CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The investigation into a Catholic priest at a Stronsgsville parish began in Geauga County after he extorted children he knew into sending him nude photographs, a prosecutor said in court Tuesday.
Rev. Robert McWilliams was arrested earlier this month on possession of child pornography after investigators searched the rectory at St. Joseph Church in Strongsville. Assistant County Prosecutor Carl Sullivan said in court Tuesday that McWilliams concealed his identity by using a second cellphone to contact the teenagers.
“He was pretending to be other people, extorting child porn,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan relayed the accusations from Geauga County Prosecutor James Flaiz during a hearing in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court over whether the $50,000 bond for the 39-year-old McWilliams should be reduced.
McWilliams is currently charged with four counts of possessing child pornography in Cuyahoga County, as investigators in Geauga County continue their investigation.
Robert Dixon, a defense attorney who represents McWilliams, asked Common Pleas Court Judge John J. Russo to amend the bond to a 10-percent bond or reduce the bond to $5,000 cash or surety bond, so that McWilliams could be released if he puts down $5,000 plus fees.
Dixon cited “the era of bond reform” in his request to get McWilliams out of jail, and said McWilliams would live with his mother in Summit County and would agree to wear a GPS ankle monitor and remain on house arrest if he is released.
Russo did not decide the issue on Tuesday. He ordered the court’s bond commissioner to visit the Summit County home first, and said he would release his decision later in the week.
The Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force officers on Dec. 5 raided McWilliams’ living space and office at St. Joseph Church in Strongsville on a search warrant out of Geauga County. They seized electronic devices, including a cellphone, iPad and laptop associated with McWilliams, the diocese said in a statement later that day.
Officers found additional images of child pornography on the devices that were not connected to the Geauga County investigation, which led to the charges in Cuyahoga County, Sullivan said.
The charges against McWilliams involved incidents that happened from April 2016 through Dec. 5, 2019, according to court records.
The church placed McWilliams on administrative leave. McWilliams became a priest in May 2017. He was a parochial vicar at the school.
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