COLUMBUS — A record opioid settlement.
The dismantling of House Bill 6.
Targeting pharmacy benefit managers that manipulate prescription drug prices.
The largest human trafficking sting in Ohio’s history.
These success stories are among the many in 2021 by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and his staff. Yost said in a recent press release of his office’s year-in-review.
“While the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to change the way we live in so many ways, it hasn’t altered the enduring mission of my office,” Yost said. “The opioid crisis is still here; public corruption can never be tolerated; and criminals must be held accountable, especially when they behave so unspeakably. These types of issues – and many others – require our utmost attention every day, and we’re meeting the challenges head-on.”
Since taking office in January 2019, Yost has identified a number of priorities, all areas in which notable achievements were recorded during the past year.
In the fight against human trafficking, for example, the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) paired with about 100 partners from law enforcement and other disciplines on Operation Ohio Knows, a broad-based effort to focus on the demand side of the trafficking problem. The sting, the largest of its kind in state history, culminated in October in the arrest of 161 people who sought to buy sex.
Not every AGO accomplishment of 2021 involved crime directly, but a few benefited those responsible for stopping crime.
As part of his commitment to supporting law enforcement, Yost directed his staff to create a public portal for reporting stolen guns and, separately, a pilot program that allows investigators and officers to perform drug testing in the field using MX908 devices – saving time and identifying drugs that are potentially fatal to the touch almost immediately.
Indeed, the past 12 months have been busy for the AGO. And, with one year about to give way to another, the timing seems right for a little reflection.
Here, then, are 21 ways, presented in no particular order, that Yost’s office protected the unprotected and moved Ohio forward in 2021:
In mid-September, the attorney general reached a historic $808 million settlement with the three largest U.S. opioid distributors. The substantial settlement, scheduled to be paid over 18 years, provides local governments throughout Ohio with long-overdue compensation to help communities battle and recover from the opioid crisis.
The undoing of House Bill 6
Through several court actions, Yost removed the ill-gotten gains from this corrupt legislation, saving the state and FirstEnergy customers nearly $2 billion over the life of HB6. And the fight to undo the scheme continues as the attorney general goes after those who tried to profit from the corruption.
Pike County guilty pleas
The mass shooting of eight members of the Rhodes family rocked Pike County and the rest of Ohio in 2016. This year, AG Yost’s Special Prosecution Section scored a pair of wins by securing guilty pleas from Jake Wagner (in April) and Angela Wagner (in September), two of the four Wagner family members facing aggravated murder charges in the case.
BCI: Stronger than ever at 100
The Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) in September celebrated a century of record keeping, identifications, investigations and lab analysis. Without the ever-vital work of BCI, protecting the unprotected in Ohio would be a lot more difficult.
Timely U.S. Census data
When the federal government said it wouldn’t cough up U.S. Census Bureau data by the legally mandated March deadline, Yost stood up for Ohioans, filing suit to compel the feds to meet the deadline because a delay would significantly hamper Ohio’s redistricting process. The data was released in August, six weeks earlier than planned.
Operation Ohio Knows
In the largest human trafficking sting to date in Ohio, Yost’s office partnered with roughly 100 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies as well as social-service agencies throughout the state. The operation, which targeted the demand side of the trafficking problem, ended in the arrests of 161 people who sought to buy sex. In addition, 51 human trafficking survivors received help from non-governmental and nonprofit social-service groups.
A guide to OICI investigations
Yost directed BCI Special Agent Supervisor Mark Kollar to parlay his vast knowledge, years of experience and varied resources into a “how to” for organizing and executing investigations of officer-involved critical incidents (OICI). The hardbound “best practices” manual (available on the AGO website) is aimed at standardizing such investigations nationwide and improving the public’s trust in the process.
Enhanced officer safety
In an effort to improve officer safety, Yost piloted rapid drug testing with MX908 devices – a breakthrough in narcotics investigations. In addition, Yost created the Ohio Stolen Gun Portal to help identify and recover stolen firearms.
Pharmacy benefits managers (PBMs) became rich middlemen by manipulating the cost of prescription drugs and the amount consumers pay for them. Yost has filed lawsuits against three PBMs for pocketing tax dollars meant to fund prescription drugs for Medicaid patients. The big win this year: Centene agreed to pay a record $88.3 million to settle its Ohio PBM case.
