The Van Wert County Courthouse

Wednesday, May. 22, 2024

Former local priest gets life sentence

VW independent staff

TOLEDO — A priest who served at several northwest Ohio churches, including St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in Van Wert, has been sentenced to life in prison for sex trafficking.

Michael Zacharias, 56, learned his fate Friday in U.S. District Court in Toledo.

A federal jury previously found Zacharias guilty of five counts of sex trafficking following a two-week trial in May. The crimes occurred between July, 2005 and August, 2020, when he was arrested by the FBI and placed on administrative leave by the Diocese of Toledo. Zacharias served in Van Wert from July, 2007 until August, 2011. Some of the acts included in the indictment occurred at the Van Wert parish. He also served at churches in Toledo, Fremont and Findlay.

Michael Zacharias

Evidence presented during his trial, including the testimony of victims and family members, established that Zacharias met the victims when they were underage parochial school students through his affiliation with their school. The evidence showed Zacharias 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.

“Michael Zacharias’ victims trusted him, as a spiritual advisor, a confidant, a community leader and someone in a position of authority,” U.S. Attorney Rebecca C. Lutzko for the Northern District of Ohio said in a prepared statement. “He exploited his position and that trust to target and victimize young boys and their families, causing lasting damage to both. Zacharias was held accountable because of the courageous testimony of these young men, who gave voice to his betrayal and abuse, relieved this unimaginable horror and withstood Zacharias’ predictable attempts at trial to attack their veracity. I applaud the bravery of these young men, the people who supported them and the dogged efforts of the assigned FBI agent, who together exposed this predator, masquerading as a man of faith.”

“Although no amount of time can ever wholly repair the damage that Zacharias inflicted on his victims, the life sentence that he received today is a significant step toward finding justice and protecting our community,” she added. “It sends a message to others who consider similar conduct that the U.S. Attorney’s Office will aggressively pursue charges against those who target our children.”

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

Anyone who has information about human trafficking should report that information to the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1.888.373.7888, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week

POSTED: 11/17/23 at 10:28 pm. FILED UNDER: News