-torn Lucas County Board of Elections that played a key role in caging
votes to put Bush back in the White House.
Noe's fortune came in part from charging the Bureau of Worker's Compensation
(BWC) $12.6 million in coin-fund related expenses for managing the $50 million
investment between 1998 and 2004. Federal and state officials are now investigating
A "Ponzi scheme" is what Ohio's Republican Attorney General Jim Petro
calls the method by which Noe may have stolen millions of dollars from the state
of Ohio's Bureau of Worker's Compensation (BWC).
Petro says that on May 31, 1998, Noe received the first of two $25 million
payments approved from then-Governor Voinovich's BWC. Noe promptly laundered
$1.375 million into his personal or business account. Rolling in public money,
Noe then asked to run a bizarre rare coin investment scheme on behalf of the
Meanwhile Noe laundered money into Republican Party campaigns. Among others,
he and Bernadette made a $4500 contribution to then-Secretary of State Bob Taft's
successful campaign for governor, at a time when Brian Hicks was Taft's top
The Toledo Blade reports that Noe later gave Taft another $2500. Still another
$2000 went to then-governor Voinovich's successful Senate campaign. And another
$500 went to re-elect Petro, then the state auditor.
Mr. Noe's attorney acknowledged on May 26 that as much as $13 million in BWC
assets remain missing. Petro says $4 million was illegally taken by Noe for
Noe's high-flying financial dance is rooted in the gubernatorial corruption
of his good friend Voinovich, and a shady aide named Paul Mifsud. Mifsud was
Voinovich's Chief of Staff and has become a statewide symbol of official corruption
Mifsud's was responsible for much of Tom Noe's rapid rise. According to the
conservative Columbus Dispatch, May 8, 2005, Mifsud paved the way for Noe's
rare coin gambit.
Mifsud himself spent six months in prison for destroying the government records
of 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 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 cohort
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
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.
Mifsud's own autobiography claimed service in "military intelligence"
with the United States Air Force between 1966-1970. Columbus Alive revealed
in an award-winning article that Mifsud was indeed the key player in spending
millions of Ohio tax dollars to bring the CIA-affiliated drug-running Southern
Air Transport airline to Columbus in 1995.
The infamous Iran-Contra airline went bankrupt in October 1998 after the CIA
Inspector General confirmed printed allegations that a dozen of its pilots were
linked to drug running. A downed Southern Air Transport plane led to the Reagan-Era
Noe's Coingate goes to the Bush family through Misfud, whose connections to
George Herbert Walker Bush date from the 1970s. Regardless of his alleged CIA
connections, Misfud chaired Bush1's Cuyahoga County Bush for President Committee
in 1979. Mifsud was also vice chairman for Ohio’s 1988 Bush for President
Mifsud was investigated by Ohio Inspector General David Sturtz during Voinovich's
first term as governor (1991-1995). Voinovich fired Sturtz. But not before Columbus
ALIVE uncovered Mifsud's role in helping Banks jump from being a bar room bouncer
to the state's leading minority contractor, a major Voinovich donor, and the
contractor of choice for Mifsud's girl friend's house.
As the Mifsud-Banks scandal heated up, 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.
On July 26, 1996, Mifsud resigned as the governor's Chief of Staff claiming
he wanted to spend more time with his family. On October 9, 1997 Mifsud was
sentenced to six months in the Union County Rehabilitation Center after pleading
guilty to ethics violations for altering a public document in the Banks scandal.
Mifsud got a coveted daytime work release which, according to news reports,
allowed him to continue work as a GOP fundraiser and operative. Tom Noe and
Coingate may have been his last covert operation.
The Columbus Dispatch reported that Bush the Elder contacted Mifsud when he
was diagnosed with cancer in 1999. Mifsud died in May 2000.
Three years earlier the Ohio Bureau of Workman's Compensation was caught up
in a major scandal. BWC Chief Operating Office Steve Isaac was fired November
Isaac then sued his former boss, Bureau Chief James Conrad, a longtime Voinovich
operative. Isaac alleged he was fired for filing an ethics complaint against
Dale Hamilton, the Bureau's Deputy Administrator for Special Projects. Dale
is the son of Phil Hamilton, Governor Voinovich's Transition Chief and a powerful
lobbyist for the then-Governor's family business, the Voinovich Companies.
Dale's mother Patricia chaired the important Ohio Board of Personnel Review.
Issac claimed that he found documents in a briefcase that Dale Hamilton left
in Isaac's office that "showed that Hamilton had used his inside status
at the Bureau and the information to which he had acquired access through administering
managed care technology, internal auditing and external consulting for the Bureau,
to benefit Hamilton and Associates," his father's firm.
Essentially Hamilton was mining BWC data on emergency medical services and
other health services and selling the information to Ohio municipalities for
a cut of the reimbursements. Conrad threatened to sue the Columbus Alive weekly
newspaper for reporting the story. He also threatened a private citizen with
a lawsuit within 13 minutes of receiving her email complaining about Isaac's
firing, the Alive later reported. Conrad resigned as BWC Chief on May 27, 2005,
as Coingate began to erupt.
Richard G. Ward, Ohio's Inspector General, released a report on June 19, 1997
after an investigation of the BWC that noted "This experience served to
illustrate serious deficiencies in the ability of BWC to objectively identify,
analyze and deal with allegations of wrongdoing within the agency."
