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Ohio Sports

Blue Jackets top Red Wings 4-1, snap five-game losing streak

By MITCH STACY AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Joonas Korpisalo made 19 saves, Columbus scored three second-period goals, and the Blue Jackets won their first game played in front of home fans in more than a year, beating the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 on Tuesday night.
Cam Atkinson had a short-handed goal and an assist, and Riley Nash, Jack Roslovic and Boone Jenner also scored for the Blue Jackets, who snapped a five-game losing streak with their most complete game in weeks.
The state of Ohio loosened COVID-19 restrictions to allow 1,953 fans — about 10% of capacity — in Nationwide Arena, the first time the Blue Jackets have played a home game with spectators since March 1, 2020.
“It gave us so much momentum and energy,” Atkinson said. “You know I wasn’t sure at first in warm-ups just because you don’t know how many people 2,000 is (in a large arena). When we came out for the start of the game I was pleasantly shocked. That was a huge boost for us. I think we showed it.”
Anthony Mantha got his sixth goal of the season and Jonathan Bernier stopped 23 shots for the Red Wings before being relieved at the beginning of the third period by Thomas Greiss, who had nine saves and allowed no goals the rest of the way.
Detroit has lost two in a row and three of the last five.
Atkinson scored at 7:44 of the first period after the Blue Jackets were penalized for having too many men on the ice. He took the puck all the way from the Detroit zone and rifled a slap shot in off the post for his fourth goal this season against the man advantage.
Mantha tied the game with a power-play goal late in the first, beating Korpisalo with a wrist shot from the slot. But that would be it for the Red Wings.
Columbus grabbed the lead back in the second when Nash snapped a shot past Bernier’s glove. Roslovic got another on the power play, deflecting a Zach Weresnki long shot, and Jenner put the Blue Jackets up 4-1 with a wrist shot from the right circle late in the second.
That was gratifying for a Blue Jackets team that has given up some leads in the second period this season.
“Step in the right direction,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. “But we’ve got to gain some traction and get some consistency and run some together here, so I hope the guys feel good about it.”
Columbus outshot Detroit 36-20 and had a 60-38 advantage in shot attempts.
“When the momentum shifted away from us, we allowed it to shift away from us,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. “We didn’t have any push-back shifts at all.”
TURN IT AROUND
Columbus, despite losing the five previous games, began the day seven points out of the fourth playoff spot in the Central Division after being swept in a two-game series at Nashville.
“We wanted to turn the page and have a clean slate, and what better way to start that than to bring our fans inside the stadium and cheering us on,” Atkinson said. “That’s why we play the games, for the fans, right? ”
IS HE OR ISN’T HE?
D Patrik Nemeth came off COVID-19 protocol just before game. He had to sit out Sunday’s loss at Chicago after getting a false positive, Blashill said.
NO-GOOD GOAL
An apparent power-play goal by Seth Jones in the second period was taken off the board when a replay showed he was offside carrying the puck into the zone. The shot was perhaps the best of the season so far for usually prolific defenseman, who has just one goal this season. He picked up his 12th assist later on Jenner’s goal.
UP NEXT
Red Wings: Plays at Carolina on Thursday before going home for six games.
Blue Jackets: Begins a two-game series at Dallas on Thursday night.
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Follow Mitch Stacy at http://twitter.com/mitchstacy
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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Categories
Ohio Sports

