A respected Ohio priest as “religious and community leader” has sexually trafficked minors and vulnerable adults for more than two decades, the Department of Justice said on Friday in an indictment not sealed.
A grand jury has indicted Reverend Michael J. Zacharias, 53, with sex trafficking of minors and sex trafficking of minors and adults by force, 10 counts in all. Federal authorities arrested Zacharias on August 18 and have kept him in detention since. He taught at St. Michael’s Parish in Findlay, Ohio.
“Michael Zacharias used his respected position to prey on young people and adults and take advantage of it for his own sexual gratification,” said Brian Russ, the FBI’s special agent in charge of the investigation.
A victim, whose identity has not been disclosed, said Zacharias began treating him while he was still a seminarian in 1999, according to court documents. The victim was then 12 years old, still in sixth grade, and Zacharias allegedly abused him throughout his adolescence and adulthood. Zacharias reportedly paid the victim for oral sex and the victim returned to the priest several times to harbor an addiction to pain medication. The victim said his drug addiction stemmed in part from a sense of self-loathing and questions about his sexuality brought on by the abuse he suffered at the hands of Zacharias.
A second victim described a similar pattern: He was home sick from opioid withdrawal in ninth grade when Zacharias allegedly visited him and paid him for oral sex. The victim used the money to buy more medicine. The victim told the FBI she was afraid to report the abuse because of the lens of a young drug addict accusing a respected priest of sexual abuse.
In another case described in court documents, Zacharias allegedly treated the underage brother of one of his victims and paid the brother so he could mistreat him.
Zacharias allegedly filmed himself assaulting a victim and recorded himself confessing the sexual acts. According to the affidavit, Zacharias said in a clip, “My name is Michael Zacharias. I met for the first time [Victim #1] when he was in 6th grade at St. Catherine’s and I was Seminary. I knew from the first time I saw him that I wanted to suck his cock.
Zacharias goes on to describe staring at the victim’s buttocks while the two were alone together in a hospital room, according to the affidavit. The boy had meningitis.
“I always loved [Victim #1]. I got to know him over the years. I knew he was, that his father was irrelevant, and I started treating him, ”Zacharias reportedly said.
Text messages between the two describe Zacharias as deriving sexual pleasure from a shift in the power dynamic between the two, with the victim recording and keeping a video of Zacharias performing sex acts and confessing to abusing him. The priest would have paid the victim to make the videos and demonstrate that he had never deleted them in order to maintain his influence over Zacharias.
“What’s great about you is that I paid you to make the videos and someday you’re going to ruin me with them and get rich. You are such a stallion !! Zacharias reportedly sent a text.
Zacharias’ years of alleged abuse apparently came to light only after the anonymous victim was arrested in July in an independent case in which investigators reviewed his text messages. After his arrest, Zacharias told him to delete the videos, as he suspected they would cause him trouble. The victim instead gave the videos to the police.
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