NEW YORK (NY)
New York Daily News
March 15, 2023
By John Annese
A disgraced Queens Catholic Church deacon will spend 16 years behind bars for enticing three boys he met online into having sex with him.
Rogelio Vega, 52, faced his reckoning in Brooklyn Federal Court on Wednesday, breaking down in tears as he described how his actions hurt his victims and his family.
“I wish things can be different and we can go back in time,” he said. “I’d say sorry to [the victims] and to my family also because they’re struggling with what I have done” he told Judge Eric Komitee, taking of his glasses as his emotions overcame him.
“You’ll probably notice that my family is not here today, because I told them not to come, because I don’t want to expose them any more,” Vega added.
Komitee called Vega’s case “especially complex,” but noted, “Deterring the sexual exploitation of children is one of the most important, most essential tasks of the criminal justice system.”
Vega pleaded guilty to three counts of enticing a minor to engage in sexual conduct last September.
He was a deacon at St. Sebastian Roman Catholic Church in Woodside when an undercover NYPD sting operation revealed him as a sexual predator in January 2021.
The detective posed as a 14-year-old boy on the dating site Grindr, and after Vega sent sexually explicit messages and pictures of his genitals for months, he set up a meeting in Queens. Vega was arrested after he propositioned the “teen” and grabbed his leg.
His arrest led to further revelations. Investigators found evidence of more victims on the deacon’s cell phone, leading the feds to identify three underage boys he enticed into sexual encounters.
Vega pleaded guilty in Queens court in October 2021 in exchange for 10 years on probation and a spot on the sex offender registry — and the day of his plea, the feds swooped in and hit him with new charges.
Prosecutors were seeking 30 years behind bars, while Vega’s lawyer, James Darrow of the Federal Defenders, asked the judge for the mandatory minimum, 10 years in prison.
Darrow described Vega as an “ideal candidate” for treatment, saying he will be in heavily monitored and living in a “supportive community” after his release. The lawyer also noted that similar defendants in Brooklyn’s federal court district have received far lower sentences than the 30 years requested by prosecutors.
One similar defendant, Aaron Weinreb, a Brooklyn gynecologist who prosecutors say enticed two underage boys into sex, was sentenced to 54 months in prison in 2021, and prosecutors were asking for 87 months, Darrow noted.
The defense lawyer also mentioned Vega was abused as a child, after the former deacon struggled to bring it up during his statement to the judge.
“It has been delicate speaking to Mr. Vega about his own experience as a child,” Darrow said, explaining that Vega told him that he wishes he’d offer help to the victims instead of exploiting them. “He wishes that he instead spread the gospel to them, is what he said to me.”
Komitee pointed out that similar cases in Brooklyn typically bring a 15-year sentence.
He also suggested that the government take a look at how social media and internet dating sites make it easier for would-be sex offenders to find and communicate with victims, while in the past, they’d have to identify vulnerable youths, isolate them from their parents and groom them over time.
One of Vega’s victims clearly identified that he was 15 years old on Grindr, the judge pointed out.
“What obligation do they have to police this?” Komitee said. “If we’re talking broadly here about deterence, that question seems to me to leap off the page.”