Stefanski, Browns back at ‘square one’ after ’20 turnaround

By TOM WITHERS AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — Kevin Stefanski’s first season as an NFL head coach was sublime, almost storybook.
He ended Cleveland’s long playoff drought, won a postseason game — watching from his basement as he recovered from COVID-19 — and guided his team around endless obstacles in a global pandemic to almost make the AFC championship game.
An unforgettable year. And as far as Stefanski’s concerned, it’s over.
“We go back to square one in 2021,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do and we are here to get that work started, whenever that may be.”
Stefanski, who was voted AP Coach of the Year for the Browns’ turnaround in 2020, met with reporters Tuesday on Zoom for the first time since a day after the team’s 22-17 divisional-round playoff loss at Kansas City.
As is his style, Stefanski offered no juicy news nuggets about the Browns’ offseason plans. However, he did make it clear that he’s not settling on last season’s success. He won’t be satisfied with an 11-5 record or the team’s first taste of the playoffs in nearly two decades.
“We laid a foundation, but it is really, really important that everyone in this building, all of our players, understand we have to get better,” he said. “To say we are just going to be right back where we left off, that is not the case. It just does not happen that way. Have got to work at it.”
Stefanski is excited about bringing his entire staff back for Year 2, and said he expects everyone — himself included — to take a step forward in ’21.
“My focus, our focus as a staff, as a team, is we have to get better,” he said. “We have to, as coaches, really pull this thing apart and find ways to improve schematically. We have to evolve and I think that has been a big part of our process to date.
“Also, as coaches we have to get better. I have to be a better coach next year for this team and that is my goal. We are working really hard to find different ways for each of us to get better.”
Stefanski wouldn’t comment on the Browns’ interest in free agent defensive end J.J. Watt, who surprisingly signed a two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals on Monday. Cleveland was believed to be among the teams on the star’s short wish list.
With defensive end Olivier Vernon unlikely to return after suffering an Achilles tendon injury, the Browns are expected to address their defensive line in free agency later this month, and there could be some appealing pass rushers available.
Stefanski didn’t want to rate this year’s group, but hinted it will be an area of focus.
“I can’t tell you if it is a strong class or weak class,” he said. “I would just tell you there are always going to be opportunities to improve our team. We know year to year the faces change — new guys come in and guys leave. That is just the nature of this beast. There are always going to be opportunities to improve the roster.”
For the first time in years, the Browns seem settled at quarterback.
Baker Mayfield bounced back with a strong third season with Cleveland. After a slow start, Mayfield had a strong second half, throwing for more than 2,000 yards with 11 touchdowns and one interception in the final eight games.
The Browns are expected to pick up Mayfield’s fifth-year contract option in the offseason, and may look to sign him to an extension.
“Baker definitely became more comfortable in what we were doing, but I would tell you that I became more comfortable with his skillset going across the board,” Stefanski said. “I just think it was the natural evolution of us as an offense as we all learned about each other a little bit more.
“I know he can continue to get better. He is another person that is eager to get better. He works really, really hard at his craft. That is something when you do that, you have a chance.”
NOTES: Stefanski said he’s fully recovered from the coronavirus, saying his “smell and taste came back three weeks post-COVID-19, which was cause to celebrate.” … Stefanski said star WR Odell Beckham Jr. “is doing great” in his recovery from knee surgery. “As you can imagine, he is attacking this thing,” Stefanski said.
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More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Categories
Ohio Sports

