Taft makes first appearance since convictions

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 29, 2005

MIDVALE (AP) - The tiny town of Midvale got all dressed up for Gov. Bob Taft's first public appearance since he was convicted of ethics law violations. But some residents said they weren't impressed by the show featuring the governor breaking ground at an elementary school.

''I don't think this is what he'll be remembered for,'' said Beverlea Bell, 51, as she pointed to the shell of the school the village is replacing. American flags decorated the road to the nearby field where the new elementary school will be built, and cheerleaders performed at the site.

Taft's appearance tries to put the spotlight back on state business just days after he pleaded no contest to allegations that he failed to report 52 gifts worth nearly $6,000, mostly rounds of golf, that he received over four years. The case spiraled off a scandal over state losses from investments in rare coins and other funds.

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Franklin County Municipal Judge Mark Froehlich found Taft guilty, fined him $4,000 and ordered the governor to apologize to the people of Ohio and to state employees. Taft is the first Ohio governor charged with a crime.

Taft, 63, a Republican near the end of his second two-year term, spoke to a crowd of about 300 people, including several teachers at the school. Afterward, he said he was ready to move on from his conviction.

''I'm not concerned about anything except the job I have to do as governor,'' he said.

The attorney for rare coin dealer Tom Noe, whose investment of $50 million in state funds sparked the scandal, said Taft knew about the investment as long ago as 2001.

Noe received the money from the state insurance fund for injured workers legally, but has acknowledged that up to $13 million is missing. Attorney General Jim Petro has accused him of stealing at least $4 million.

Noe's attorney, William Wilkinson, said Noe discussed the investments with Taft at a meeting in Toledo in May 2001 and has disclosed the investments on public ethics commission filings since 2003.

Taft says he did not know of the investments until reading newspaper reports about them in April of this year.

''All I can say is what I've said for the past several months, which is the truth,'' Taft said Monday. ''The first time I became aware of the Capital Coin investment was back in April.''