CLEVELAND (WJW)– A disgraced Catholic priest, convicted of sex trafficking in minors and various child pornography charges, will be sentenced next Tuesday by a federal judge.
Prosecutors said Robert McWilliams led a double life. While professing his belief in Christianity at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Strongsville and St. Helen’s Church in Newbury Township, Father McWilliams was using fake identifies and technology to hide his abuse of children and secret criminal lifestyle.
McWilliams pleaded guilty in July to federal charges that include sex trafficking of minors, exploitation of a child, and possession and distribution of child pornography. Federal prosecutors are recommending a sentence of no less 40 years.
“McWilliams’ criminal conduct is multi-faceted and unprecedented. He is a consumer of child pornography, and an extortionist who violated the sacrament of confession to obtain information he later used, under aliases, to seek the production of sexually explicit material from boys he was ‘counseling,’ and he was a juvenile sex trafficker. McWilliams targeted a vulnerable population that is also our most valuable resource: our children. His conduct is beyond serious and demands an appropriately lengthy sentence,” assistant U.S. attorney Carol Skutnik wrote.
Federal investigators said McWilliams’ knowledge of technology allowed him to commit crimes undetected for years. But after two families at St. Helen’s reported to Geauga County authorities that their sons were being extorted online by someone who had explicit images of the boys, a detective was able to track messages back to McWilliams. During a search of his living quarters at St. Joseph, his computers and cell phone were seized, and would later reveal many of the crimes he had committed.
In the pre-sentence report, the assistant U.S. Attorney wrote:
“He was cunning, calculating and extremely cruel. Only a sociopath could accept the hospitality of a family, only to disappear into another room to transmit images of a victim to his mother so he could witness the pain inflicted upon his hosts. Yet, this was just the tip of the iceberg… McWilliams amassed a disturbing collection of child pornography, extorted teenage boys for sexually explicit images, and provided compensation to two other teen boys in exchange for sexual acts.”
Federal authorities said a statement offered by McWilliams after he pleaded guilty focused mainly on the consequences he was facing and not on the long-term damage he inflicted on his victims.
“I admit and accept responsibility for the offenses I pled guilty to in the Indictment. Along with this acceptance, I want to state my shame and sorrow for having hurt the victims, their families, and the church,” McWilliams wrote.
In the defense’s pre-sentence report, McWilliams’ lawyer asked that his client face far less than the maximum sentence and expressed hope that McWilliams can be rehabilitated.
“Such a sentence will allow Robert McWilliams to secure the therapy necessary to confront demons from his childhood and the addictions and heinous behavior of his adulthood. A lengthy prison sentence is a foregone conclusion in this case — the first 180 months are mandatory. But in light of McWilliams’ being a good candidate for successful sex offender treatment, and in light of the availability of a supervised release term that, itself, can extend to the remainder of McWilliams’ life, this Court need not throw away the key,” attorney Robert Dixon wrote.
But federal prosecutors said the crimes committed by Robert McWilliams call for a prison term not less than 40 years, telling the judge: “This Court has the opportunity to bring security to the community—both here in Cleveland and in the larger community on the internet — by ensuring that children do not have to worry about being targeted by a predator such as McWilliams for a very long time. This Court can also provide the victims and their families with closure by imposing a punishment that assures the Defendant will not harm them again.”
The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland issued a statement that reads:
“With the sentencing of Rev. Robert McWilliams scheduled to occur next week, the diocese would like to once again offer prayers for those affected by the actions of McWilliams and to express gratitude to those in law enforcement and the judicial system who have worked to ensure that justice is served and that McWilliams’ wrongdoing is justly punished. For its part, the diocese continues to actively pursue the removal of McWilliams from the clerical state.”