Michael Mearan, an attorney and former Portsmouth city councilman, manipulated his female clients and pocketed the money they earned in sex-for-hire appointments, according to court documents filed on Friday.
He made women “crawl like dogs,” documents filed by prosecutors in Scioto County Common Pleas Court state. He demeaned and them, verbally abused them and made one woman feel like a “dirty piece of s–t,” all the while serving as the women’s attorney.
One of the women said Mearan referred to her as “the product” and likened the environment of his office to that of a “meat market,” the documents state.
Another woman, whom prosecutors say was sexually assaulted by Mearan, told investigators she believed “she would end up dead if she did not comply with (Mearan’s) requests.”
These details were in a court document filed Friday by prosecutors in the case charging Mearan with 18 counts spanning human trafficking, racketeering and compelling and promoting prostitution.
The new documents mirror what was first reported in March 2019 by The Enquirer after the newspaper investigated allegations of sex trafficking in the city 104 miles east of Cincinnati along the Ohio River.
Mearan, 74, has consistently denied the allegations and did so again when The Enquirer called him Tuesday afternoon. He said the documents don’t have anything “specific” in them.
“I’m waiting to find out who the people (alleged victims) are,” Mearan said. “At this point, I still don’t know what I’m accused of doing(…) It doesn’t say when, where, who. Nothing.”
The Enquirer heard from 10 women prior to Mearan’s arrest who spoke of belittling, coercion and prostitution. They said Mearan, as their defense attorney, promised lenient sentences and waived probation requirements if they were willing to have sex for money.
Documents say Mearan told one of his victims that “he had been under investigation for 20 years and nothing had happened to him.”
Heather Hren, who said she was 24 when she first started working for Mearan, said Mearan brought her to the probation office where an officer took naked pictures of her in exchange for letting her avoid community service obligations. She said she also performed oral sex for a different probation officer.
“(Mearan) used his position as an attorney to cultivate and exploit relationships with highly vulnerable females,” investigators wrote. Mearan “would exchange his services as an attorney for sexual activity from his female clients. In addition to exploiting those clients to satisfy his own needs, he would arrange for them to engage in sexual activity for hire with a number of his male unindicted co-conspirators, among others.”
Prosecutors allege Mearan and co-conspirators would arrange for women to travel within Scioto County to other locations in Ohio and to other states for sex for hire. The women were compensated with legal representation, currency, gifts, meals, personal beauty services and/or lodging.
The women interviewed by The Enquirer said they were sent to Cincinnati and Columbus and traveled out-of-state to New York, New Jersey, Louisiana and Florida for the sex-for-hire “dates.”
On Tuesday, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost told The Enquirer his team is focused on Mearan and declined to comment on whether others will be indicted on sex trafficking-related charges out of Portsmouth.
Also on Tuesday, Mearan told The Enquirer he plans to represent himself, meaning he may have the ability to cross-examine alleged victims. Documents say state prosecutors plan to challenge Mearan’s ability to represent himself.
Richard Nash, an attorney who initially represented Mearan during his October arraignment, confirmed Tuesday that he no longer represents Mearan.
Allegations of recruiting from prison, targeting women in need
Documents filed by prosecutors outline the experiences of six women, each kept anonymous and labeled as “Jane Doe 1-6” until the court decides whether or not Mearan can represent himself.
The incidents in these documents refer to alleged crimes that took place between 2003 and 2018.
Their stories, as documented by prosecutors, are similar. Each begins with a court date:
As their attorney, Mearan would represent the women in exchange for sexual activity, documents state. He would introduce them to several alleged johns and arrange sexual activity for hire with the johns, collect the money and keep all or a portion of it for himself. Sometimes Mearan kept some of the earnings and “rationed” the rest of the money to the women, prosecutors say.
Mearan rented property to one of the women in addition to defending her in criminal court, documents state. Documents say he repeatedly raised her rent and then indicated he had a way for her to “make extra money.” This woman was addicted to drugs during this time – most of the women were, according to the documents – and Mearan exploited and manipulated this addiction. If she refused to go on a “date” Mearan had arranged, he would yell, scream and engage in “antics,” records state.
“She was obligated to him due to his representation of her, and he would often remind her of the things he had done for her (in court) if she did something he did not like,” prosecutors wrote. “He also had access to her probation officer.”
Attorney General Yost told The Enquirer that drug addiction is a common theme in human trafficking.
“By far the most common method to try to retain control over someone so that they can be sold for sex is to get them addicted to drugs,” Yost said. “There is no more compelling thing than addiction sickness. Somebody who is going through a withdrawal will do anything to get their next dose.”
Mearan also paid some of the women to transport alleged johns from Columbus to Portsmouth so they could engage in sexual activity for hire with his alleged victims, prosecutors say.
Mearan kept in touch with the women he exploited, according to court documents. He paid them to recruit other potential victims while they were incarcerated.
“The women were to find attractive, young, women inside the institution who could engage in sexual activity for hire, at (Mearan’s) direction, upon their release,” documents say.
Prosecutors wrote Mearan “targeted” women with drug addictions, indigent women and women facing criminal charges. His continual representation of these women was directly linked to their continual compliance.
“(Mearan) used women’s fear of imprisonment on their criminal charges, their desperation, and their drug addictions to compel them to engage in sexual activity for hire at his direction and for his benefit,” the documents read.
Mearan’s next court date is Jan. 21.
Before then, State prosecutors say they will file a motion challenging Mearan’s ability to defend himself.
Yost says if Mearan does represent himself, his prosecutors will need to be “creative.”
“I’m confident that we can navigate this with some innovation and creativity,” Yost said. “There’s some significant legal issues that we need to work around here regarding discovery and the timing of disclosure of certain evidence.”
Bob Strickley and Liz Dufour contributed.