Ohio Priest Accused of Sex Trafficking Played Father Figure To Victims, Enabled Drug Addiction
By Suneeta Sunny
International Business Times
October 26, 2020
|The former priest played a father figure to his victims and groomed them. |
Michael Zacharias, 53, former Ohio priest who was arrested in August 2020, is facing a 10-count indictment with charges that include sex trafficking of minor, sex trafficking of an adult by fraud, and coercion. He has also been accused of sexually exploiting the minors by enabling their drug addiction.
A Federal Grand Jury in Cleveland on Friday handed down Michael, a 10- count indictment. Michael was arrested on Aug. 18, 2020 and has remained in Federal Custody since then. Michael has been accused of engaging in sexual acts and grooming of minors since late 1990s when he was enrolled as a seminarian.
According to the court documents, he continued to abuse victims while he served as a priest at various religious institutions in the Northern District of Ohio and elsewhere.
“This defendant is accused of using his status and position as a religious and community leader to seek out troubled minors and exploit their personal challenges for his own satisfaction,” U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said in the indictment. He added that the indictment is a step towards serving justice for the victims, families and community harmed by the defendant and his alleged acts.
“Michael Zacharias used his respected position to prey on and take advantage of youth and adults for his own sexual gratification,” FBI Special Agent said in the charge sheet. “We must hold accountable to the fullest extent of the law those who violate their sacred trust to molest and harm our children,” he added.
The investigation started in July 2020, when a 32-year-old victim was arrested on a drug abuse case. The forensic examination of the victim’s phone revealed sexual conversation with a contact name “FrZ”. The police later identified the contact as Michael, a priest at St Michaels parish in Findlay, Ohio.
The victim admits in the complaint that the priest had molested and raped him as a child. The abuse began when Michael first approached him at a Catholic school in Toledo when he was in the Grade 6.
With a physically abusive and largely absent father, the victim viewed Michael as a father figure. The abuse continued over the years, into junior high and high school in exchange for money for his drug addiction. The victim also handed over two videos - an “action video “and a “confession-video” made by Michael to the investigating officers.
The investigation details that the five-minute-long first video shows Michael performing oral sex on the victim. The second video with a modified date describes Michael confessing his sexual attraction to the victim from Grade 6.
“I remember seeing him in the hospital, he had meningitis. I remember it was the two of us alone in the room. And I remember the back of his hospital gown opened up and... I remember rubbing his back,” Michael says in the confession tape, adding that he knew he needed him at that moment.
The report also identifies a second victim who is 26 years old. The second victim admits in the complaint that he was groomed by Michael when he was in Grade1.
He accuses Michael of abusing him over the years in exchange of money to pay for his drug addiction. He also admits that he was too scared to report the abuse because he felt like no one would believe him – “a young troubled drug-addict, – over Zacharias, a respected Catholic Priest”.
Following his arrest, Michael was immediately placed on leave by the Diocese of Toledo. Bishop DanielThomas expressed his outrage after learning the Ohio priest has been accused of sex crimes.
Meanwhile, FBI agents have asked that anyone who has had contact with Michael where they may have been groomed for possible future sexual purposes, were inappropriately touched, or sexually assaulted, to contact them confidentially at 216-622-6842.