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BREAKING: Ohio Priest Convicted of Sex Trafficking

A federal jury in Ohio convicted Michael J. Zacharias, a priest, of five counts of sex trafficking.

“The charges related to three victims, two of whom Zacharias trafficked when they were minors and as adults,” a Department of Justice release stated.

The evidence presented to the jury reportedly showed how Zacharias paid the victims to engage in sexual acts with him.

The DOJ release said Zacharias utilized the victims’ “fear of serious harm to compel their compliance.”

Mansfield News Journal reported:

Guilty on all five counts was the verdict Friday in the federal sex-trafficking trial of the Rev. Michael Jude Zacharias, a Roman Catholic priest who has led parishes in Mansfield and Fremont.

The jury’s decision was announced a little before 5 p.m. Friday. Deliberations began at noon Thursday, according to Stacey Finley, media coordinator for the court.

Zacharias, 56, was found guilty of all five counts of sex trafficking, two of which involved victims who were minors. The allegations spanned 15 years, from July 2005 to August 2020.

The priest’s sentencing date has not yet been announced.

The trial began May 2 in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Ohio in Toledo.

Read further details from the DOJ release:

Specifically, the jury heard evidence of how Zacharias first met the victims when they were young boys, and he was a Seminarian at St. Catherine’s Catholic Parish school in Toledo, Ohio, and how Zacharias began grooming the boys for commercial sex acts, using his position as a priest and teacher to ingratiate himself with the boys and their families as a trusted friend, mentor and spiritual counselor. The defendant overcame the victims’ resistance to his eventual commercial sex overtures by gradually sexualizing conversations and conduct with them. At the same time, the victims were developing serious opiate addictions, using pain medication and, later, heroin. Zacharias waited to propose commercial sex until he knew the victims were so heavily involved in drug abuse that it was impacting their daily lives, physical and mental well-being and ability to maintain a stable school or work life.

The victims’ testimony explained how, in varying degrees, they submitted to Zacharias’ commercial sex solicitations because they feared the psychological harm of losing Zacharias as a father figure and friend, losing their connection to the Church and God, and suffering the painful symptoms of opioid withdrawal that could be alleviated with the money provided by Zacharias to purchase drugs. One victim in particular – the older brother of another victim – also explained how he feared Zacharias would sexually abuse his minor brother and others if he did not continue to comply with the defendant’s commercial sex solicitations.

“This defendant betrayed the victims in the most inhumane way,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “He robbed them of their childhood, their dignity and their faith. He inflicted cruel psychological harm, preying on their fears and forcing them to choose between submitting to commercial sex acts, or incurring the pain of losing a father figure or counselor, suffering withdrawal sickness, and risking sexual abuse of a loved one. The Justice Department will vigorously prosecute human trafficking crimes to hold offenders like Michael Zacharias accountable and bring justice to their victims.”

“This verdict sends a clear message to those who prey upon children by using positions of trust to further their crimes,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle M. Baeppler for the Northern District of Ohio. “Our office will continue to protect our children by aggressively prosecuting child predators who engage in sex trafficking.”

“The defendant not only abused his victims, but also betrayed the trust placed in him by the congregation and those who dutifully serve parishes across the country,” said Special Agent in Charge Gregory Nelsen of the FBI Cleveland Field Office. “The FBI is committed to finding and investigating child predators, so no other people become victim to deceitful and abhorrent behavior.”


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