CLEVELAND — A Strongsville priest who faced numerous child pornography charges has been sentenced to life in prison.
The sentence for the defendant, Robert D. McWilliams, was handed down in federal court Tuesday afternoon. Prosecutors for the case sought life in prison or a term of no less than 40 years.
In July, McWilliams pleaded guilty to two counts of sex trafficking of a minor, three counts of sexual exploitation of a child, 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.
Authorities said that between 2017 and 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."
According to authorities, McWilliams posed as a female on social media in order to entice minor males into sending sexually explicit photographs and videos, sometimes threatening to expose embarrassing information he already knew about the victims if they did not send him photos.
McWilliams was already familiar with some of the victims since he served as a priest at the local churches that the children and their families attended. McWilliams followed through on his threats "by sending the mothers sexually explicit photographs he received from minor male victims," authorities said when he was indicted.
Authorities said McWilliams also used social websites like Grindr.com to meet other underage victims. After meeting with a minor, McWilliams would entice that individual to identify other minors he could "engage in commercial sex acts" with. On several occasions, McWilliams met up with underage victims "for the purpose of engaging in sex acts in exchange for money and alcohol."
When investigators combed over the defendant's Dropbox account and personal computer, they found more than 1,000 videos and numerous images of child pornography.
The Diocese of Cleveland said it is working to remove McWilliams "from the clerical state."
The diocese issued the following statement regarding the sentencing:
"Today, with the sentencing of Robert McWilliams, let us once again, as a family of faith, offer prayers for all those impacted by his reprehensible actions and ask our loving Father to heal any and all wounds they have suffered. We also thank those in law enforcement and the judicial system who worked so hard to ensure that justice was served and that McWilliams’ wrongdoing was justly punished. Finally, let us offer our support and thanks to all the good priests of the Diocese of Cleveland who faithfully live out their promises each day in service to God’s people. For its part, the diocese continues to actively pursue the removal of McWilliams from the clerical state."
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