(Warning: some of the details in this story may be disturbing to some readers)
An Ohio seminary student from Columbus has been accused of traveling to California to have sex with infants in Mexico.
Joel A. Wright, 23, was taken into federal custody Friday in San Diego by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents.
According to the criminal complaint, Wright is charged with two felony counts of traveling with the intent to engage in a sexual act with a minor and attempting to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country.
Wright was arrested after a months-long undercover child sexual exploitation investigation conducted by HSI agents.
“This investigation opens a window into a secret world where sexual predators prey on young children around the globe,” said Dave Shaw, special agent in charge for HSI San Diego. “Pedophiles who mistakenly believe they can escape justice by committing child sex crimes outside the U.S. should be on notice that HSI will seek to vindicate the rights of those victims regardless where they live. Fortunately, in this instance, our perseverance and diligence prevented the sexual exploitation of yet another innocent victim.”
In the criminal complaint, agents received a tip about Wright and began to exchange emails with him through an account they had taken over.
According to ICE, Wright believed he was communicating with a male tour guide in Mexico he met after placing an online ad.
In the email exchanges, Wright allegedly said he wanted to travel to Tijuana to adopt or own a child under 3 years old and have sex with the child.
Investigators allege the plan was for Wright to meet the tour guide and then travel to Mexico where he would meet the female infants.
Wright then booked a flight to San Diego and made arrangements to meet a friend of the tour guide for travel.
When he arrived in San Diego, Wright was taken into custody by HSI agents.
The Diocese of Steubenville issued this statement on Joel Wright:
Joel Wright was a first year pre-theology student at the Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, Ohio.
Wright was discerning ordination to the priesthood for the Diocese of Steubenville.
Immediately upon learning of the allegations against Wright, Diocese of Steubenville Bishop Jeffrey M. Monforton suspended Wright from the studies.
The action is in accord with the diocesan child protection decree.
Fr. John Allen, VP of Pontifical College Josephinum released this statement:
The allegations are shocking, sickening and horrifying. As a Roman Catholic institution we have a zero tolerance policy for any kind of misconduct that would in any way cause harm to others, most especially to children and any vulnerable person. We learned about the arrest in California and the charges that have been brought as a result of the alleged criminal intentions. The seminary is fully prepared and eager to cooperate in every way, when asked by investigators, to help bring this matter to justice.
Father Allen told 10TV that federal investigators were on campus Friday night.
Wright was in his first semester in preliminary studies and Father Allen said he came sponsored by the Steubenville Diocese.
Father Allen said he learned Friday morning that Wright left campus without authorization and his departure from the seminary resulted in him being separated immediately.
Wright is no longer a student at the school.
Father Allen said he is not aware of any disciplinary actions against Wright prior to this incident.
Typically, first-year students are not involved in serving with church sponsored and community sponsored programs according to Father Allen.
He also explained the process of being accepted into the Josephinum which includes rigorous interviews, traditional applications, transcript reviews, and letters of recommendation, background checks, personal inquiries, and psychological interviews.
Father Allen said Wright passed them all.
Wright is expected to be arraigned in federal court Monday.
In 2008, a CBS affiliate in Vermont (WCAX) spoke with Wright about going to New York City for Pope Benedict's visit. The story can be read here.
In 2009, the same station published a story on Wright talking with students about glaucoma and the visually impaired. According to WCAX, Wright was born with cataracts and developed glaucoma. The story can be read here.