Ohio Man Still Locked up in Baby Sex Travel Case
By Kristina Davis
San Diego Union-Tribune
February 4, 2016
|In this Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 photo provided by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), former Columbus, Ohio, seminarian Joel Wright, second left, is arrested at San Diego’s airport in San Diego on federal charges for allegedly seeking to have sex with infant and young girls in Mexico. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP) AP|
Former seminary student accused of traveling to San Diego to rape infant and toddler girls in Mexico
SAN DIEGO — A former Ohio seminary student accused of traveling to San Diego to rape infant and toddler girls in Mexico agreed during a brief hearing Thursday to be detained in jail for now, although he could argue for bail at a later time if he wishes.
Joel Alexander Wright, 23, was arrested Friday morning after landing at Lindbergh Field, before, investigators said, he could carry out the alleged plan to cross into Tijuana and wait for the girls at a hotel.
He was studying to become a Roman Catholic priest at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus. The school called Wright a former student and said it was “shocked and saddened” to learn of the “heinous and reprehensible” allegations. The Rev. John Allen said in the statement that the school was cooperating with authorities.
According to a 2014 U.S. Department of State report on trafficked persons. Child sex tourism persists in many areas around the world, including Mexico and notably in border cities such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, and tourist destinations such as Acapulco, Cancún and Puerto Vallarta. Many child sex tourists are from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, though some are Mexican citizens, the report states.
The investigation into Wright began in November when the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received a tip from someone who had come across a Craigslist ad soliciting the adoption of infants in Mexico, according to the complaint filed in San Diego federal court.
Agents with U.S. Homeland Security contacted the tipster, who told them that he had communicated with the man — identified as Wright — about a year and a half before. The informant, who was not named by investigators, said the man traveled to Tijuana in 2014 interested in adopting a child. The tipster took him to a hotel, accepted money for the adoption and said he’d return with the child but never returned.
The informant came across Wright again in July 2015 when he spotted a Craigslist ad seeking a Tijuana tour guide. Investigators say Wright told the man that he was looking for a wife, interested in adoption and had a medical appointment in the city. The conversation later turned to what investigators said was Wright’s real motive: having sex with infant girls.
Wright indicated he had past experience in the area but had not gone “all the way,” the complaint states.
In December, a special agent got the tipster’s permission to take over his email account and began communicating with Wright. The conversations centered on Wright’s plans to abuse a 4-year-old girl, the charges state.
“... If she is angry at me she will be even more fun because she will probably try to get away and it is so much more fun when it is a bit of a struggle — what do you think?” Wright wrote, according to the complaint.
About a week later, Wright bought a plane ticket to San Diego and talked of his plans to have sex with girls ages 1 and 4, investigators said. Wright also offered to give the tipster the 4-year-old girl he was planning to adopt, a vintage European military jacket and DVD sets of television series, the complaint states.
Investigators say Wright didn’t follow through, sending the undercover agent an email saying he wouldn’t be coming and, “please don’t ever contact me again for anything.”
At the end of the month, another Craigslist ad popped up, allegedly from Wright, asking for a female tour guide to “show me local attractions and good food along with places to have fun and introduce me to good people,” the court document says. The same informant saw the ad, created a fictitious email account and again reached out to Wright. Once again the conversation turned to adopting children and using them for sex, authorities said.
He allegedly asked for “the cheapest girl under 3” and later settled on three girls, ages 1, 2 and 3, the complaint states. He allegedly asked for children’s Tylenol and candy for the encounter at the hotel.
An undercover agent again took up communications with him, and authorities were at the airport’s baggage claim Friday when Wright landed in San Diego.
Wright 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. The charges carry a combined maximum sentence of 60 years to life in prison.
Wright was on the radar of police in Ohio last year, after he was suspected of placing a Craigslist ad offering parents up to $150 to let him play with and babysit their children, according to a Steubenville Police Department report obtained by 10TV in Ohio. The ad, from a “Joel” who was attending Franciscan University, said he would play with the children under the supervision of the parents, but then suggested the parents could leave after that, 10TV reported.
A concerned citizen who saw the ad reported it to police, who followed up with the address on the ad but found no one living there.
Wright’s next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 25, when he is to be arraigned on the recent charges and enter a plea.