Cavs get 101-90 win to hand Houston 12th straight loss

By KRISTIE RIEKEN AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) — Collin Sexton scored 39 points and the Cleveland Cavaliers handed the hapless Houston Rockets their 12th straight loss with a 101-90 victory on Monday night.
The Cavaliers have won a season-high four straight after losing their previous 10 games.
“It gives our guys belief that they can,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “Our guys put in a lot of work (and) because of their continued belief in one another… that puts us in a position to get the wins we’ve gotten the past few games.”
Cleveland had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter before John Wall scored all of Houston’s points in a 6-2 run that cut the deficit to 95-89 with 3 minutes left.
The Cavaliers scored the next four points with the help of a steal by Darius Garland to push the lead back to 10 a minute later.
“We’re hot right now. So we just have to keep playing like we did the last four games,” said Cedi Osman, who had 11 points after missing the last game with back spasms.
It’s Houston’s longest losing streak since dropping 15 in a row in 2001 and the first time the Rockets have lost five straight at home since March 2006. Wall’s performance was the only thing that kept the Rockets in this one. He had 23 points by halftime finished with a season-high 32.
Houston led by one early in the fourth quarter after a 3-pointer by Ben McLemore when the Cavaliers used a 13-0 spurt to take a 90-78 lead midway through the period. Osman had two 3-pointers in that stretch and Sexton added five points.
Bickerstaff was impressed with Sexton’s performance.
“I saw a determination,” Bickerstaff said. “He was not going to let us lose.”
Sexton has scored 22 points or more in nine straight games.
“I knew I had to be better for my teammates,” Sexton said. “And now I’m starting to just play and not overthink the game.”
The game was tied at 63-all after a 3-pointer by P.J. Tucker with about 5 minutes left in the third quarter. The Cavaliers used an 8-2 run after that, with the first five points from Dean Wade, to make it 71-65.
Osman made a 3 for Cleveland after two free throws from Tucker before Mason Jones finished the quarter with a three-point play to cut Houston’s deficit to 74-70 entering the fourth.
Though they couldn’t pull it out late, the Rockets played better than they did in a 49-point loss to Memphis. They made just 4 of 45 3-point attempts on Sunday night in a game where they shot a franchise-low 27.7% overall.
On Monday they’d made four 3s by early in the second quarter and finished 10 of 31 from long range.
“I believe in this group’s competitiveness and their fight, especially coming off the loss we had last night,” Houston coach Stephen Silas said. “I’m disappointed in the loss obviously and I’m disappointed the streak has continued, but I’m proud of these men who gave it everything they had and they just didn’t have enough tonight.”
TIP-INS
Cavaliers: Garland had 14 points and seven assists. Bickerstaff said after the game that he was being evaluated for a groin injury. … Osman added 11 points off the bench.
Rockets: Eric Gordon sat out with a sore left knee. … Danuel House left in the second quarter with a bruised right knee and didn’t return. … Wall had five assists after finishing without an assist on Sunday for the first time in his career.
UP NEXT
Cavaliers: Host Indiana on Wednesday night.
Rockets: James Harden will face his former team for the first time since a January trade on Wednesday night when the Rockets host Brooklyn.
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Categories
Ohio Sports

