Officials in small Ohio town accused of sex trafficking underage girls

PORTSMOUTH, Ohio – A one-way bus ticket and the promise of a modeling contract.

It was the escape Linda Mills had long sought from a life she said was filled with physical and sexual abuse.

Instead, Mills said she was trafficked at age 15, sent to be a prostitute in Chicago by a member of local law enforcement.

“I trusted Phil Malone. I trusted him,” said Mills. “Not once did I ever think he would steer me wrong.

“But it was a betrayal at 15. You’re law enforcement. You’re supposed to serve and protect, and there was no serve and protect.”

Mills is one of four women to accuse Malone or his brother, Mark Malone, of inappropriate sexual conduct or exchanging sexual favors for light treatment from the Portsmouth City Probation Department, where they both worked.

Two of those women, including Mills, said Phil Malone had sex with them when they were underage and either trafficked them or tried to send them away for sex.

The Enquirer spent the last two months investigating the claims against the Malone brothers after publishing the results of a yearlong investigation in March into allegations of sex trafficking here against former Portsmouth Councilman Michael Mearan and others.

The initial Enquirer report detailed accusations by 10 different women against Mearan, a well-known defense lawyer in town, as well as the contents of a federal law enforcement affidavit outlining Mearan’s part in an alleged sex trafficking operation.

Now, the accusations of four women show the activity may have been more widespread.

“Phil Malone was a pervert,” said Kayla Artressia, who says Malone tried to send her to Chicago when she was 16, but that she refused.

Another woman said she had sexual contact with Mark Malone while serving community service at the office when he was in charge.

Mark Malone, the former city probation director, is on administrative leave for possible illegal activity. His brother and former city probation officer Phil Malone was recently charged with a felony.

Phil Malone, 64, has been charged with forgery charges in a case also involving Artressia. He did not respond to questions when asked to comment after his recent arraignment.

His lawyer, Richard Nash, declined to comment after the hearing, but said in an email that “the allegations against Mr. Malone are not true.”

Portsmouth Municipal Court Judge Russell Kegley last month placed Mark Malone, 58, on paid administrative leave, making note in a letter announcing the move of “a possible investigation” into “alleged illegal acts.”

The younger Malone did not return several messages left for him at his home and office.

Mills said her maternal grandfather abused her from a very young age, raping her repeatedly throughout her childhood (he died several years ago).

“Her childhood was robbed from her,” said one of Mills’ former grade school teachers, who asked to remain anonymous because of her school district’s privacy policies.

Dying would have been “a blessing,” Mills said of her sexual abuse.

So when Mills saw an opportunity to get out of town, she leaped at the chance.

Mills said she met Phil Malone while accompanying her mother as she cleaned houses.

She said he used to give her gifts, including inexpensive jewelry and cards to play at the local bingo hall.

She began posing nude for Phil Malone, who soon said he had lined up a modeling contract for her in Chicago. She got on a bus with some cash and said he paid for the ticket.

Mills said another man met her at the bus station, and within hours, she was told she needed to have sex with him “so he could see what he could sell.”

This was in 2000, when Mills was still 15.

“You just become numb to life, period,” Mills said. “Growing up in a dangerous life. … I grew up thinking something was wrong with me.”

She said that began an ordeal that lasted four years, during which she became addicted to drugs.

She said her handler drove her across the country in a Ford Mustang to have sex with other men, and once flew her to New York for more of the same.

“It became the experience of my life I don’t wish upon anyone,” Mills said.

She became pregnant in 2003 from an unknown customer. The baby, a girl, was born in 2004 and put up for adoption.

Mills said she doesn’t know how Malone set her up with the man in Chicago.

Another woman, Nadja Isis, said she also lived with Mills and their handler and worked as a prostitute for the man.

She remembers being there when he picked Mills up for the first time, saying he was manipulative, with promises of making $2,000 a week.

He “can play on your feelings,” Isis said in a Facebook chat from her native country in Europe.

‘Old enough to be my grandpa’

Kayla Artressia said she started smoking pot at age 14 and a year later began injecting the semi-synthetic opioid painkiller OxyContin to get high.

When her friend Linda Mills said she had a way for her to make money, she tagged along to Phil Malone’s house, she said. He was a dispatcher for the Scioto County Sheriff’s Office at the time.

“I’ve always been very modest of my body … (but) I was strung out on OxyContin and whatnot,” Artressia said. “It first started out as just taking nude pictures. And then it became to where it was sexual.

“He was old enough to be my grandpa.”

Artressia said she remembers Phil Malone and Mills trying to convince her to move to Chicago.

“He told me you can make a lot of money,” she said, adding that she was 16 at the time. “I was thankful that I didn’t go to Chicago.”

Artressia said he would pay her $60 to $100 a time, depending on whether it was for pictures or sex.

