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Strongsville priest pleads guilty to child sex crimes

Strongsville priest pleads guilty to child pornography, sex trafficking charges

Robert McWilliams is scheduled to be sentenced in November and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

CLEVELAND — Editor’s Note: The above video is from previous reporting on this story

A Strongsville Catholic priest pleaded guilty in federal court on Friday to several charges, including sex trafficking of a minor and possession of child pornography. 

According to the Department of Justice, Rev. Robert D. “Bob” McWilliams decided to plead guilty to two counts of sex trafficking of a minor, three counts of sexual exploitation of a child, and one count each of transportation of child pornography, receipt and distribution of visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct and possession of child pornography.

McWilliams is scheduled to be sentenced on November 9 and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

3News first reported on McWilliams’ case back in December of 2019, when he was arrested outside St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Stongsville (where he worked). Cuyahoga and Geauga County prosecutors subsequently charged the 40-year-old with multiple child porn offenses, but those charges were dismissed following the first federal criminal complaint in February of 2020.

According to court documents, beginning in 2017 and continuing to 2019, McWilliams solicited sexually explicit images of minors online and engaged in sexual acts with minor victims in exchange for alcohol and other things of value. He used multiple fake personas, including a teenage girl, and several social media mobile applications to contact his minor victims. 

McWilliams knew some of the victims through his time in the seminary with the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland at a parish where the children and their families were affiliated.

Posing as a female, McWilliams enticed three minor victims to send sexually explicit photographs and videos, sometimes threatening to expose embarrassing information McWilliams already knew about the victims if they did not send such images. When some victims refused to send additional images, McWilliams followed through on his threats and sent sexually explicit photographs to the victims’ mothers.

McWilliams utilized the social networking website Grindr.com to make contact with a minor victim for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex. McWilliams then enticed this minor victim to identify another minor victim with whom McWilliams could engage in commercial sex acts. McWilliams met the victims on multiple occasions for the purpose of engaging in sex acts in exchange for money and alcohol.

Investigators add that McWilliams was also in possession of an HP laptop computer and an external hard drive that contained hundreds of images and videos of child pornography. Upon further investigation, it was revealed McWilliams had a Dropbox cloud storage account where he stored approximately 150 image and video files of child pornography. He downloaded these image files from the internet and stored them in various folders on his computer devices.

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