Scioto County leaders investigated for human trafficking
By Nikki Blankenship
Earlier this year, Spike TV aired its eight-part series, titled “Gone: The Forgotten Women of Ohio.” The documentary attempted to find answers in some of the area's unsolved cases, including the local case of Megan Lancaster who has been missing since April 3, 2013. Despite their efforts, there are still a plethora of questions that remain unanswered.
A sealed affidavit used in a trafficking case may provide more insights. According to the recently obtained affidavit, several local individuals have been named in a federal investigation into human trafficking, drug trafficking and public corruption that reaches all the way to the state level. The investigation links the alleged criminal organization to some of Scioto County's missing women. A sealed affidavit filed by the FBI with U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division in Columbus on Aug. 19, 2015, as part of a federal investigation, names several individuals in connection to varied criminal activities including trafficking in narcotics, human trafficking and public corruption.
Targets of the investigation include Portsmouth attorney and former City Councilman Michael Mearan; Portsmouth insurance agent Fred Brisker; Ashland, Kentucky car dealer Daren Biggs; convicted narcotics trafficker, Mark Eubanks, of Columbus; Timothy Wayne Mutter, of Franklin Furnace; Richard Glenn, of Portsmouth; Patricia Tsotsos, of Portsmouth; Trent Banks, of Columbus; Kenyatta “Yatta” Connally, of Portsmouth; Dan Schoenberger, of Columbus; Donald Smith, of Columbus; Brett Fluharty, of Milton, West Virginia; and Lindsay Porter, of Portsmouth. There were additional targets of investigation that remained unnamed in the affidavit. The list included an unnamed Scioto County Common Pleas judge, an unnamed state judge, various unnamed members of law enforcement, unnamed staff at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) and various levels of unnamed public officials.
The affidavit explains that information gathered up until the filing date had been collected through the FBI Portsmouth office and the Southern Ohio Drug Task Force (SODTF). During the time, the FBI and SODTF were making controlled buys of heroin and had already tapped the phone of one subject. Additional information was provided by confidential informants. Mearan is at the center of the investigation. The affidavit states that according to gathered evidence, “Mearan is an attorney and former City Councilman in Portsmouth, Ohio who recruits females to engage in prostitution in southern Ohio and occasionally other US locations.”
Per the affidavit, according to the investigation, Mearan allegedly conspired with public officials who pull legal strings in favor of females employed by Mearan. “Mearan has been reported as offering his legal services, clothing, residence, food etc., to females in return for them becoming prostitutes for him and conducting sexual acts for his clients including a Portsmouth, Ohio judge, Southern Ohio Correctional Facility Staff members, and local businessmen,” the affidavit states. “This information was obtained through numerous interviews, including interviews with former prostitutes. Mearan has also been reported as being involved in purchasing drugs, including Oxycodone and heroin, from Eubanks and others, in order to provide them to his prostitutes and clients.
Mearan has also been suspected as being in collusion with a Portsmouth, Ohio judge to get females out on bail, parole, etc., in order to use those females as prostitutes and with unknown law enforcement or legislative officials to tip off Mearan's drug suppliers including Eubanks.” The document indicates that the local attorney's involvement in prostitution can be traced back to the 1990s. According to the evidence presented, Mearan transported prostitutes across the country to meet with clients. These trips are allegedly set up by Mearan and Brisker.
“The females travel specifically to meet clients that were arranged by Mearan and Brisker. The trips would usually last between two days and one week. The scope of this investigation includes subjects who are conspiring with Mearan to facilitate the activities of the Criminal Enterprise in Ohio, Kentucky, New Jersey, Michigan, Florida and New York,” Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Special Agent Keith P. Leighton, who prepared the affidavit, reported.
Evidence includes a compiled list of females who worked as prostitutes for Mearan as well as men (commonly referred to as “johns”) who were provided their services. “The subjects include attorneys and one current state judge,” the document reads. “To date, 27 women have been identified as former or current prostitutes.”
Several informants gave statements of public corruption. In one such example, an informant reported that in late 2013, while she was incarcerated (outside of Scioto County), Mearan represented her as her attorney and helped her obtain a judicial release. She further explained that he then had her parole supervision moved to Scioto County by instructing the court that the female was a dog trainer and would be living with Mearan in order to train his dogs.
Evidence presented in the affidavit indicates that the female was not a dog trainer and became employed by Mearan as a prostitute. The affidavit further states that the informant was a prostitute for Mearan for approximately one year and met with interstate clients including Biggs. The affidavit further documents a separate interstate arrangement, which allegedly occurred in 2014, during which Mearan allegedly arranged for two women to travel to Palm Beach, Florida, to engage in acts of prostitution, all of which was corroborated by photos, telephone analysis and airline information.
Not only did the document link Mearan to acts of prostitution and drug trafficking, it further associated him with women that have gone missing or who have been found murdered.For example, it reads, “On April 3, 2013, a local female went missing after her automobile was discovered parked at a local fast food restaurant in Portsmouth, Ohio. This female was a known prostitute, intravenous drug user and a prostitute employed by Mearan. The investigation into this female's disappearance is currently being conducted by the Portsmouth, Ohio Police Department (PPD).”
The affidavit then states, “On July 17, 2013, another woman utilized in the past by Mearan to engage in prostitution was found deceased in the Scioto County area,” the affidavit reads. “An autopsy revealed the cause of death as multiple traumas. The investigation is being conducted by the Scioto County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) and remains unsolved. The FBI Portsmouth, Ohio office is providing assistance to the SCSO and the PPD with their investigations.”
Mearan is cited as being “an integral part” of numerous other investigations including an Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Cincinnati Field Division White Slave Trafficking investigation, FBI Cincinnati Field Division Human Trafficking investigation, an FBI Detroit Field Division Extortion investigation, an FBI Cincinnati Field Division Mexican Drug Trafficking Organization investigation, an FBI Cincinnati Field Division Violent Gang investigation, an FBI Pittsburgh Field Division Violent Gang investigation and a DEA Cincinnati Resident Office investigation. Mearan's phone number has also been identified as used in association with online advertising with Backpage.com, a classifieds site known for sex-related ads and online prostitution. Advertisements associated with Mearan's phone number included ads flagged for featuring underage girls. Many individuals involved in the investigation for supplying narcotics to the criminal enterprise have since been convicted while other subjects remain at large.
According to court documents, the FBI began investigating a drug trafficking organization operating in central and southern Ohio in 2014,” Frank Lewis reported in an article titled “Locals sentenced in federal court” published by The Portsmouth Daily Times on Oct. 19, 2016.
Lewis' story further credited the convictions to Benjamin C. Glassman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, Angela L. Byers, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Timothy J. Plancon, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Detroit Field Division, agencies participating in the Southern Ohio Drug Task Force, Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs and U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson who presided over the case.
The investigation also led to the convictions of targets Mutter, Glenn, Eubanks, Smith and Banks as well as additional conspirators Johnathan Nunez, of Wheelersburg; Kent Whiteside, of Columbus; and Gregory Workman of Springfield. All have been convicted of conspiracy to distribute narcotics. There are no other known arrests associated with the investigation.