“Phil Malone had used a professional-type camera and the lens,” she said. “It was like snap, snap, snap, snap, snap. It was not just a couple. It was a lot.”

This continued while Phil Malone worked for the probation office and until she was convicted for trying to smuggle drugs into jail and sent to prison in 2006.

Even then, she said he sent her money in prison and other gifts, including a radio, as well as pictures from home.

Artressia said she was able to stay away from him for years after she got out of prison, but wound up providing him sex for money after she relapsed in 2018.

She provided The Enquirer copies of Paypal receipts for cash from him received over the last three years, saying she only took money for sex or pictures from Phil Malone.

Mills wound up having a child with Artressia’s brother, making the two women family.

The family’s connections with the Malones went further than that.

Artressia’s mother, Anna Artressia, told The Enquirer that she also had a sexual relationship with Mark Malone in the mid-2000s.

Anna said he would sometimes pay her $100 after meeting for sex.

She said now feels he was using the relationship to get sex in return for favorable treatment for her children, some of whom were in the criminal justice system.

The Malones “have degraded us,” Anna Artressia said. “They took a little piece of us that we can’t replace.”

Kayla Artressia and Phil Malone have been charged and indicted on felony forgery and other charges after he allegedly helped her falsify documents as a notary public.

Kayla Artressia acknowledged asking him to notarize a backdated document so she could take possession of her fiancé’s body after his death in May. But she denied forging her fiancé’s signature.

“I want to own up to what I done,” said Kayla now 32.

Kayla Artressia and Phil Malone both pleaded not guilty at their arraignment last month.

Fired twice from law enforcement jobs

According to his personnel file, Phil Malone was hired by the Scioto County Sheriff’s Office in 1989 and staffed dispatch for all of his career there due to his poor eyesight.

His file includes several commendations during the 1990s, including his performance during the riots at the state prison in Lucasville in 1993.

He also served as a leader in the local Boy Scout troop, according to the file.

But in an interview last year, Malone said he was called to help with a fight at the Scioto County Jail that resulted in a broken neck and serious injuries to his hand.

By the early 2000s, he was consistently at odds with Sheriff Marty Donini about taking time off, and Donini fired him in 2005 for abusing the department’s off-time policy.

After his firing, Malone landed a job with the Portsmouth City Probation Department, where his boss was his brother, Mark.

He was responsible for handling the probation of those convicted of low-level misdemeanors.

His personnel file from that time, however, consists of four pages, including the February 2011 letter firing him for “just cause” with no details.

‘Inappropriate physical contact’ with probationers

In 2010, Phil Malone was accused of bringing women who were on probation to his house to have sex for money. 

He said the charges were dismissed, although documents from the Ohio Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel tell a more complete story.

The documents stem from a complaint Phil Malone filed against Municipal Court Judge Steven Mowery over his firing. They indicate Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents investigated Phil Malone.

He admitted to inviting the women into his bedroom to take pictures with a “toy camera,” according to the documents.

He was charged with procuring a prostitute, and a different judge was brought in to oversee the case. Malone pleaded no contest and served a year of probation, according to those documents.

Then, under a plea deal like those offered other first-time offenders, the charges were dismissed.

When Malone completed his probation, the original presiding judge had retired. Judge Kegley, who was technically Phil Malone’s supervisor, sealed the records.

Efforts by The Enquirer to unseal the investigatory file and court records have been unsuccessful to date.

In denying his claim against Mowery, the disciplinary counsel wrote this to Malone: “It is sufficient to note that you engaged in inappropriate physical contact with two of the women.”

The Boy Scout troop dismissed Malone in 2011 after the allegations surfaced, according to media reports at the time.

Was Mearan involved in firing?

Phil Malone previously agreed to an interview at his home in November 2018 before the other women came forward. 

He acknowledged the women came to his home, but denied wrongdoing and denied using prostitutes.

“I was targeted,” he said. “They said that Mike Mearan sent them and assured them they were going to get paid for coming here.

“I did not know them (the women) personally.”

Prostitutes in Portsmouth told The Enquirer that Phil Malone was a frequent customer and that he used to get girls to come to his house to have “hot tub parties.”

Danielle Underwood, 37, said she had been to Phil Malone’s house several times to have sex for money, do drugs and “party in his hot tub.”

“He used to use that hot tub to lure girls there,” Mills said.

Phil Malone acknowledged he once owned a hot tub, but that he had dismantled it.

Mearan “ruined me,” Phil Malone said. “Mike Mearan, he just leaves a bad taste in your mouth and you want to brush your teeth real quick.”

In an email sent last month, Mearan wrote he did not know of those allegations by Phil Malone.

‘Good ol’ boy network’

Heather Hren previously told The Enquirer she worked for Mearan as a prostitute in Portsmouth and across the country in the late 2000s. She said she also had a run-in with the Malones under Mearan’s watch. 

Hren said Mearan took her to the city probation office after she was convicted for petty theft in 2006 and told officials there she was good at oral sex.

