Some sex-related charges dropped against former Van Wert, Findlay priest

By J Swygart - [email protected]

TOLEDO — Five of 10 charges have been dismissed in the U.S. District Court for Northern Ohio against a Catholic priest who was arrested by the FBI 16 months ago for the alleged sex trafficking of an adult and minor.

A federal grand jury indicted Michael J. Zacharias, 55, of Findlay, in August 2020 on charges of sex trafficking of a minor and sex trafficking of an adult and minor by force, fraud or coercion.

Zacharias had been pastor at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Findlay since 2017 at the time of his arrest. He previously served as pastor at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in Van Wert, where at least some of the sexual acts allegedly took place, according to the federal indictment. Bishop Daniel Thomas placed Zacharias on administrative leave after the arrest.

Court records show that a potential change of plea hearing scheduled for Oct. 5 was postponed due to a conflict on the court’s calendar.

The most recent journal entry in the case came following a Nov. 5 status hearing, when the court set a firm plea deadline for 9 a.m. Jan. 12. No plea agreement will be accepted after that date.

According to court documents, from approximately 1999 to July 2020, Zacharias engaged in sex trafficking minors and adults. During that time he was enrolled as a seminarian and employed as a priest at various religious institutions in the Northern District of Ohio and elsewhere. He is accused of using his position of trust to seek out underage, minor victims and guide them into performing sexual acts. In addition, he is accused of using the drug addiction of his victims in order to coerce them into performing commercial sex acts.

This summer, attorneys for Zacharias filed a motion to dismiss five of the counts against their client on the basis that time limitations had expired.

Citing Title 18 of the U.S. Code, attorneys for Zacharias argued that “except as otherwise expressly provided by law, no person shall be prosecuted, tried or punished for any offense … unless the indictment is found or the information is instituted within five years after such offense shall have been committed.”

Count two of the indictment alleged an offense of sex trafficking of an adult from July 2006 to March 2010. Count three alleges acts that were said to have occurred from July 2012 to January 2015. Allegations contained in count seven are said to have taken place between June 2012 and June 2013, and those in count eight allegedly took place between January 2011 and April 2015. Charges in count 10 allege similar acts took place from 1999 until December 2001.

The government agreed to dismiss those five counts, and Judge Jack Zouhary granted the motion on Aug. 2.

The remaining counts were renumbered one through five and include three counts of sex trafficking of a minor and two counts of sex trafficking of an adult.

By J Swygart

[email protected]

Post navigation