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Ohio Coin Dealer’s Partner Takes Stand

November 3, 2006

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) _ The former right-hand man for a coin dealer accused of stealing more than $2 million from a state investment testified Thursday that he borrowed rare coins and faked records to make inspectors think they belonged to the state.

Timothy LaPointe, who also is charged in the investment scandal, testified that he made up fraudulent records with approval and help from Tom Noe, his former boss and longtime friend.

``I really believe Tom thought that we always could make up the money and always make it good,″ LaPointe said. ``I did it for the money, and I did it for Tom.″

Noe is a former Republican fundraiser, and the scandal has become a GOP embarrassment that could help Democrats win the governor’s office for the first time since 1990. The trial is expected to last through Tuesday’s election.

Noe, 52, has pleaded not guilty to charges of theft, money laundering, forgery and corrupt activity. Prosecutors allege he lent the state’s money to friends and spent it on himself and his coin business.

Ohio’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation gave Noe $25 million to invest in rare coins in 1998, followed by another $25 million in 2001. Democrats charge that he got the money because of his political connections.

Noe borrowed some of the state’s money to pay off business loans and to prop up his coin business when sales were slow, said LaPointe, who was a vice president of Noe’s business. LaPointe said he received tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses _ even when business was slow _ and lived a lavish lifestyle.

Whenever Noe found out that inspectors were coming to verify the existence of coins bought with state money, Noe would begin figuring out what they needed to show the inspectors, LaPointe said.

They then would borrow coins from customers and other coin dealers to cover the shortfall, LaPointe said. ``We’d get on the phone,″ he said.

LaPointe said he then would create phony purchase orders to make it look like the borrowed coins were purchased with state money. ``Tom told me to create them,″ he said.

LaPointe has pleaded not guilty to charges of engaging in corrupt activity and tampering with records. He has agreed to testify against Noe.

Noe’s defense lawyers have repeatedly pointed out that LaPointe handled the coin shop’s finances and daily operations.

Under questioning from defense lawyer John Mitchell, LaPointe said that he doesn’t have notes or e-mails showing that Noe ordered him to falsify documents. ``It comes down to your word,″ Mitchell said.

LaPointe also said under cross-examination that prosecutors could drop all of the charges against him in exchange for his testimony.

Investigations into the coin investments have led to separate ethics charges against Gov. Bob Taft, who pleaded no contest last year to failing to report golf outings and other gifts.

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