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TOLEDO, Ohio (WJW) – A former Catholic priest was sentenced to prison Friday for molesting and exploiting three boys in Toledo.
U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary sentenced 56-year-old Michael Zacharias, of Findlay, to life in prison. He was also ordered to pay a $500 special assessment and $25,000 to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.
The three victims, who were ages 5, 11 and 13 when they first met Zacharias at a Catholic school in 1999, testified against the former priest in court, alongside their parents.
Prosecutors say Zacharias used his position of religious power to groom the boys before coercing them to engage in sex acts — two of which were still minors at the time.
Zacharias also exploited the victims “as they struggled in school, fell into opioid addiction, developed criminal histories and became even more financially dependent on him to avoid opioid withdrawal and homelessness,” prosecutors say.
After a two-week trial in May, a jury found Zacharias guilty of five counts of human trafficking.
“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’s predictable attempts at trial to attack their veracity,” Attorney Rebecca Lutzko said in a statement.
The Roman Catholic diocese of Toledo previously released a statement to The Associated Press, saying, “The Church cannot and will not tolerate any such behavior and takes any sexual abuse or misconduct on the part of a cleric with the utmost seriousness… Our society and church together must bring evil into the light, wherever it is found.”