SAN DIEGO, Calif. — A former priest-in-training has been arrested for allegedly seeking to have sexual relations with infants and toddlers in Mexico following an undercover investigation.
Joel Wright, 23, of Columbus, Ohio was arrested on Saturday and is expected to be arraigned in federal court today. He has been charged with 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.
According to a complaint from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, Wright was the subject of an undercover investigation that began in November. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) had received a tip from a person in Mexico relating to an advertisement on Craigslist surrounding the adoption of infants.
Wright had initially stated that he was seeking to meet a woman to marry and adopt a child, but the conversation shifted to his desire to engage in sexual conduct with children.
An undercover agent posing as a Mexican tour guide conversed with Wright via email after the tip was reported, and was allegedly told by Wright that he wanted to adopt a child under three years old and have sexual relations with the toddler or infant, but requested that the information not be disclosed.
When asked if he had engaged in such conduct before, he replied, “I have not gone all the way before, but I have made it very close in the past, so I do have experience.” Other discussions between the two were too graphic to be posted.
Wright soon booked a flight to San Diego where he planned to meet with the friend of a tour guide, which was to take him into Mexico to meet female infants at a Tijuana hotel. He had asked that he be referred to as “Francis” and not his real name. When Wright’s plane landed at San Diego’s Lindberg Field, he was arrested by HSI agents.
“This investigation opens a window into a secret world were sexual predators prey on young children around the globe,” said Dave Shaw, special agent in charge for HSI San Diego, said in a statement. “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,” he stated.
Wright was a student at at Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, which he began attending last fall after undergoing a series of psychological tests and interviews, as well as a background check. According to the Associated Press, he lost his status at the Catholic seminary for leaving campus without first obtaining authorization.
“We’re shocked and saddened by the heinous nature of the allegations,” said John Allen, vice president for advancement at Pontifical College Josephinum.
According to the institution’s website, the school “was established more than 125 years ago to help prepare men for the priesthood.”
HSI says that it has arrested more than 12,000 people for sexually related crimes involving minors since its inception in 2003.