July 2 (UPI) -- A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted a suburban Cleveland Catholic priest on multiple charges of possession of child pornography and child exploitation.
Between 2017 and 2019, Rev. Robert McWilliams, 40, a parochial vicar at St. Joseph Catholic Church and school in Strongsville, allegedly posed online as a woman to lure juvenile boys he knew from the parish online, a statement from the Northern District of Ohio U.S. Attorney's office said.
"Posing as a female, McWilliams allegedly enticed the minor male victims to send sexually explicit photographs and videos, sometimes threatening to expose embarrassing information McWilliams already knew about the victims if they did not send such images," statement from U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said. McWilliams allegedly followed through on this threat by sending photos of some of his victims to their mothers, the statement said.
McWilliams was arrested in December, 2019, after an investigation by the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Investigators from nearby Geauga County first were alerted to McWilliams's alleged behavior. McWilliams was being held on no bail in custody of U.S. Marshals.
The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland issued a statement saying it was "grateful to those in law enforcement who have worked diligently to investigate this matter. As the criminal case against McWilliams proceeds, let us continue to pray for justice to be served and healing for those who have been harmed by sexual abuse."
McWilliams also served at St. Helen's Catholic Church in Newbury Township, Cleveland.com reported.
Investigators recovered more than 1,700 images and videos of child pornography from a Dropbox storage account, prosecutors said.
In addition, McWilliams allegedly paid a 15-year-old boy he met through the dating website Grindr for sex, prosecutors said.
If convicted, McWilliams will face a mandatory minimum federal sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 30 years.
"Today's indictment reflect the serious and elaborate nature of the acts allegedly taken by the defendant to traffic and exploit local area children," Herdman said Thursday. "The alleged acts committed in this case are a disturbing and strong reminder for parents to be vigilant about who their children talk to and what they do online."