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Press Release

Northeast Ohio priest indicted on charges of child pornography, child exploitation and juvenile sex trafficking

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Ohio

Justin Herdman, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, announced today that a federal grand jury sitting in Cleveland, Ohio has returned an eight-count indictment against Robert D. McWilliams, age 40, of Strongsville. The defendant is charged with two counts of Sex Trafficking of a Minor, three counts of Sexual Exploitation of Children, one count of Transportation of Child Pornography, one count of Receipt and Distribution of Visual Depictions of Real Minors Engaged In Sexually Explicit Conduct and one count of Possession of Child Pornography.

“Today’s indictment reflect the serious and elaborate nature of the acts allegedly taken by the defendant to traffic and exploit local area children,” said U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman. “The alleged acts committed in this case are a disturbing and strong reminder for parents to be vigilant about who their children talk to and what they do online.”

“Allegations of child exploitation against a trusted member of the religious community has long-term reverberations beyond just the criminal acts of the accused," said Vance Callender, special agent in charge of HSI Detroit. "Identifying people who violate their positions of public trust will always be a priority for those in HSI that investigate child exploitation." 

According to court documents, from 2017-2019, McWilliams engaged in sexually explicit conduct and behavior involving minors. McWilliams pretended to be a female on social media applications, which he used to make contact with minor male victims.  Allegedly, certain of McWilliams’s victims were young boys McWilliams knew because he served as a priest in parishes with which these children and their families were affiliated. 

Posing as a female, McWilliams allegedly enticed the minor male 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.  At times, McWilliams is alleged to have threatened to send those photographs to family and friends if the minor male victims did not send additional photographs and videos.  McWilliams is also alleged to have followed through on this threat by sending the mothers sexually explicit photographs he received from minor male victims. 

The affidavit also alleges that McWilliams was in possession of, received or distributed approximately 1,700 images and videos of child pornography and approximately 150 files of child pornography in a Dropbox cloud storage account.

Additionally, McWilliams is alleged to have used the social networking website to make contact with a minor male victim for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex.  McWilliams allegedly met the victim on multiple occasions and, in exchange for sex, paid the victim for each act. 

Anyone with knowledge of McWilliams’s contact with children should contact Homeland Security Investigations at (216) 749-9602.

An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt.  Each defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

If convicted, the defendant’s sentence will be determined by the Court after a review of factors unique to this case, including the defendant’s prior criminal records, if any, the defendant’s role in the offense and the characteristics of the violation.  In all cases, the sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum and, in most cases, it will be less than the maximum.

This investigation is being conducted by the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, with assistance from the Geauga County Prosecutor’s Office and Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children (“ICAC”) Task Force.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Carol M. Skutnik and Bridget M. Brennan. 


Daniel Ball
(216) 622-3921

Updated July 2, 2020

Project Safe Childhood