The human trafficking court case that rocked the city of Portsmouth over the last year will likely be dropped due to the death of defendant Michael Mearan, officials said.
Decades of rumors came to a head in October 2020 when Mearan, a former prominent Portsmouth attorney, was arrested on 18 charges related to sex trafficking. His trial was scheduled to begin in January.
Mearan died Friday after a brief hospital stay, according to his attorney Michael Siewert. Siewert and Luke Sullivan of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office both confirmed to The Enquirer that they are waiting on Mearan’s death certificate to be finalized before asking Judge Patricia Cosgrove to dismiss the case.
“So there’s no timeline on when any information will be released, until that is done,” Sullivan said. “And I don’t have a timeline yet on when the case will be dismissed.”
The death certificate should be filed sometime this week, said Portsmouth City Health Department Interim Administrator Belinda Leslie. But the cause of death will not be noted as Mearan’s body has been sent for an autopsy report.
“I wish we could have had the trial to clear his name,” Siewert said. “At the same token, I’m glad we didn’t because that would have been really hard on him.”
Mearan is accused of manipulating his female clients into sex-for-hire appointments he arranged and profited from. He made women “crawl like dogs” and likened his office environment to that of a “meat market,” court documents read.
Those accusations, which Mearan denied up to his death, mirrored what was first reported in March 2019 by The Enquirer after the invstigating allegations of sex trafficking in the city 104 miles east of Cincinnati along the Ohio River.
Portsmouth Police Chief Debra Brewer told The Enquirer detectives embarked on numerous, previous investigations into Mearan that led to “dead ends” over the years. Informants have come forward with allegations against Mearan from time to time, she said, but eventually the victims would move away or stop talking to investigators altogether. That’s one of the theories as to why it took so long to charge Mearan in the first place.
It’s not clear what will happen next in Portsmouth, or if any potentially related defendants will be charged after Mearan’s death. As for the witnesses, the women victims in Mearan’s case, Sullivan said Yost’s office will work to continue protecting them from future harm.
“Obviously that’s the goal, is to protect the victims,” Sullivan said. “So anything that we can do to do that, the AG wants to do that.”