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Ohio Catholic priest indicted on charges of juvenile sex trafficking, child porn, exploitation

Ohio Catholic priest indicted on charges of juvenile sex trafficking, child porn, exploitation

Robert McWilliams | Courtesy of the Geauga County Sheriff's Office

Former Ohio Catholic priest Robert McWilliams was indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday on several charges of child sexual abuse.

McWilliams, 40, a Strongsville priest and former seminarian at St. Helen’s Catholic Church in Newbury Township, allegedly pretended to be a woman on his social media accounts, including Grinder, to lure male victims into exploitation and has been charged with juvenile sex trafficking, sexual exploitation of children, and transportation of child porn, among other charges, according to a news release from the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.

"Posing as a female, McWilliams allegedly enticed the minor male victims to send sexually explicit photographs and videos, sometimes threatening to expose embarrassing information McWilliams already knew about the victims if they did not send such images," the news release adds.

"At times, McWilliams is alleged to have threatened to send those photographs to family and friends if the minor male victims did not send additional photographs and videos," the release continues, noting that he followed through with the threats by sending sexually explicit images of his underage male victims to their mothers. 

Some of the victims were young boys the priest knew from his work in parishes, the U.S. Attorney's office said.

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In addition to those crimes, the "affidavit also alleges that McWilliams was in possession of, received or distributed approximately 1,700 images and videos of child pornography and approximately 150 files of child pornography in a Dropbox cloud storage account."

The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland said in a statement that it was "grateful to those in law enforcement who have worked diligently to investigate this matter."

"As the criminal case against McWilliams proceeds, let us continue to pray for justice to be served and healing for those who have been harmed by sexual abuse."

McWilliams had been previously arrested in December for allegedly possessing child pornography and the diocese reportedly "immediately" placed him on leave after learning of his arrest.

"Today's indictment reflects the serious and elaborate nature of the acts allegedly taken by the defendant to traffic and exploit local area children," U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said in a statement. "The alleged acts committed in this case are a disturbing and strong reminder for parents to be vigilant about who their children talk to and what they do online."

McWilliams had served at St. Joseph Catholic Church on Pearl Road in Strongsville, Ohio, at the time of his arrest Dec. 5, according to Cleveland.com. He is being held without bond.

"The case unfolded when Geauga County authorities looked into allegations by children who said someone had used extortion to get them to send nude photographs online, court records show," Cleveland.com reports. 

"Authorities later linked the messages to McWilliams, and they found that he was the person seeking the photos, as he had worked at St. Helen’s Catholic Church in Newbury Township."

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