According to prosecutors, an Ohio priest was arrested by state police at his home on Tuesday on suspicions that he participated in the sex trafficking and sexual abuse of a minor.
Michael Zacharias, 53, was arrested and taken into custody at his home in Findlay, Ohio, about 50 miles south of Toledo. He has been charged with sex trafficking of a minor, sex trafficking of an adult by force, fraud or coercion, and coercion or enticement.
Zacharias is a priest at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Findley. He was ordained in 2002. The criminal complaint states that law enforcement knows that his alleged sex crimes with minors go back in the late 1990s.
Priest Put On Leave Immediately After Arrest
Since Zacharias was arrested, he has been put on leave by the Diocese of Toledo. Bishop Daniel Thomas stated that he was ‘grieved’ and ‘shocked’ to learn about the sex crime allegations.
Thomas said that the church could not stand that type of behavior, and it takes sexual abuse and misconduct by a priest with extreme seriousness. He added that the church is awaiting the outcome of the investigation, and the church sends out prayers to anyone who has been affected by the alleged crimes.
While Zacharias is under criminal investigation, he is prohibited from engaging in public priestly ministry, administering the Sacraments, wearing priest attire, or presenting himself as a priest.
The agency is encouraging anyone who had contact with Zacharias in the past that could have been groomed for sexual purposes, was inappropriately touched, or sexually assaulted, to contact the FBI immediately (216) 622-6842.
The FBI also stated that the accused priest worked at St. Catherine of Siena in Toledo, St. Peter Parish in Mansfield, St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Van Wert, and St. Ann and St. Joseph Parishes in Fremont.
Priest Allegedly Groomed Two Male Students For Sexual Abuse
Cleveland.com also reports that Zacharias allegedly groomed two male victims who are now 32 and 26, respectively. These alleged crimes occurred when the priest was a seminarian and pupils at St. Catherine of Siena.
Police records state that the victims claim they were hooked on drugs and accused the priest of funding their drug addictions by paying them to engage in oral sex.
Cleveland police stated that the investigation into the Zacharias sex abuse case started when investigators looked into a fentanyl possession case involving one of the priest’s victims.
In late July, FBI agents looked into a drug case involving the 32-year-old sex abuse victim mentioned above. The FBI seized several of his cell phones. While they were combing through the devices, police found graphic text messages with a contact called ‘FrZ.’ The phone number linked to that contact was for Zacharias.
The victim told police that the priest had molested and raped him when he was a minor. He added that Zacharias paid him for being able to do oral sex on him. He said that Zacharias still paid him for sex even after the boy turned 18. This included when the victim was addicted to drugs and needed money to feed his habit.
Man First Met Zacharias When He Was in 6th Grade
The affidavit said that the 32-year-old alleged victim first met the priest when he was in the 6th grade at a Catholic school in Toledo. The priest allegedly started to groom the victim, whose father was mostly absent and physically abusive. He gave the 6th grader money, spent recreational time with him, and engaged in illegal touching and sexual comments while he was in junior high and high school.
Zacharias stayed in communication with the victim after the priest was ordained and transferred to other parishes. Eventually, the grooming turned into sexual abuse.
The victim told police he got addicted to drugs as a teenager and needed money for drugs. Zacharias gave him $1,500 in return for the sexual favors, he said. He told police that he did not want the priest to do it and only let him because he needed money.
The victim also stated the abuse usually occurred at the priest’s rectory in Van Wert, Ohio.
When the victim turned 25, the criminal complaint states, Zacharias said he wanted to make an action video and confession video that would give the sex crime victim power over him. The FBI watched those videos saved on a USB thumb drive, which were created in 2015.
The action video shows Zacharias sexually abusing the victim, and the confession video shows Zacharias in clergy attire, where he admits to sexually grooming and abusing the victim.
Zacharias told the victim that he wanted him to put the confession and action videos in a safety deposit box and use them eventually for his benefit ‘to get rich.’
- Ohio Catholic Priest Faces Sex Trafficking Charges. Accessed at https://www.cleveland.com/crime/2020/08/ohio-catholic-priest-faces-sex-trafficking-charges.html
- Ohio Priest Arrested on Sex Trafficking Charges. Accessed at https://www.foxnews.com/us/ohio-priest-arrested-sex-trafficking-charges
- The FBI Announces Federal Arrest of Michael Zacharias. Accessed at https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/cleveland/news/press-releases/the-fbi-announces-the-federal-arrest-of-michael-zacharias