Wednesday, June 01, 2005

For Sale - Maybe

Not exactly a "Deep Throat" moment, but Jonathan Alper, who writes the worthy Florida Asset Protection blog made the big time in the Toledo (Ohio) Blade today.

The Blade is one of the truly great investigative newspapers of all time, and one of the few remaining American media outlets that hasn't succumed to schlepping sensationalism as news or letting penny-pinching corporate bean-counters masquerade as news editors. Over the last two months it's been uncovering, rock by filthy rock, the burgeoning "coin-gate" scandal that seems likely to bring down the entire heirarchy of the Republican Party in Ohio -- including 5 of 7 supreme court justices, the current governor, all leading gubernatorial candidates for '06, and probably a few congressmen and senators, too.

For a succinct account of the scandal itself, check Jerome Armstrong's report on 'My DD' titled "Ohio coin scandal beginning to rock the GOP". Essentially, Ohio's top fund-raiser-for-all leading Republican office-holders and judges, Tom Noe, talked the recipients of his bounty into letting him divert $55 million from the Ohio Worker Compensation Fund into his own rare coin investment business. Among other things, Noe not only owns a coin dealership but he also owns stock in a numismatic valuation company. Next, the Blade discovered that two of the coins Ohio supposedly bought, worth $300,000, had been "lost." Last week, state officials admitted more than a hundred other coins worth $93,000 were "missing."

When state investigators showed up at Noe's coin dealership to inventory the state's remaining coin holdings, Noe -- who also serves as a member of the State Board of Regents and the Turnpike Authority -- refused them admittance. About the same time, Noe's lawyers were telling state officials that he also had used state funds to invest in art work and other 'collectibles' such as autographs and cards. Last Thursday, Noe's attorneys said they estimated $13 million in assets are missing. Many suspect it could be much more. And all of Ohio now is wondering how much of it wound up in the campaign coffers of Ohio politicians and judges. (They're also wondering if any of the politicians will pay the money back to the Worker's Compensation Fund. Fat chance.)

Yes, this is about swing-state Ohio. But there is a Florida connection. That's where Jonathan Alper comes in. Here's how the Toledo Blade explains it:
Amid continuing fallout from alleged mismanagement of Ohio's rare coin funds, a waterfront home in the Florida Keys belonging to Tom and Bernadette Noe has been put up for sale.

The home in Tavernier, Fla., on Key Largo, which includes five bedrooms, an elevator, and a poolside waterfall, is listed for $4.6 million with Schwartz Property Sales/GMAC Real Estate, Islamorada, Fla.
* * *
Records indicate the 4,800-square-foot home went on the market May 6 for nearly $5 million and that the price was lowered a few days later by about $400,000... .

Less than two weeks later, Mrs. Noe, in whose name the house is titled, filed papers to declare the house as her primary residence. That development, along with the couple's sale of a Lake Erie resort home in Catawba Island and planned sale of a Maumee condominium, was interpreted as a signal that the longtime metro Toledo residents planned to relocate to Florida. * * * Such a move would ... attain for [Keys property] the liberal protection from creditors that Florida grants to so-called "domiciles."
To whom does the redoubtable Toledo Blade turn for confirmation of Florida law? Florida's own blogger, Jonathan Alper:
A sale of the property wouldn't necessarily subject the proceeds to seizure by creditors. The money would receive the same protection as a primary residence as long as it was used to purchase another home or "segregated for reinvestment in another home in a reasonable time," said lawyer Jonathan Alper, an asset protection specialist in Orlando.
Those who paid attention to the recently-enacted bankruptcy 'reform' bill may have noticed that while it tightens the screws on the middle class and the poor, at the last minute the Republican majority amended the bill so it would do nothing about the unlimited homestead exemptions available in states like Florida and Texas once you lived here two years. The force that sends the nation's corporate thieves -- like Noe, and Enron's Kenneth Lay, and Worldcom's Scott Sullivan -- drifting down to Florida when they're about to be caught isn't gravity; it's the laws those same thieves paid their congressmen and senators to vote for.

To be sure, the situation for Mr. Noe was complicated last week when an Ohio trial court in Columbus issued an injunction forbidding him from selling any of his property. But enforcing that order in Florida could be tough.

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