Ohio Priest Accused of Sex Trafficking Played Father Figure To Victims, Enabled Drug Addiction

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.

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