NewsLocal News


Former Strongsville priest dies in prison while serving life sentence for sex crimes

Prison jail generic
Posted at 3:44 PM, Feb 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-04 17:57:30-05

ALLENWOOD, Pennsylvania — A Strongsville priest who faced numerous child pornography charges and was sentenced to life in prison last November has died.

Robert D. McWilliams was serving out his sentence at Allenwood Federal Prison in Pennsylvania, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, McWilliams was found unresponsive around 12:50 a.m. and then transported to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. He had been at the facility since Jan. 31.

"The Federal Bureau of Investigation was notified. No staff or other inmates were injured and at no time was the public in danger," the FOB said.

Authorities didn't say how McWilliams died.

In July 2021, 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 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.

Prosecutors for the case sought life in prison or a term of no less than 40 years.

The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland provided this statement to News 5:

"We learned this afternoon of the passing of Robert McWilliams. We place this and all difficult situations in the hands of God. We will continue to pray for the those hurt by his actions. May God be the source of their healing."

Download the News 5 Cleveland app now for more stories from us, plus alerts on major news, the latest weather forecast, traffic information and much more. Download now on your Apple device here, and your Android device here.

You can also catch News 5 Cleveland on Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, YouTube TV, DIRECTV NOW, Hulu Live and more. We're also on Amazon Alexa devices. Learn more about our streaming options here.