TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — A Roman Catholic priest received a life sentence Friday for his convictions on five counts related to sex-trafficking charges in the molestation of three boys who prosecutors say he met at an Ohio preschool and coerced to continue sexual activity as adults.
Rev. Michael Zacharias, 56, received concurrent life sentences for counts of sex trafficking a minor and sex trafficking of a minor by force, fraud, or coercion. He received concurrent 20-year sentences for two counts of sex trafficking of an adult by force, fraud, or coercion and one of similarly trafficking a minor.
Prosecutors have said Zacharias “paid the victims to engage in sex acts with him using the victims’ fear of serious harm to compel their compliance.” They also said the three victims were developing serious drug addictions and the priest “waited to propose commercial sex” until they were heavily involved in drug abuse.
Zacharias has maintained his innocence, saying none of the sexual contact occurred when the boys were minors and that any sexual contact after they became adults was consensual. He also has said two of the three received favorable treatment in the prosecution of drug cases in exchange for their cooperation in his case.
The Roman Catholic diocese of Toledo, which placed Zacharias on administrative leave after his August 2020 arrest, said the sentencing “marks another step towards justice for all of those harmed” by Zacharias’ actions. After his conviction in May, the diocese presented a case for defrocking Zacharias to the Holy See, which will make the final judgment on his status as a priest.