Watchdog: Follow the Money

Lawyer: Ohio ex-governor's record wasn't expunged

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio watchdog's office plans to discuss Wednesday whether to reissue its report on a 2005 rare-coin investment scandal after information surfaced that the document presumed falsely that then-Gov. Bob Taft's criminal record had been expunged.

Inspector General Randall Meyer's top lawyer said Tuesday that Taft's no-contest plea on ethics violations was omitted from mention in the long-awaited report on Coingate, issued Friday, because staff believed the Republican ex-governor's record was among those shielded from public view.

"There has been bunches of miscommunication on this," chief legal counsel Jim Manken said. "We didn't mention the conviction in the report because we had Taft on a list of people whose cases had been expunged. That case was not expunged. Those turn out to be false research results."

Manken said there's a "strong possibility" the Coingate report, already nine years from the start of the scandal, will require a rewrite.

The document included no new findings of wrongdoing but detailed the status of 75 reforms at the workers' compensation bureau that were recommended through reviews at the time by the governor's office, state auditor and Legislature. Meyer concluded the bureau is "a much more professional and accountable organization" today.

The convictions of Taft and four others caught up in the scandal were not mentioned. Another 14 of the 19 total Coingate convictions were included in the report.

Bill Meeks, Taft's attorney, said he has no idea where Meyer's office got the idea that Taft's record had been sealed or expunged. Taft asked Meeks, who represented him in the 2005 case, to check on the matter Tuesday after news reports of the expungement appeared.

Those were based on Meyer's statements that he was legally prohibited from mentioning certain figures' involvement in the scandal because their records had been sealed, combined with the absence of any reference to the conviction of Taft — the perhaps highest profile event of the scandal — in the final document.

"Mr. Taft has never sought, nor is he interested in seeking, an expungement of his misdemeanor record," Meeks said. "So to the extent that there's a news article out there to the contrary, it's incorrect and entirely erroneous."

Taft's historic conviction appears on the website of the Franklin County Municipal Court, where Taft became the first Ohio governor convicted of a crime. He is the great-grandson of former U.S. President William Howard Taft.

Taft declined to discuss the matter in detail when reached Tuesday, referring a reporter to Meeks.

"I'm not going to talk about that," he said.

The scandal began with a newspaper report of a dubious $50 million investment by the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation into a rare-coin fund run by generous Republican fundraiser Tom Noe, of Toledo. Two coins worth $300,000 were reported lost, and other investments were missing or unaccounted for.

A web was eventually uncovered linking influence-peddling at the bureau to bribery, lavish gifts and political contributions.

Taft's conviction involved failing to report golf games with Noe and other gifts on required ethics statements. He served as governor from 1999 to 2007.

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