Indians’ Francona says team didn’t cover up for Callaway

By TOM WITHERS AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — Responding to claims the team protected Mickey Callaway, Indians manager Terry Francona said no one in the Cleveland organization “covered up” for the former pitching coach who’s under investigation by Major League Baseball following allegations of sexual harassment.
Callaway is currently suspended as the Los Angeles Angels pitching coach, pending the MLB inquiry.
The Athletic reported Tuesday that 12 current and former Indians employees came forward in the last month to say Callaway’s actions were so obvious inside the team that “it would have been difficult for top officials to not be aware of his behavior.”
Callaway’s alleged lewd behavior while he was with the Indians from 2013-17 included sending inappropriate photos, requesting nude photos in return and making women “feel uncomfortable.”
“Nobody’s ever deliberately covered up for anybody, I can tell you that,” Francona said on a Zoom call from the team’s spring training complex in Goodyear, Arizona.
The Indians followed with a statement a few hours later.
“Our organization continues to actively cooperate with MLB on their investigation into Mickey Callaway,” it said. “It is important we honor the confidentiality and integrity of that investigation. While we don’t believe the reporting to date reflects who we are as an organization, we will not comment further on the specifics of this matter.”
“We remain committed to creating an inclusive work environment where everyone, regardless of gender, can feel safe and comfortable at all times. We will let our actions – not just our words – reflect our commitment.”
Shortly before Francona spoke to the media, his son, Nick, posted on Twitter that he had read the new story on Callaway and confronted his father. The younger Francona said the Indians “are clearly in the wrong.”
“Their behavior is unacceptable, and even worse, it’s hard to have faith in them to improve and learn when they seem more concerned about covering up wrongdoings that addressing them honestly,” Nick Francona wrote.
The 61-year-old Francona, who managed only 14 games last season because of health issues, said his son’s comments were painful.
“I love all my children unconditionally,” he said. “As you can imagine, that’s a very difficult thing to see. So to deal with it publicly is hurtful.”
According to The Athletic report, some of the employees found it difficult to believe the Indians were caught off-guard by the Callaway accusations.
“I laughed out loud when I saw the quote (in the original report) that said it was the worst-kept secret in baseball, because it was,” one unidentified former employee told The Athletic. “It was the worst-kept secret in the organization.”
Earlier, Francona, who is in his ninth season with Cleveland, was asked if he was troubled by the report.
“I have never worked in a place where I have more respect for people than here,” he said. “And I’ve been very fortunate to work for some wonderful people. I believe that in my heart. I don’t think today is the day to go into details, things like that.”
“I do hope there is a day, because I think it would be good, and I think it’s necessary,” he said.
Last month, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said he wasn’t aware of Callaway’s behavior until he read about it in a story by the Athletic, which detailed Callaway’s pursuit of women over a five-year period with three teams.
Callaway was Cleveland’s pitching coach from 2013-17 before he was hired to manage the New York Mets.
Angels manager Joe Maddon declined to comment Tuesday on the latest report, citing the team’s ongoing investigation.
“I just can’t,” Maddon said. “There’s nothing for me to comment, add or subtract, whatever. We’ll just let this play itself out. We’ll find out where it lands, and then we’ll take it from there, but for right now, I can’t say anything.”
Callaway pitched for the Angels in 2002 and 2003 while Maddon was the team’s bench coach. Callaway was Maddon’s first major hire when he took over in Los Angeles in 2019.
California labor law typically requires a full investigation of such allegations before an employee can be fired for cause if the employee denies wrongdoing. The Angels already promoted bullpen coach Matt Wise to serve as interim pitching coach last month.
When he spoke on Feb. 4, Antonetti said he was “distraught” and “disturbed” by the allegations against Callaway. Antonetti expressed regret that none of the accusers felt they could come forward and that the team was committed to making its workplace safe.
Antonetti added that he was not aware if the Mets had reached out to the Indians before they hired Callaway in 2017.
On Monday, Mets president Sandy Alderson acknowledged the team was perhaps short-sighted in its hiring process and probably should have done a better job of vetting Callaway.
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AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed.
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Categories
Ohio Sports

Brown lifts Miami (OH) over Bowling Green 84-79 in OT

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio (AP) — Dalonte Brown scored a career-high 29 points with 14 rebounds and Miami (OH) beat Bowling Green 84-79 in overtime on Tuesday night.
Mekhi Lairy scored 19 points for Miami (12-10, 9-8 Mid-American Conference), which earned its fourth consecutive road victory. Dae Dae Grant scored 18 points with seven boards.
Trey Diggs had 19 points for the Falcons (14-10, 10-8), whose four-game winning streak came to an end. Daeqwon Plowden scored 19 points with 18 rebounds and Justin Turner scored 16.
Miami also beat Bowling Green 96-77 on Jan. 21.
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This was generated by Automated Insights, http://www.automatedinsights.com/ap, using data from STATS LLC, https://www.stats.com

