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Federal prosecutors seek life in prison for Strongsville priest who pleaded guilty to child sex charges

Posted at 4:47 PM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-04 16:51:05-04

Editor's note: Some of the information in this story is graphic.

CLEVELAND — The U.S. Attorney's Office prosecuting the case of Robert D. McWilliams, a priest from Strongsville who pleaded guilty to a slew of charges regarding child pornography, wrote in a sentencing memorandum that the defendant should get life in prison for the crimes.

According to the document, the government seeks a sentence of life in prison, but if that's not handed down, a term of no less than 40 years would suffice.

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.

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," the attorney's office said.

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.

Prosecutors said McWilliams also used social websites like 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, they found videos of children being raped.

"Many of McWilliams’ Dropbox videos involved young boys, including toddlers, and were unusually lengthy. He also had numerous image and video files of pubescent and prepubescent boys" performing sex acts with other males, the attorney's office said.

In addition to his cloud accounts, investigators said they found more than 1,300 videos and a dozen images of child pornography in a folder on an external hard drive. That folder was among other folders labeled such things as “Homilies and Reflections,” “Psalm Bible Studies,” and “Self- Evaluations.” More than 200 images and videos were also located on McWilliam's laptop computer. Email accounts belonging to the defendant also contained child pornography.

The sentencing memorandum called McWilliams' behavior "multi-faced and unprecedented."

It stated, "He is a consumer of child pornography, and an extortionist who violated the sacrament of confession to obtain information he later used, under aliases, to seek the production of sexually explicit material from boys he was 'counseling, and a juvenile sex trafficker. McWilliams targeted a vulnerable population that is also our most valuable resource: our children. His conduct is beyond serious and demands an appropriately lengthy sentence."

In addition to the prison sentence, the memorandum said the government seeks restitution for each victim relating to the child pornography trafficking offenses as well other special assessment fines.

Federal authorities wrote in the memorandum's conclusion that putting McWilliams behind bars would make Cleveland a safer place with him off the streets.

"This court has the opportunity to bring security to the community—both here in Cleveland and in the larger community on the internet — by ensuring that children do not have to worry about being targeted by a predator such as McWilliams for a very long time. This court can also provide the victims and their families with closure by imposing a punishment that assures the defendant will not harm them again. The lives of child pornography victims are forever changed in the most profound ways. And this defendant’s life should be changed as well—by spending time behind bars for a sentence commensurate with the harm these victims have suffered and will continue to suffer for the rest of their lives," the attorney's office wrote.

McWilliams will be sentenced on Nov. 9.

RELATED: Strongsville priest pleads guilty to multiple sex charges involving children, faces life in prison

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