The attorney general is committed to protecting Ohioans from bad actors who threaten and abuse our air, water or land. Among the high-profile environmental cases won by the AGO this year are lawsuits against Donald Combs for dumping tons of trash on his own property, Volkswagen for misleading consumers on the quality of its vehicles and impact on the environment and Sunny Farms for its mass pollution of land of waterways.
Checks on federal overreach
When the federal government tried to usurp the powers of Congress, Yost went to court three times to stop vaccine mandates. Yost, who is fully vaccinated and encourages everyone to get vaccinated, maintained in each lawsuit that the president does not have the legal authority to force Americans into health-care decisions.
Finality, at last, in decades-old case
Forty-seven years after 15-year-old Lori Nesson was killed in Reynoldsburg, her family received closure. The Reynoldsburg Division of Police, having reopened the 1974 case, sought the help of BCI’s Cold Case Unit, which was able to develop two DNA profiles that identified Nesson’s killers. The profiles were matched to Robert W. Meyer of Cincinnati and Charles Webber of Columbus, both of whom are deceased but whose DNA had previously been linked to evidence in the 1975 slaying of a Whitehall teenager.
Drug Dropoff Day
For the first time ever, AG Yost in August partnered with law enforcement agencies in counties hit hard by the opioid crisis to collect and safely disposed of unused and expired medications. The partnership netted 446 pounds of medications. The attorney general’s next Drug Dropoff Day is scheduled in January.
Operation Red, White and Bust
AG Yost has looked for numerous ways to keep drugs out of Ohio and this undercover operation to thwart the illegal sale of opioids and narcotics led to the indictment in July of 45 people. AG Yost congratulated the U.S. 23 Major Crimes Task Force, part of the Attorney General’s Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission (OOCIC), for preventing overdoses and saving lives.
Equality under the law
In April, Marion County Judge Jason Warner and his wife, Julia, were sentenced to two years in prison for a hit-and-run that left a 19-year-old severely injured. When the couple appealed their convictions, Yost in September submitted a 26-page response to the appeals court arguing that the convictions should be upheld. Two months later, the court agreed.
A setback for ‘spoofing’
The attorney general pushed for legislation to crack down on robocalls that “spoof” phone numbers, making it appear Ohioans are receiving calls from area codes in which they live. The legislature answered the call and recently passed Senate Bill 54, which raises the penalties for illegal robocalls and also allows the state to issue criminal charges on each individual call.
The bill goes into effect on March 2 and will allow AG Yost to continue cracking down on illegal robocalls.
Increased funding for crime victims
For nearly a year, the attorney general pushed Congress to bolster the federal crime victims fund, whose balance had dropped precipitously. Calling it a “due bill for justice,” AG Yost applauded the U.S. Senate’s passage in July of the Victims of Crime Fix Act, which allocates additional funds in years to come for crime victims.
OOCIC significant seizures Furthering efforts to keep drugs out of our communities, The Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission (OOCIC) — a collaborative effort involving federal, state and local law enforcement agencies – seized more than $42 million in illegal drugs in 2021.
The task force seized more cocaine, fentanyl and methamphetamines in 2021 than the previous year. The increase in seizures is attributable to the addition of an OOCIC task force, the expansion of other OOCIC task forces, increased levels of drug trafficking in Ohio, and the culmination of long-term investigations.
Accountability for Big Tech
When Facebook (now called Meta) wanted to launch Instagram Kids, Yost spoke out against the idea and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg listened, backing out of the plan. The AGO has also filed lawsuits against the company for mispresenting its algorithms and the safety measures it has in place to stop online bullying and the spread of misinformation. In June, Yost also sued Google to make it a public utility, arguing that its search results shouldn’t be filtered or censored because of Google’s business relationships.
Accountability at the Cuyahoga County Jail
In a case prosecuted by the AG’s Special Prosecution Section, former Cuyahoga County Regional Jail Director Kenneth Mills in October was sentenced to nine months behind bars for his mismanagement of the facility. Ten other jail employees were criminally charged on counts related to inmate injuries. The trial of Mills focused on inhumane conditions at the jail and the deaths of eight inmates.
Raising human trafficking awareness
Along with Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Yost in September partnered with the Cincinnati Reds to raise awareness among baseball fans of the signs of human trafficking and how to report suspicious activity to the National Human Trafficking Hotline 888-373-7888. The public-service announcement also educated fans in attendance on potential signs to look for and that if you see something, say something.
“We are not letting off the gas heading into 2022,” Yost said. “It’s only going to get better from here for Ohio.”