Priest sentenced to life in prison for sex trafficking three victims in northern Ohio

Michael Zacharias booking and preist photo header

A priest was sentenced to life in prison for sex trafficking in northern Ohio.

A federal jury in Toledo, Ohio, previously found defendant Michael Zacharias, 56, guilty of five counts of sex trafficking following a two-week trial in May. Evidence presented at trial showed that Zacharias met the victims through his affiliation with a Catholic school. The evidence showed that he used his affiliation and position of authority to groom the boys and grow close with their families before ultimately coercing the victims into engaging in commercial sex acts and manipulating the opioid addictions they developed. 

“Michael Zacharias used his position as a trusted spiritual leader and role model for young boys and their families to exploit them in the most insidious ways, coercing his victims from childhood and beyond to engage in commercial sex with him,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This sentence sends a very clear message that those who abuse their positions of power and authority to sexually assault and exploit children will be held accountable. The Justice Department stands ready to fully enforce our federal human trafficking statutes while seeking justice for the survivors of these treacherous crimes.”

Evidence presented at trial, including the testimony of victims and family members, established that the defendant met the victims when they were minor parochial school students through his affiliation with their school. The evidence showed that the defendant served as a respected member of the clergy for more than 20 years while exploiting his victims over extended periods as they developed opioid addictions and criminal records.  

According to testimony and other evidence presented at trial, including financial and phone records, the defendant manipulated the victims’ fears of opioid withdrawal and homelessness to exploit them for commercial sex acts he directed them to perform in exchange for money.

The FBI Cleveland Field Office, Lima, and Toledo Resident Agencies investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracey Tangeman for the Northern District of Ohio and Trial Attorney Lindsey Roberson of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit prosecuted the case.