Categories
Ohio Headlines

DeWine faces choppy political waters 1 year into pandemic

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS and JULIE CARR SMYTH Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — At the beginning of 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was working on plans to battle algae blooms in Lake Erie, crack down on distracted driving, and figure out a way to save an Ohio minor league baseball team.
The largely popular first-term Republican governor accepted an invitation to give the commencement address at Miami University in May. The 2022 election was a long way off, but some Democrats were already exploring challenges to DeWine.
Then came the first week of March, and with it a decision by DeWine that set the stage for a year of politics that today seems like something viewed from the other side of Alice in Wonderland’s looking glass.
On March 3, without a single reported COVID-19 case in the state, DeWine laid down strict attendance limits on the annual Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, a supersized gathering founded three decades ago by Arnold Schwarzenegger that typically brings 20,000 athletes from 80 countries to compete in events including professional bodybuilding and a strongman competition. Annual economic impact on the city: more than $50 million.
“That was really, at least for me, the beginning of the pandemic,” DeWine said earlier this week, adding: “It’s hard to believe that it’s been an entire year.”
Nine days later, with the virus spreading rapidly elsewhere but with just five confirmed virus cases in Ohio, DeWine ordered schools closed for three weeks, becoming the first governor nationally to make such a move. The closing of gyms and theaters followed shortly, and then statewide stay-at-home orders.
What came next was a year of surprising political turmoil for a career politician who many initially believed had met his moment. DeWine, who’s held multiple state and federal offices, now faces reelection in 2022 amid fierce criticism from the very Republicans whose party he spent decades helping to build.
DeWine’s actions against the virus won him early praise, not just from public health professionals but also from business groups and even restaurant owners hammered by the shutdown who acknowledged his actions could save lives.
Soon DeWine, Health Director Dr. Amy Acton and GOP Lt. Gov. Jon Husted were a daily fixture for many Ohioans, the 2 p.m. routine dubbed “Wine with DeWine” by cooped up Ohioans teasingly prone to day-drinking by the pandemic. Acton became a folk hero in her own right, inspiring young girls to dress up like doctors and to conduct their own living room briefings.
The good mood didn’t last long for some. Democrats sued after Acton, acting on DeWine’s orders, postponed Ohio’s March 17 primary just hours before voting was set to begin, thrusting the state’s presidential election into chaos.
In April, DeWine walked back a statewide mask mandate after a single day following intense opposition from Republican constituencies, including many businesses. While keeping masks mandatory for business employees, he finally issued a statewide mandate in July that remains in effect.
On April 13, dozens of lockdown protesters shouted outside the Statehouse Atrium and briefly pounded on its windows as reporters covered the governor’s daily briefing, which had been moved to increasingly larger spaces to accommodate social distancing rules.
As virus deaths rose and national divisions grew, Republican lawmakers pushed back with multiple bills against the GOP governor’s public health orders, leaving Democratic legislators to defend Acton and DeWine. One legislator started a movement to have DeWine impeached.
The bespectacled, graying 74-year-old persisted, concentrating during his briefings on conveying the status of the pandemic and buoying the state’s spirits. He praised ball teams, music groups and schoolchildren, celebrated frontline workers and small business owners and brought on First Lady Fran DeWine to share recipes, activities for parents to do with their stir-crazy children and tips for making a festive mask. He and the first lady also livestreamed themselves receiving the first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.
In June, it appeared his strategy was working. DeWine’s approval rating spiked 31 percentage points from the previous year, to 75%, in a Quinnipiac University poll released that month. Approval for his coronavirus response was even higher, at 77%. What’s more, the numbers carried across party lines and marked an all-time high for any Ohio governor in all the school’s polls of registered voters going back to 2007.
Around that same time, though, Acton had had enough, quitting abruptly amid a torrent of conservative criticism of her that included armed protesters outside her suburban Columbus house. The 55-year-old is now exploring running as a Democrat next year for an open U.S. Senate seat.
With his amiable virus expert gone and criticism growing, DeWine augmented his bi-weekly briefings with two primetime speeches to Ohioans, on July 15 and Nov. 10, pleading for people to wear masks and socially distance themselves to slow the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, a faction of far-right conservatives grew angrier and louder as the months passed. They refused to wear masks as DeWine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised. They rebelled against stay-at-home orders, business closures, curfews and other safety measures. Some GOP governors were opening their states in response, leaving DeWine in an increasingly shrinking club of Republicans willing to embrace some continued restrictions.
Less than a week after his November speech, DeWine found himself in the upside down political position of being praised by Democratic President-elect Joe Biden on the same day he was trolled on Twitter by former GOP President Donald Trump, who suggested that DeWine needed a primary challenger.
DeWine plans to seek reelection next year and, while no primary opponent has publicly announced, some critics of his virus response within the party want the road kept open for him to face a GOP primary challenge. In the meantime, that minor league baseball team survived for now and DeWine continues to push clean water issues and a crackdown on distracted driving.
DeWine vetoed a legislative clampdown on his public health orders in early January, but today faces a similar bill headed for his desk.
As he has throughout the past 12 months, DeWine said last month that lawmakers must focus on the bigger picture.
“What we have to make sure we have to get right is how a future governor — not a Mike DeWine — a future governor can react to an emergency,” he said.

