SAN DIEGO (CN) – An Ohio seminary student who was arrested by federal authorities on suspicion of trying to buy Mexican children will remain behind bars until his arraignment later this month.
U.S. District Judge Bernard Skomal heard from defendant Joel Alexander Wright, 23, who shuffled into the courtroom wearing an orange jumpsuit, spectacles and ankle shackles. Through his attorney Greg Murphy, Wright waived his right to a detention hearing until he is arraigned later this month.
Wright was arrested by federal authorities on Jan. 29 at the San Diego International Airport on suspicion of travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct and aggravated sexual abuse of a child.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alessandra Serano said the two violations Wright has been accused of carry a maximum sentence of 60 years to life in prison.
Federal prosecutors say that while attending school to become a priest at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, Wright unwittingly corresponded with a federal agent posing as a Tijuana tour guide who would procure infants for Wright to have sex with.
According to the complaint, Homeland Security received a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children last November about a person who placed an ad on Craigslist soliciting the adoption of infants from Mexico. The tipster told authorities he responded to the advertisement and that he first met Wright a year and a half earlier when he placed a similar ad seeking to adopt a child in Mexico.
Wright originally traveled to Tijuana in July 2014, where he met the unnamed tipster he believed would find him a child to adopt. Wright paid the man an “adoption fee” and waited at a Tijuana hotel for the man to return with the child, but the man never came back, the 11-page criminal complaint says.
The tipster began communicating with Wright again a year later in July 2015 after Wright posted an ad looking for a travel guide when he came to Tijuana for a medical appointment. Wright also hoped to find a woman to marry and a child to adopt, according to prosecutors.
The complaint says that after communicating with the tipster, Wright eventually revealed his true intentions: to find young female infants to rape. In a message to the tipster on Nov. 25, 2015 Wright revealed he had experience assaulting infants stating, “I have not gone all the way before but I have made it very close in the past,” the complaint says.
An undercover agent took over the tipster’s email account a week later and began communicating with Wright, who revealed increasingly specific and graphic crimes he wanted to commit against young infants.
“I think one fun thing we could do at the same time with the infant baby is you could be in her mouth with your thing and I could be penetrating her so she would be getting it from both ways and she would suck you probably really hard,” Wright wrote, according to prosecutors.
He also wrote in emails the agents intercepted that he wished to spank the children and make them upset.
“With the four-year-old I think I will spank her a while to warm her up and make her a little angry so we can chase her around the place and I will penetrate her very hard which will be fun,” Wright said in one email, according to prosecutors.
“If she is angry at me she will be even more fun because she will probably try to get away and it is so much more fun when it is a bit of a struggle.”
On Dec. 10, 2015, the undercover agents bought a ticket at Wright’s request for him to fly from Columbus to San Diego. From there he planned to go to Tijuana and believed he would have access to a one-year old and four-year-old, prosecutors say.
Wright did not board the plane for San Diego the next day, however, and seemed to get cold feet. He sent an email requesting the “guide” never contact him again and revoking “any promises or relationships we may have entered into,” the complaint says.
On Dec. 28, 2015, the same tipster found another advertisement on the Craigslist Tijuana site from a person looking for a female tour guide.
Two weeks later, the tipster created a new email account and responded to the ad claiming to be a female tour guide. A user with the name “Joel Wright” responded and asked, “Is there anything you won’t do for me or help me with?” according to prosecutors.
On Jan. 14, Wright emailed the tipster stating that he wanted to own or adopt a baby girl under the age of three.
“I want to have intercourse with her after I own her but don’t be telling people that,” Wright wrote, prosecutors say. Wright believed he would have access to three children – ages one, two and three – and asked the tipster to videotape him raping them.
He said he planned to bring children’s Tylenol and candy to “relax” the infants, the complaint says.
On Jan. 19, the undercover agents took over the tipster’s email account again. A week later Wright told the “guide” he had purchased a plane ticket to come to San Diego on Jan. 29, prosecutors say.
Wright was offered transportation upon arriving at San Diego and called who he thought was his guide shortly after 12:30 p.m. to pick him up. Authorities arrested him outside the baggage claim area at Lindbergh Field.
The months-long undercover investigation and sting operation was conducted by Homeland Security Investigations agents in San Diego.
Interestingly, the complaint notes that the would-be priest used the pseudonym “Francis” in his second round of interactions with the agents. He has since been expelled from the seminary.
Diagnosed with glaucoma as an infant, Wright said in a 2010 article in the Vermont governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities newsletter “Abilities” that he was called to the monastic life to help others find their purpose and show what is possible for those with disabilities. He is originally from Vermont.
The Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio, said in a statement that its bishop suspended Wright from his studies “immediately upon learning of the allegations.”
Father John Allen, Pontifical College Josephinum’s vice president, called the accusations against Wright “shocking, sickening and horrifying” in a statement.
“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,” Allen said. “The seminary is fully prepared and eager to cooperate in every way, when asked by investigators, to help bring this matter to justice.”
Wright is scheduled to be arraigned on Feb. 25.
- EU Energy Dependence
- Researchers See Hope for Brain-Connection Repair