Joel Wright: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

By Tom Cleary
January 31, 2016

Joel Wright. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

A 23-year-old man who was studying to be a priest at an Ohio seminary is accused of trying to pay to rape a 1-year-old baby and a 4-year-old girl in Tijuana, Mexico.

Joel Wright was arrested Friday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in San Diego, the agency said in a press release.

Wright has previously tried to adopt a baby from Mexico, according to court documents.

He is charged with traveling with the intent to engage in a sexual act with a minor and attempting to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country, both felonies, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California said.

“This investigation opens a window into a secret world where sexual predators prey on young children around the globe” Dave Shaw, special agent in charge for ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations office in San Diego. “Pedophiles who mistakenly believe they can escape justice by committing child sex crimes outside the U.S. should be on notice that HSI will seek to vindicate the rights of those victims regardless where they live. Fortunately, in this instance, our perseverance and diligence prevented the sexual exploitation of yet another innocent victim.”

(Warning: The story below contains graphic sexual content from court documents.)

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Wright Said He Wanted to Adopt a ‘Baby Girl’ & ‘I Want to Have Intercourse With Her After I Own Her’
(U.S. Attorney’s Office)

Federal authorities were tipped off about Wright in November 2015 from a Tijuana, Mexico, resident who had responded to an advertisement on Craigslist soliciting the adoption of infants. The ad had allegedly been posted by Wright, according to court documents.

The tipster told ICE agents he had lied to Wright and told him he could help him adopt a child. They first met in July 2014 when Wright traveled to Tijuana and paid him money as an adoption fee, the person said. He told Wright he was going leave to get the child and then come back, but he never returned.

In July 2015, the man responded to another Craigslist ad posted by Wright, in which he was seeking a female travel guide, according to court documents. The conversation started with Wright saying he wanted to travel to Tijuana for a medical appointment, meet a woman to marry and then adopt a child, but shifted to his “desire to engage in illicit sexual conduct with female infants,” the criminal complaint states. The tipster asked him if he had sexual experience with infants and Wright replied, “I have not gone all the way before but I have made it very close in the past so I do have experience,” according to court documents.

You can read the full criminal complaint below:

Undercover agents took over the man’s email account in December 2015 with his consent and began communicating with Wright. In those emails, the agents said Wright began explicitly discussing his plans for the children he hoped to adopt. They set up plans for him to travel to Mexico, but Wright backed out.

(U.S. Attorney’s Office)

In January, Wright allegedly posted another ad and again was contacted by ICE’s informant. Wright emailed him and said, “I want to adopt / own a baby girl (under the age of 3) and I want to have intercourse with her after I own her but don’t be telling people that.” He then told the informant to call him Francis and said he could travel there the next Thursday.

2. ICE Says Wright Was Arrested With $2,000 in Cash, Baby Clothes & a Bottle in His Luggage
Wright being led to a police vehicle by ICE agents. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

Wright flew to San Diego on January 28 and was arrested at the baggage claim area with a cell phone and duffle bag, according to court documents.

An ICE spokesperson told the Associated Press that Wright was arrested with $2,000 in cash along with baby clothes and a bottle in his luggage.

He had previously told an undercover agent he bought a “pretty oufit which I think should fit the 1 or 2 year old.”

3. He Is No Longer a Student at the Ohio Seminary Where He Was Studying

Wright is no longer a student at the Catholic seminary, Pontifical College Josephinum, in Columbus, Ohio, the school says. He was a student for one semester.

“We’re shocked and saddened by the heinous nature of the allegations,” Reverend John Allen, the vice president for advancement at the school, told the Associated Press.

Allen said Wright underwent a battery of psychological tests, interviews and a background check before he was accepted as a student. He lost his status at the seminary when he left campus without authorization, Allen told the AP.

A Vermont native, Wright was profiled by a local news station in 2008 when he traveled to New York City for a mass held by the Pope. Wright told WCAX he was considering becoming a priest.

“I’ll be praying for my vocation, and for God to guide me, and for peace in the World,” he said.

4. He Was Born With Glaucoma & Won an Award for His Efforts to Raise Awareness About the Condition
(State of Vermont)

Wright was born with Glaucoma, an eye condition that causes visual impairment. In 2010, he was given the Governor’s Award for Outstanding Volunteer Community Service by the state of Vermont for his efforts to raise awareness about the condition.

In the program for the awards ceremony, the governor’s office said, “Wright has taken the lead for the state of Vermont to promote Glaucoma awareness events for several years, where he coordinates and presents information about Glaucoma. He saw the need and took the initiative to make this happen at his high school in Burlington. Joel has also been an active volunteer with Linking Learning to Life for the past several years. Each year he has helped to successfully carry out one or more major public awareness and fundraising events for the non-profit organization.”

5. Wright’s Mother Said She Doesn’t Believe the Charges
Wright being taken into custody. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

Wright’s mother, Teresa Wright Poquette, told The Associated Press she doesn’t believe the allegations.

Poquette, who lives in Vermont, said she could not comment further. Court records do not have an attorney listed for Wright. He remains in custody and it’s not clear when his first court appearance will be.

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