An Ohio priest, who was arrested in 2020, was found guilty by a federal jury of sex trafficking of a minor and now faces up to life in prison.
Michael J. Zacharias, 56, of Findlay, Ohio, was charged with five sex trafficking charges, including of a minor and of an adult by force, fraud, coercion, or enticement.
The Department of Justice said Zacharias, a priest at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Findlay, Ohio, who was ordained in 2002, was convicted of trafficking three victims when they were minors and adults.
The jury was presented evidence in court showing how he met the victims when they were young. At the time, Zacharias was in Seminary school at St. Catherine’s Catholic Parish School in Toledo.
A criminal complaint said investigators are aware that his alleged sexual conduct with minors goes back to the late 1990s.
Zacharias started grooming the victims for commercial sex acts when they were young, the DOJ said, and used his position as a priest and teacher to integrate himself into the boys’ lives as a person of trust.
It was gathered that the victims gave into Zacharias and conversations turned sexual before he became sexual with the boys.
Also, during that time, all three boys developed addictions to opiates, starting out first with pain medications, then later, heroin.
Testimony provided by the victims during the trial showed how easy it was for them to submit to Zacharias. The boys feared losing him as a father figure and friend but also feared losing their connection to God and going through opioid withdrawal because Zacharias was giving them money to buy drugs.
One of the victims testified that he was afraid Zacharias would sexually abuse his brother, who was not only one of the victims but also a minor, and others if he did not comply with the defendant’s demands to provide sexual services for money.
“This defendant betrayed the victims in the most inhumane way,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said. “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.”
A sentencing date has not been set for Zacharias, but according to the DOJ, he faces a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of life in prison.