TOLEDO – Five of the 10 charges were dismissed by North Ohio District Court against a Catholic priest who was arrested by the FBI 16 months ago for alleged adult sex trafficking and of a minor.
A federal grand jury indicted Michael J. Zacharias, 55, of Findlay, in August 2020 with sex trafficking of a minor and sex trafficking of an adult and a minor by force, fraud or coercion.
Zacharias had been pastor of Saint-Michel-Archange Catholic Church in Findlay since 2017 when he was arrested. He previously served as the pastor of 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 put Zacharias on administrative leave after the arrest.
Court records show that a potential change in plea hearing scheduled for Oct. 5 has been postponed due to a conflict in the court’s schedule.
The most recent diary entry in the case came following a status hearing on November 5, when the court set a firm plea deadline of 9 a.m. on January 12. No plea agreement will be accepted after this date.
According to court documents, from around 1999 to around July 2020, Zacharias engaged in the sex trafficking of minors and adults. During this time, he was enrolled as a seminarian and employed as a priest in various religious institutions in the Northern District of Ohio and elsewhere. He is accused of having used his position of trust to search for underage and underage victims and incite them to commit sexual acts. In addition, he is accused of having used the drug addiction of his victims to coerce them into engaging in commercial sex acts.
This summer, Zacharias’ lawyers filed a motion to dismiss five of the charges against their client on the grounds that the deadlines had expired.
Citing Title 18 of the United States Code, Zacharias’ attorneys argued that “except as expressly provided by law, no one shall be prosecuted, tried or punished for any offense… unless the act of The charge is not found or the information is not filed within five years the offense will have been committed.
Count two of the indictment alleged an offense of trafficking for the sexual purposes of an adult from July 2006 to March 2010. Count three alleges acts which allegedly took place from July 2012 to January 2015. The allegations contained Count Seven allegedly took place between June 2012 and June 2013, and Count Eight’s reportedly took place between January 2011 and April 2015. Count 10 alleged that similar acts took place from 1999 to December 2001.
The government agreed to dismiss these five charges and Judge Jack Zouhary granted the request on August 2.
The remaining counts have been renumbered from one to five and include three counts of sex trafficking of a minor and two counts of sex trafficking of an adult.