COLUMBUS — One year ago Dave Yost took the oath as Ohio’s attorney general, pledging to give a voice to the powerless and to champion all state residents. His slogan, “Protecting the Unprotected,” covers the vast services provided by the office, from putting away criminals to safeguarding consumers. But it also reflects the office’s commitment to justice, opportunity and equal treatment under the law, regardless of one’s hometown, race, religion, political party, occupation or means.
“If you think year one was fast-paced, hold my coffee – the best is yet to come,” Yost said.
Here is a review of some of the first-year accomplishments of AG Yost’s administration:
Rethinking the Opioid Battle
Ohio continues to suffer through the opioid crisis and, as the office worked to recover money to help offset the local impact, the attorney general simultaneously focused on fighting the originating problem – addiction – at its source. To curb the number of people who succumb to substance use disorder, Yost rolled out two scientific initiatives focused on researching genetic markers and prevention techniques and strategies. He also led a bipartisan coalition of all 56 attorneys general from U.S. states, territories and D.C. in urging Congress to permanently classify fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I drugs.
Taking on Big Medicine
Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are, in theory, well-situated to save states money by obtaining better prescription-drug prices. But in reality, Ohio has been overcharged millions of dollars. Right off the bat, Yost sued OptumRx in an effort to recover nearly $16 million the state paid due to secretly inflated bills for generic drugs. Yost also called on the General Assembly to pass his four-point plan to bring transparency and fairness to the PBM process, without adding new bureaucracy. The attorney general continues to push to hold pharmacy benefit managers accountable and to ensure that taxpayers are not cheated into padding profits for private companies.
Looking Out for Consumers
In addition to filing dozens of consumer protection lawsuits to safeguard Ohioans from predatory and illegal business practices, Yost in his first year launched an online tool to help consumers avoid hiring “bad apple” contractors. The database is a comprehensive listing of the businesses and individuals who the office has taken to court for violating consumer protection laws. In another effort, the attorney general – recognizing that virtually all consumers continue to be plagued by illegal robocalls – took action to aggressively address the nuisance at the national level. Teaming with his counterparts in other states, he brokered an agreement with 12 service providers – including AT&T, Sprint and Verizon – to combat robocalls with new call-blocking technology.
Respecting the Environment
In working to ensure that bad actors don’t abuse the land, air and water that all Ohioans depend on, Yost sued the owners of two high-risk dams – in Tuscarawas and Warren counties – for allowing the structures to become public safety hazards. In another case, in July, he and the Ohio EPA announced that Sunny Farms Landfill in Fostoria had agreed to pay $1.7 million for alleged violations of environmental laws, plus $2 million more for underreported and mischaracterized fees associated with waste entering landfill facilities. In the fall, at the request of the AG’s office, a Jefferson County judge ordered the Crossridge Landfill closed over charges of illegally dumping industrial wastewater into the environment. Shortly thereafter, in a case led by the attorney general’s Environmental Enforcement Section, a judge in Cuyahoga County ordered the cleanup of a crumbling warehouse in Cleveland and mandated that its owner pay a $284,600 civil penalty for using the site to illegally store millions of fluorescent light bulbs containing mercury.
Safeguarding Medicaid and its Recipients
In his first year as AG, Yost and his team worked tirelessly to protect the state’s Medicaid resources and the vulnerable Ohioans who rely on the program for health care. For example, in February, the attorney general announced the indictments of seven workers at a Columbus nursing facility where a patient “rotted to death” because of inadequate care. In another case, the office secured the indictment of the owner of three addiction treatment centers in southern Ohio on charges of drug trafficking, money laundering and more. Evidence showed the man had overbilled Medicaid and dispensed Suboxone, an addiction treatment drug, without authorization from a physician. Elsewhere in the state, the office secured the indictment of a Hamilton County man accused of impersonating a nurse and the conviction of a Franklin County man who defrauded the Medicaid program by faking a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Battling Human Trafficking
The message of “Don’t buy sex in Ohio” reverberated as Yost launched his Human Trafficking Initiative to take on the scourge of human trafficking. Task forces from the Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission worked with numerous law enforcement agencies on undercover sting operations in Youngstown, Cleveland and Columbus, arresting more than 160 people. Among them were predators trying to arrange sex with children. Also, the attorney general initiated a grant program for victims wanting to transform or eliminate tattoos or other such markings that once branded them as the property of pimps or gangs. And, on Jan. 9, 2020, Yost’s inaugural Human Trafficking Summit – themed Hope in Action – sold out, with 600 participants gathering to identify gaps in the fight and to share success stories, lessons learned and best practices.
Supporting Local Law Enforcement
In the past year, the AGO awarded more than $2.7 million to 324 police agencies throughout Ohio to purchase body armor vests for their officers – one of the many ways the office helps local police agencies. At the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, crime labs received 173,590 items for testing from local law enforcement, including 49,963 DNA samples and 26,232 chemistry assignments. The bureau identified methamphetamine 11,547 times; fentanyl, 5,782 times; and carfentanil, 782 times. In Gallia and Meigs counties, OOCIC task forces arrested 12 members of crime ring on 92 felony charges of drug trafficking and possession; in Cleveland, seven people were indicted on 116 felony charges; and in Ross, Pickaway and Fayette counties, 59 people were arrested on a combined 163 felony charges for drug trafficking. As part of these cases, the task forces seized 104 pounds of fentanyl, 170 pounds of heroin, 229 pounds of cocaine and 302 pounds of meth, removing a combined $46 million in drugs from the streets of Ohio.
Assisting in Prosecutions
A firm believer that “the rule of law means the same rules for everybody – great or small, powerful or powerless,” the attorney general supports his Special Prosecutions Section in lending its investigative and legal expertise to cases throughout Ohio. For example, an investigation into the Cuyahoga County jail led to the indictment of nine corrections officers whose trials are ongoing. In several high-profile sexual offender cases in southeastern Ohio, the section helped to convict a former Washington County prosecutor on charges of coercion; a Meigs County corrections officer on 24 charges including sexual battery and kidnapping; a Monroe County man who raped two children and was classified as a sexually violent predator; and a Guernsey County man on charges of rape, sexual battery and aggravated burglary. Also, the section is leading the prosecution of four capital murder cases in the 2016 murders of eight Pike County family members. In February, Yost joined county leaders and state legislators to provide initial financial support for the rural county, which has been financially strained since the Rhoden homicides.
Succeeding in the Courts
From medical rights to labor rights, Yost’s team continues to fight to protect the Constitution and uphold the law of the land. Among many other highlights, the office successfully:
Led amicus efforts to defend regulations prohibiting public money from being used to fund abortions (cases in the 9th and 4th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals).
Persuaded the 6th Circuit to rehear en banc a case involving the constitutionality of Ohio’s law preventing doctors from knowingly performing abortions based on Down syndrome (Acton v. Preterm).
Defended the constitutionality of Ohio’s ballot initiative process in an appeal before the 6th Circuit.
Defended the Ohio Department of Health’s power to hold abortion clinics to the same patient-safety standards as other surgical clinics (WMCD v. Ohio Department of Health, 2nd District).
Helped save from invalidation a provision of federal law requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing medical conditions (Texas v. United States, 5th Circuit). Yost was one of two Republican attorneys general to defend this component of the Affordable Care Act as the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals was considering whether to declare the act unconstitutional. He argued that the “individual mandate” provision could be removed without throwing out the law’s other protections for Americans. In December, the court agreed.