Former Assistant Athens County Prosecutor Michael A. “Mickey” Prisley has died at age 53, The NEWS confirmed today (Friday) with the Franklin County Coroner’s Office and one former colleague.
Prisley, who grew up in Athens, had just been released from federal prison on Aug. 26 after spending less than a year incarcerated on one count of conspiracy to submit false claims for income-tax refunds with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), according to federal prison records. He initially was sentenced to a little more than a year in prison, so it's not clear why he was released early.
Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn confirmed today that he had been informed that Prisley passed away.
“The cause of death is not official yet but it’s presumed to be an overdose,” Blackburn said.
A Franklin County Coroner’s Office representative confirmed Friday that Prisley’s body was being examined by that agency, though that was the only thing that the representative said she could confirm.
Ian James, a former Athens resident and Ohio University graduate who now lives in Columbus, wrote in a public Facebook post yesterday afternoon that the body of Prisley, his “friend and brother,” was found by the Upper Arlington Ohio Police Department Wednesday morning. Upper Arlington is a suburb of Columbus.
“It is believed that Mickey, like so many other addicts, succumbed to his addiction,” James wrote. “The statistics are clear: like so many addicts who come through rehab or incarceration ‘clean,’ find themselves with the freedom to use again. In doing so, his body was incapable of tolerating the level of drugs he ingested.”
Blackburn previously told The NEWS that Prisley struggled with drug addiction, which is why he was terminated from Athens County Prosecutor’s Office employment in January 2014.
Blackburn said Friday that he's “saddened” by the loss.
“Mickey was an extremely talented, passionate prosecutor who for a long time struggled with addiction, and that addiction caused a lot of harm to his personal life, professional life, and eventually his freedom when he was convicted in federal court,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn added that Prisley, while a prosecutor, did plenty of “great things” for Athens County. Athens-based attorney Bob Toy in a brief comment Saturday echoed Blackburn's comments.
"He was a great guy (and) a good lawyer, but unfortunately (had) bad issues in reference to alcohol and drugs," Toy said. "But I miss him greatly, he was a good friend."
Prisley initially was by a federal grand jury in Columbus last November on eight charges relating to fraudulent tax claims and theft of government money.
According to a release from U.S. District Attorney Benjamin Glassman last year, Prisley “conspired with others” between the fall of 2009 and September 2015 to defraud the IRS by filing hundreds of false income-tax returns in an attempt to obtain tax refunds; he would deposit those refund checks into his bank accounts and withdraw them in order to pay his “co-conspirators” their share, while receiving drugs in exchange for cashing those checks.
Prisley was a long-time local assistant prosecutor and served in that capacity from Aug. 29, 2011, to Jan. 21, 2014, according to a prior interview with Blackburn. (Prisley also served in that role through much of the ’90s.)
The Columbus-based law firm where Prisley most recently worked, Yavitch & Palmer, memorialized Prisley in a Facebook post Thursday.
"Ultimately, this profession and this world were too much for him," the post by partner Stephen E. Palmer reads.. "I corresponded with Mickey a few times in the past year. And I had hope that he would rebound and return somehow to a productive life. He had the potential. But he was over-exposed and lacked the tools to cope with it. I’m not just saddened by this loss on a personal level. It’s bigger than that. Mickey had lots more to offer."
James - who was one of the leading forces behind the Issue 3 marijuana legalization ballot issue several years ago - added in a Facebook message that he believes Ohio should authorize medical marijuana as a treatment for opioid addiction.
"The madness of this state forbidding such treatment, while addicts are continually pumped full of dangerous and deadly narcotics, is in many ways, as useful as blood letting with leaches," James said. "If we must illustrate the impact of opioid addiction and overdose deaths within each statehouse district, by delivering legislators the pictures of those who die from overdosing as they occur in those districts, then so be it."