She was introduced to Mark Malone, who was the chief probation officer at the time. Hren said she performed oral sex on him.

Then Mark’s brother, Phil, a city probation officer at this time, offered to take nude pictures to allow her to escape probation requirements.

“They take a picture of you when you are on probation,” Hren said. “But Phil said, ‘We can skip all of this if you just let me take a picture of those tits.’ ”

She obliged.

“Then I was off probation,” said Hren, now 37.

Hren said the incident shows what “a big good ol’ boy network” existed in Portsmouth.

The latest disclosures about Portsmouth garnered a strong reaction from U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

“It makes you sick to your stomach that people who have public positions do these kinds of things,” Brown said. “People who have a public position, particularly a position in law enforcement, or a lawyer, or an officer of the court … it makes it even more wrong.”

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, whose office is helping lead a criminal investigation into Mearan, declined to discuss specific cases. But he said such examples show the need for tougher human trafficking laws.

Phil Malone denied any misconduct with Hren. He said there was no way to have any privacy in the office at the time.

A visit to the city probation department showed Phil Malone’s former office did provide the ability to hide behavior.

In a brief interview last fall, Mark Malone denied any wrongdoing in Hren’s case, but declined to discuss his brother’s case or legal troubles at the time.

In an email to The Enquirer in August, Mearan wrote Hren was “a convicted felon” and therefore her allegations should not be taken seriously. Hren pleaded guilty to aggravated drug possession in 2006 and received probation in a case separate from the one that involved the Malones.

Mark Malone was the city’s chief probation officer until July, when he was reassigned to be a bailiff by Judge Kegley. In early August, Kegley placed him on administrative leave with pay.

Kegley, in a letter to Mark Malone announcing the move, wrote he had “been informed of an investigation into alleged illegal acts allegedly committed by you.”

The letter did not specify what illegal activity was being investigated. Malone did not respond to recent messages seeking comment left at the courthouse before his suspension and at his home.

Kegley had no comment.

Fellow city judge Mowery said he did not know what possible illegal activity Kegley referred to in the letter. Mowery said he did not know about the leave, as Malone was Kegley’s employee.

Scioto County Prosecutor Shane Tieman said he didn’t know about Mark Malone’s administrative leave and declined to comment on a possible investigation.

‘Really dirty and nasty’

Another woman says she had sexual contact with Mark Malone in the mid-2000s when she was performing community service in the city’s probation office.

Mary Lawhon told The Enquirer that he sometimes paid her $100 at a time and that the relationship started when she was 18 following a conviction of driving under the influence in 2008.

“Oh my God, the dirty things he would say to me when I would be doing community service,” Lawhon said from prison, where she is serving a three-year sentence for theft from the elderly.

She said she would meet Mark Malone in different locations away from the office. The sexual contact stopped short of oral sex or intercourse, Lawhon said.

“He was really, really dirty and nasty the way he would talk,” said Lawhon, now 29.

Lawhon said the experience “led me to prostitution. I learned how to manipulate men.”

“It hurts my heart,” she said. 

Things came to a head a few years later, when Lawhon said Mark Malone had her arrested out of “jealousy” after she started dating someone else.

“Ever since then, he made sure I always went to jail and always did all of my time,” Lawhon said.

She said she later had sex with Phil Malone for money several times between 2014-15, saying she was addicted to heroin and needed cash for the drugs.

Mark Malone “manipulated the hell out of the situation,” Lawhon said. “I would hate to have anything like this happen to my daughter.”

Mills said the Chicago experience left her hooked on crack and then opioids.

She said she insisted on coming home to Portsmouth to have her second child in 2004 – the one conceived while she was working as a prostitute. And then she hid from her Chicago handler elsewhere in Scioto County until he left without her.

After she moved back to Portsmouth from Chicago, Mills started having sex with Phil Malone for money, and he took more nude pictures of her, she said.

“I hope and pray they don’t end up on social media and ruin anybody else’s lives,” Mills said.

Over the next 10 years, Mills drifted in and out of recovery and eventually was convicted on heroin charges in 2017. She was sentenced to probation and treatment in lieu of prison, finishing both early.

That led to a job with the Ohio Military Reserve, where she works as an office manager.

“I never dealt with the issue about being in human trafficking, holding it all in,” said Mills, 34.

She said coming forward will help her recover, and hopefully others.

“I wanted to be a face for other people in Scioto County. You’re not an addict – you’re someone’s family member,” Mills said.

“I hope from here on out they stop allowing corrupted people to corrupt our town and girls to end up like me.”

If you or someone you know needs help

  • National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888
  • Drug Helpline: 1-888-633-3239

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Read more:

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Why Cops Get Away With Rape

Police Officer Arrested Women, Forced Them to Have Sex With Him

Sex Work Should be Legal — If Only to Protect Women from Police

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