In July, 2003, Taft gave Noe a seat on the Ohio Turnpike Commission for a term
ending June 30, 2011. In Ohio politics, the Turnpike Commission is where the
GOP and organized crime are known to meet. Its commissioners have included a
long string of notorious alleged mob bosses such as Umberto Fedeli, appointed
by Voinovich as its chair.
In August 1996, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Tommy Banks's Banks-Carbone
construction company, suspected as a phony minority front company, bought liability
insurance through the Fedeli Group, solely owned by the Chair of the Ohio Turnpike
Commission. Fedeli refused to disclose his insurance agency clients who did
business with the Turnpike. Fedeli resigned after printed accounts revealed
that he had not disclosed his 1995 relationship with Banks-Carbone. A state
contractor, S.E. Johnson Companies, received a $32 million construction contract
in early 1996, the same year they switched their insurance to the Fedeli Group
That year Voinovich attempted to appoint to the Turnpike Commission Carmen
Parise, an alleged associate of James T. "Jack White" Licavoli, another
reputed organized crime boss. Noe's Taft-appointed eight-year seat at the Turnpike
Commission by Taft put him at dead center of a scandal-ridden office from which
his coin operations could flourish.
Among other things, Noe used his political pull for insider favors like a coveted
ticket at Ohio State's national championship football game in Arizona. Email
documents also indicate Noe attended at least one "Ohio political strategy
session" with GOP operatives Ken Mehlman and Collister "Coddy"
Johnson, George W. Bush's Ohio campaign manager and field director. Karl Rove
is listed as a possible attendee. As a Bush Ranger/Pioneer with unparalleled
clout in northern Ohio and around the 2004 election's most crucial swing state,
Noe was near the top of the national GOP food chain.
In April, the Toledo Blade reported that Noe was under federal investigation
for making illegal donations to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. By all
accounts, Coingate is still in the early stages of unraveling, and where it
reaches, no one yet knows. But most serious observers of Ohio politics believe
it will go very high.
The outing of how Noe and his wife may have used their clout to steal votes
in Lucas County's "Votegate" has also just begun.
Election day in Ohio 2004 was defined by partisan chaos, confusion and theft
everywhere in the state. But the Noe's Toledo was uniquely rife with corruption
Well before election day, Lucas County's Democratic headquarters was broken
into. Key voter data went missing.
On November 2, inner city voting machines mysteriously broke down en masse.
Polls opened late. The Toledo Blade has reported that the sole machine at the
Birmingham polling site in east Toledo broke down around 7 a.m. By order of
Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, no paper ballots were available for backup.
At one school polling station the voting machines were locked in the office
of the principal, who called in sick. The Gesu School in West Toledo temporarily
ran out of ballots. There were huge lines, missing ballots and technical anomalies
associated with the leased Diebold Optical-Scan voting tabulators. Lucas County
BOE Director Paula Hicks-Hudson admitted that the Diebold machines had jammed
during the previous week's testing, but the BOE did not bother to fix them for
Sworn statements at public hearings in Toledo and Columbus confirmed that scores
of citizens were disenfranchised because they had to go to work. According to
the Toledo Blade, at the Birmingham polling site in east Toledo, the sole machine
broke down around 7am. When Ohio Rep. Peter Ujvagi tried to cast his ballot
an hour later, a poll worker told him to place his ballot in "a secure
slot under the machine" so it could be scanned in later, after Ujvagi had
When voting rights activists challenged Republican Secretary of State Blackwell's
controversial partisan handling of provisional ballots, Tom Noe sued on Blackwell's
behalf. Bernadette Noe worked hard to reverse the traditional Ohio practice
of allowing provisional ballots to be cast in precincts other than the one in
which voters were registered. Her efforts helped disenfranchise innumerable
Toledo voters, most of them inner city Democrats..
Ms. Noe also reversed standard procedure and banned public testimony at an
open meeting meant to discuss a Republican Party challenge to 35,000 newly registered
Ohio voters. The challenge was blocked by a federal judge.
But the election in Lucas County had become so infamous that on April 8, Blackwell
fired the entire County Board of Elections. Bernadette Noe had announced her
plans to resign in December, 2004. But Blackwell's desperate move was a slap
in her face, especially since the Secretary of State himself is at center stage
in deepening disputes over how Ohio's 2004 election might have been stolen.
Blackwell served as Ohio's Bush-Cheney co-chair while running what he claimed
to be a fair election.
Blackwell's investigation of the Lucas County BOE has been received with shock
and awe around the state.
It cites 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."
Richard Weghorst, Ohio's Director of Campaign Finance, and Faith Lyon, the
Secretary of State's liaison to county board of elections, found among other
things that optical scan ballots received from a private printing company were
left unattended and unsecured in a warehouse for nearly a month prior to the
Ms. Noe was quoted in the Toledo Blade, saying, "It is important for everyone
to remember that we had a good, fair, and accurate election in November, despite
the fact that we were at the epicenter of the national election."
But election protection activists are swarming into Lucas County and have added
to Blackwell's list a stunning litany of irregularities, all pointing in the
direction of massive vote fraud for the benefit of George W. Bush, engineered
at least in part by his friends Tom and Bernadette Noe.
Tom Noe has been reportedly liquidating his properties to pay back the state.
But his financial sinkhole has already thoroughly tainted a deeply unpopular
The still-young Coingate and Votegate scandals have already catapulted the
Bush/Rove Pioneer/Ranger Noe family close to the realm of headlines currently
reserved for Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame.
But Ohio insiders predict much more to come.