Strongsville priest awaiting indictment by federal grand jury
By Andrew Cass
March 2, 2020
Strongsville priest Robert McWilliams is now in the custody of the U.S. Marshals as he waits indictment from a federal grand jury on child sex crime charges.
McWilliams, 39, who was previously a seminarian at St. Helen’s Catholic Church in Newbury Township appeared in federal court Feb. 27 where court records show he waived a preliminary hearing on charges of child pornography, child exploitation and juvenile sex trafficking.
Federal court records show that McWilliams also waived his right to a detention hearing and is being held without bail.
McWilliams was previously being held in the Geauga County Jail before being moved into federal custody.
The priest was first arrested Dec. 5, 2019, at St. Joseph in Strongsville after the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force raided his office and living space. He was facing criminal charges in Cuyahoga and Geauga counties, but prosecutors in both ultimately dropped their cases after a federal complaint was filed Feb. 21 in the The Northern District of Ohio U.S. Court.
Geauga County investigators allegedly uncovered evidence that McWilliams solicited child prostitutes online during the course of their investigation, according to Geauga County court records. Following that discovery, Geauga County prosecutors met with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and requested that they prosecute the matter in federal court.
According to a Feb. 21 news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio, McWilliams allegedly used a social media network to make contact with a minor male victim “for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex.”
He allegedly met the victim on multiple occasions, and, in exchange for sex, paid the 15-year-old approximately $100 per act. One act occurred at a Medina hotel, according to the complaint.
He is also accused of being in possession, receiving or distributing child pornography, which included approximately 1,700 images and videos, according to the news release. He also allegedly had about 150 files of child pornography in a Dropbox cloud storage account.
McWilliams also allegedly pretended to be a woman on social media applications, which he used to make contact with minor male victims.
“Allegedly, certain of McWilliams’ victims were young boys McWilliams knew because he served as a priest in parishes with which these children and their families were affiliated,” the news release stated. “Posing as the 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.”
McWilliams is alleged to have at times threatened to send those photos to family and friends if the minor victim did not send additional photos and videos. McWilliams is also alleged to have followed through on this threat by sending the mothers sexually explicit photographs he received from minor male victims, according to the new release
The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland placed McWilliams on administrative leave following his Dec. 5 arrest. Records from the diocese show McWilliams was ordained in May 2017.