Categories
Ohio Headlines

Police shoot man suspected in Ohio slayings at Detroit motel

DETROIT (AP) — A man suspected in three slayings in Ohio was critically wounded during a Monday morning shootout with police outside a motel near downtown Detroit, authorities said.
Chandra Moore is wanted in the fatal shootings in Cincinnati of his estranged wife and two men, Cincinnati police said in a news release. Moore, 55, also was accused of shooting and wounding a 51-year-old man and a 17-year-old male.
Detroit police officers were watching the motel where Moore was believed to be staying when he exited about 9:50 a.m. Monday, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said. He said police went to the motel after receiving information that Moore was there.
“As he was coming out of the hotel, he observed officers deployed at the location, made his way to a parked vehicle and then he turned and opened fire at our officers,” Craig told reporters. “Multiple officers responded and struck him several times.”
Moore was taken to a hospital for treatment. No officers were injured in the exchange of gunfire. Craig said a semi-automatic handgun and two revolvers were recovered from the scene.
Andrew Wesley, 35, was found dead in Cincinnati Sunday evening. Timothy Dugar, 33, and two others were wounded. Dugar later died at a hospital.
Officers found the body of Brittany Wagoner, 28, at another location. Craig said Wagoner had been stabbed and that she and Moore were estranged.

Categories
Ohio Headlines

Fraud overwhelms pandemic-related unemployment programs

By GEOFF MULVIHILL and ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — With the floodgates set to open on another round of unemployment aid, states are being hammered with a new wave of fraud as they scramble to update security systems and block scammers who already have siphoned billions of dollars from pandemic-related jobless programs.
The fraud is fleecing taxpayers, delaying legitimate payments and turning thousands of Americans into unwitting identity theft victims. Many states have failed to adequately safeguard their systems, and a review by The Associated Press finds that some will not even publicly acknowledge the extent of the problem.
The massive sham springs from prior identity theft from banks, credit rating agencies, health care systems and retailers. Fraud perpetrators, sometimes in China, Nigeria or Russia, buy stolen personal identifying information on the dark web and use it to flood state unemployment systems with bogus claims.
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating unemployment fraud by “transnational criminal organizations, sophisticated domestic actors, and individuals across the United States,” said Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the department’s criminal division.
The Labor Department inspector general’s office estimates that more than $63 billion has been paid out improperly through fraud or errors — roughly 10% of the total amount paid under coronavirus pandemic-related unemployment programs since March.
“We’re all learning that there is an epidemic of fraud,” said U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House’s powerful Ways and Means Committee. Brady said the $63 billion estimate “is larger than the entire budget of the Department of Homeland Security.”
“These are frightening levels of fraud,” he said.
California has been the biggest target, with an estimated $11 billion in fraudulent payments and an additional $19 billion in suspect accounts. Other estimates, according to AP reporting across the states, range from several hundred thousand dollars in smaller states such as Alaska and Wyoming to $6.5 million in Colorado and to hundreds of millions in more populous states such as Massachusetts and Ohio.
The nationwide fraud has fed on twin vulnerabilities: a flood of jobless benefit applications since the pandemic began that has overwhelmed state unemployment agencies and antiquated benefit systems that are easy prey for crafty and persistent criminals.
In Ohio, weekly first-time unemployment claims have ranged from 17,000 to more than 40,000 during the pandemic. But since late last month, those claims have topped more than 140,000 some weeks, with many of them believed to be fraudulent. The state has paid at least $330 million in fraudulent pandemic unemployment benefit claims.
Trying to catch so many bogus claims delays payouts to Ohioans who are legitimately in need of help. In the Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington, Cynthia Sbertoli was receiving $228 a week after she was laid off in March from her job with a nonprofit that runs high school student exchange programs.
Her benefits were put on hold in January after she informed the state that someone had tried to use her identity in a scam to claim benefits. She thought the problem was resolved but has yet to see a renewal of her benefit checks, which she and her husband use to help pay for a son’s vision and auditory therapy.
