Michael Zacharias, 53, is charged with a total of 10 counts of sex trafficking of a minor and sex trafficking of an adult and minor by force, fraud or coercion.
Zacharias was arrested on Aug. 18 and has remained in federal custody since that time, officials said.
According to the U.S. Attorney, court documents show the charges stem from incidents that occurred from around 1999 to July of 2020. During that time, Zacharias was enrolled as a seminarian and employed as a priest at various religious institutions in Northern Ohio and elsewhere, according to officials.
Zacharias is accused of using his position of trust to seek out underage victims and guide them to perform sexual acts. He’s also accused of using his victims’ drug addictions to coerce them into performing commercial sex acts, officials said.
The U.S. Attorney said that in one instance Zacharias, while he was enrolled in the seminary, used his position to meet a minor at a local school. He allegedly groomed the victim and then performed sex acts with them. Zacharias is accused of establishing a process in which he would give the victim money to be used for drugs in exchange for sexual acts and the behavior continued throughout the victim’s life into adulthood, according to officials.
In another instance, Zacharias is accused of grooming the underage sibling of one of his victims in a similar process of using a drug addiction and money to maintain their relationship, officials said.
“Michael Zacharias used his respected position to prey on and take advantage of youth and adults for his own sexual gratification,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge. “We must hold accountable to the fullest extent of the law those who violate their sacred trust to molest and harm our children. The FBI encourages anyone that may have been groomed or victimized by Michael Zacharias, and have not spoken to law enforcement yet, to contact the FBI at 1-877-FBI-OHIO (1-877-324-6446).”
All information provided to the FBI will be strictly confidential, officials said.