Findlay priest indicted on charges of sex trafficking and coercion
CLEVELAND, Ohio (WTVG) - U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman announced Friday that a federal grand jury sitting in Cleveland has returned a 10-count indictment charging Michael J. Zacharias, age 53, with sex trafficking of a minor and sex trafficking of an adult and minor by force, fraud, or coercion.
The defendant was arrested on August 18, 2020, and has remained in federal custody since that time.
Zacharias is the pastor of St. Michael the Archangel in Findlay.
Investigators are aware Zacharias has engaged in sexual conduct with minors since the late 1990s.
Zacharias, who was ordained in 2002, has been placed on administrative leave effective immediately from his position at St. Michael’s, according to Bishop Daniel E. Thomas.
“I am profoundly shocked and grieved to learn of these charges against one of our priests,” Bishop Thomas said in a press release. “The Church cannot and will not tolerate any such behavior and takes any sexual abuse or misconduct on the part of a cleric with the utmost seriousness. As we await the outcome of the criminal investigation, our prayers go out to anyone affected by this situation.”
According to court documents, Zacharias allegedly targeted two boys at Catholic schools in Toledo who had developed drug addictions, offering to pay them for sexual acts to help them purchase drugs.
The first victim was allegedly abused as a Catholic school student in Toledo while Zacharias was in seminary school, with Zacharias paying the victim so Zacharias could perform oral sex on him. The relationship continued through adulthood and through Zacharias moving to Van Wert, Fremont, and Findlay, including once when the victim was allegedly paid $1,500 for allowing Zacharias to perform oral sex at the rectory of a parish in Van Wert.
The victim also told the FBI he had visited Zacharias at the rectory in Findlay multiple times over the last year since Zacharias moved from a parish in Fremont, describing in detail the interior of Zacharias’ bedroom and the rectory.
Zacharias and the victim made numerous videos, some depicting sex acts and others called “confession videos,” where Zacharias, dressed in his priest attire, confessed to grooming and performing oral sex on the victim. Those videos have been viewed by FBI agents, according to the complaint.
A second victim named in the complaint also told the FBI that he had met Zacharias while a grade school student at a Catholic school in Toledo, with the abuse beginning during the victim’s ninth-grade year. The sex acts performed by Zacharias on the second victim allegedly occurred at the victim’s home in Toledo.
According to a press release from the City of Findlay, Mayor Christina Muryn said there is no reason to believe St. Michael’s School or any of its students are involved in the FBI complaint. A spokesperson for the FBI confirms that the two victims identified in the charging document are not from St. Michael’s but as the investigation continues and more victims possibly come forward, that fact could change.
“I am distraught by the news of the arrest of Father Michael Zacharias. These allegations are not taken lightly, and the Findlay Police Department and our community at large will support the full and thorough investigation by the FBI. Such abuse of power, and perversion of sexuality is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated by any organization, individual, or society,” Mayor Muryn said.
The FBI is encouraging anyone that has had contact with Michael Zacharias where they may have been “groomed” for possible future sexual purposes, they were inappropriately touched or they were sexually assaulted by Michael Zacharias to contact the FBI at 216-622-6842. All information will be strictly confidential.
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