“It’s just not a good way to take care of people,” said Sbertoli, 49.
In Indiana, Kentucky and Maryland, officials have said that for certain weeks in the new year at least two-thirds of the claims they received were classified as suspicious due to problems verifying identities. It’s not the first brush with serious fraud for Maryland. In July, officials said they’d discovered a massive criminal enterprise that had stolen more than $500 million in unemployment benefits.
Among states that have been hardest hit are those participating in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program adopted by Congress last year. It has been a lifeline for out-of-work freelancers and gig workers who normally don’t qualify for unemployment insurance, but it’s also been a boon for criminals who use stolen identities to make claims. Nearly 800,000 of the 1.4 million claims Ohio has received through this program have been tagged for potential fraud.
Scams have been so widespread that the U.S. Department of Justice is setting aside money to hire more prosecutors. In New York alone, the Department of Labor says it has referred “hundreds of thousands of fraud cases” to federal prosecutors. The state says it has blocked $5.5 billion in fraudulent claims, while New Jersey says it’s prevented $2.5 billion from flowing into the hands of criminals.
Despite those efforts, a government watchdog agency says not enough states are taking the necessary steps to prevent fraud.
In its memo this past week, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General said that by the end of last year, 22 of the 54 state and territorial workforce agencies were still not following its repeated recommendation to join a data exchange run by the National Association of State Workforce Agencies.
That system is designed to check Social Security numbers used in claims to see if they are being used in multiple states, or are linked to dead people or other scam methods. The office said it had found $5.4 billion in fraudulent payments from March through October.
The biggest chunk of that, $3.5 billion, came through claims that used the same Social Security numbers in multiple states. One number was used on claims in 40 states. Twenty-nine of the states paid those claims, totaling more than $220,000.
“The Department needs to take immediate action and increase its efforts to ensure (states) implement effective controls to mitigate fraud in these high risk areas,” the inspector general warned Labor officials.
The people whose identities are used to claim improper benefits often don’t find out until they receive their tax statements.
Andrew Heidtke received a letter in September from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development notifying him that unemployment claims he never applied for were being processed.
“I had no idea what was happening,” said Heidtke, who works as an administrative assistant for an engineering lobbying organization. “I kind of just thought it was spam at first.”
Another victim was 99-year-old Harry Hollingsworth of Strongsville, Ohio. The retired elevator car factory worker received a form in late January showing he had received $3,156 in benefits. Hollingsworth died recently, and his son, Jim Hollingsworth, said the bogus claim created a big hassle.
“It looks like the state, they dropped the ball on this completely,” he said.
In its own survey of state governments, the AP found that many are not publicly disclosing the level of fraud. Some officials expressed concern that providing any information, no matter how general, could provide criminals an opening to exploit their systems further.
President Joe Biden’s administration is pledging to cut down on unemployment fraud even as it tries to extend benefits through September. As part of previous legislation, the administration is sending states $200 million to fight it.
That would be welcome in Virginia, where House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, a Republican, said the Legislature’s watchdog agency should investigate how the state allowed $40 million in bogus payments through prison inmate-related scams.
“How many desperate people, laid off through no fault of their own, could have been helped with that money?” he asked. “It’s maddening.”
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Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
___
Associated Press writers Kimberlee Kruesi in Nashville, Tennessee; Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia; Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin; and Casey Smith in Indianapolis contributed.
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This story was first published on Feb. 28, 2021. It was updated to correct the amount of fraud in Colorado.

