Former Mansfield priest’s sex-trafficking plea deadline extended

Mansfield News Journal [Mansfield, OH]

February 4, 2022

By Lou Whitmire

A former Mansfield St. Peter’s priest facing multiple federal charges related to sex trafficking has had his plea agreement deadline extended until May 16.

Defense attorneys for the Rev. Michael Zacharias, 53, requested and were granted the extension from a previous Jan. 12 plea deadline by Judge Jack Zouhary of U.S. District Court in Toledo.

Zacharias had served as associate pastor at Mansfield St. Peter’s Church from 2002-2007, according to a spokeswoman for the Toledo Catholic Diocese. 

The priest, who was placed on administrative leave in 2020 by Toledo Bishop Daniel Thomas, originally faced 10 sex-trafficking charges involving minors and adults, but the federal government agreed to dismiss five of those counts in August 2021 due to the alleged criminal acts being beyond the five-year statute of limitations, according to court documents.

Zacharias’ remaining charges include three counts of sex trafficking of a minor and two counts of sex trafficking of an adult.

Accused priest is on administrative leave

Zacharias remains on administrative leave and is still an ordained priest, according to the Toledo Catholic Diocese. Only after a resolution of the federal criminal charges against Zacharias has been reached would the Toledo diocese then be able to pursue a canonical process in his regard, the diocesan spokeswoman said Friday.

According to a Facebook post by St. Michael The Archangel Parish, Zacharias was ordained a priest in 2002.

His assignments, according to the diocese, included: 

  • St. Charles Parish, Toledo, and St. Rose Parish in Perrysburg in the late 1990s where he served as a seminarian, summer residence. 
  • St. Mary’s Parish in Sandusky in the late 1990s where he served as a seminarian, parish member. 
  • St. Catherine Parish in Toledo as a pastoral intern, 1999-2000.
  • Associate pastor at Mansfield St. Peter’s Church from 2002-2007. 
  • Pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Van Wert from 2007-2011
  • Pastor at St. Joseph Parish and St. Ann Parish, in Fremont from 2001 to 2017.
  • Pastor at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Findlay from 2017 to 2020.

He was serving as a priest at St. Michael The Archangel in Findlay when the federal charges were filed and was taken into custody in October 2020 without incident at his home in Findlay by members of the Northwest Ohio Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force.

What are the allegations?

A nine-page affidavit filed in U.S. District Court sworn by FBI agent Brian Russ accused Zacharias of “grooming” victims to use their drug addiction as a way to perform sexual acts on them.

Russ stated that he became aware of Zacharias during an investigation in July 2020 in which a 32-year-old man was found in possession of fentanyl.

Three cell phones were searched in relation to the drug arrest and agents discovered sexual conversations between the man and Zacharias.

When questioned by the FBI, the 32-year-old man said Zacharias molested and raped him as a child and that the priest paid him for sex, including after he turned 18.

A second man, now in his 20s, also was interviewed by agents regarding Zacharias.

The man said he went to St. Catherine’s Catholic School in Toledo from kindergarten through eighth grade and met Zacharias as a first grade student.

While in ninth grade the man said he stayed home because he was “dope sick” and Zacharias said he was in town and wanted to visit. The priest told the man that he would give him $50 for an “oxy” pill if he let the priest perform oral sex on him.

The man told agents he did not want to let that happen, but eventually gave in because he had to fuel his addiction.

After giving the then-teen the money, Zacharias told him that no one could know about what happened because he could get in “a lot of trouble,” the affidavit said.

Bishop Thomas of the Toledo Catholic Diocese said in 2020 that he was “profoundly shocked and grieved” to learn of the charges against the priest. 

Daniel Carson The Freemont Messenger contributed to this story.