Categories
Ohio Headlines

Ohio health dept. to retire system after 4K uncounted deaths

By FARNOUSH AMIRI Report for America/Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An outdated reporting system that led to the undercount of more than 4,200 COVID-19 deaths in Ohio will now be retired, the state’s health department director said Tuesday.
The Ohio Department of Health will retire the manual system it used to provide a real-time death toll from the pandemic over the last year after a breakdown in the system led to a massive adjustment last month to the state’s documented death toll.
“We have been building the plane as we fly it,” Health Director Stephanie McCloud said Tuesday. “And unfortunately, we weren’t given all new parts to build it well. We did not have time to stop the plane to land it, get the new parts that we need, and then take off again.”
The department will switch Tuesday to rely exclusively on a slower but more reliable and accurate system to count virus-related deaths, McCloud said. It had used this slower process as a quality check to reconcile the data from the manual system that failed.
The slower system is based on death certificates sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s infectious diseases database, which are confirmed as COVID-19 deaths before being added to the state’s database. The shift will result in only confirmed, instead of probable, deaths being listed every few days instead of probable deaths listed daily.
The change comes after the health department discovered thousands of unreported deaths last month and announced a restructuring of its infectious disease division. The department said issues with manual data entry affected the reconciliation and reporting of the deaths beginning in October, with most of the uncounted deaths occurring in November and December — the peak of the pandemic’s toll in Ohio.
“We were engaged in a manual process that attempted to provide information in real-time,” McCloud said during a briefing. “The manual process is fraught with more opportunities for issues, even though it is faster in time.”
Republican state Auditor Keith Faber has been auditing Health Department coronavirus death data since September, and his office’s final audit of the 2020 coronavirus death count is expected to be released later this month.
“Auditor Faber is pleased that ODH is taking steps to improve some operational issues while also working proactively to address some of the recommendations that will be made in our audit,” Matt Eiselstein, Faber’s communications director, said.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Ohio did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 2,731 new cases per day on Feb. 15 to 1,924 new cases per day on March 1, according to an Associated Press analysis of data provided by The COVID Tracking Project.
The recent decline and plateauing of cases, deaths and hospitalizations led Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday to relieve certain COVID-19 restrictions in the state, including limitations on mass gatherings like weddings and funerals. DeWine also allowed for more seating capacity at indoor and outdoor entertainment venues.
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Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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Rock ‘n’ roll’s big night comes to Cleveland — in fall

CLEVELAND (AP) — The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced Tuesday that the 2021 induction ceremony will take place at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland on October 30.
President and CEO Greg Harris said the ceremony’s move to the fall will likely stick, going forward, news outlets reported.
The last in-person ceremony before the pandemic, held in March 2019, took place New York’s Barclays Center, but the hall of fame itself is located in the Ohio city. Last year’s ceremony was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, and eventually replaced with an HBO special honoring the inductees.
The 16 nominees this year include Mary J. Blige, Kate Bush, DEVO, Foo Fighters, The Go-Go’s, Iron Maiden, Jay-Z, Chaka Khan, Carole King, Fela Kuti, LL Cool J, New York Dolls, Rage Against the Machine, Todd Rundgren, Tina Turner and Dionne Warwick.
Ballots are sent to an international voting body, but the top five winners of the annual fan vote — held until April 30 — have a better chance at induction. The current leaders of that poll are, from the top, Fela Kuti, Tina Turner, the Foo Fighters, Iron Maiden, and The Go-Gos.