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Seminary student arrested on suspicion that he sought to rape infant girls

Joel Wright, second from left, is arrested Jan. 29 at San Diego International Airport on federal charges for allegedly seeking to have sex with infant and young girls in Mexico. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP)

Federal authorities said a student from a Roman Catholic seminary in Ohio has been arrested and charged on suspicion of planning to travel to Mexico to have sex with “multiple infants.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Joel Alexander Wright, 23, was taken into federal custody Friday at San Diego International Airport. Authorities said Wright had traveled from Columbus, Ohio, to San Diego’s Lindbergh Field and was planning to meet up with a tour guide to travel to Tijuana, where he would adopt or “own” a child and use her for sex.

“Pedophiles who mistakenly believe they can escape justice by committing child sex crimes outside the U.S. should be on notice that [Homeland Security Investigations] will seek to vindicate the rights of those victims regardless where they live,” ICE said in a statement. “Fortunately, in this instance, our perseverance and diligence prevented the sexual exploitation of yet another innocent victim.”

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Wright was set to be arraigned Monday afternoon in federal court.

He has been charged with two felony counts: Attempting to travel to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country and attempting to travel to engage in a sexual act with a child.

Authorities said Wright, a student at Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, had placed an advertisement on Craigslist in Tijuana for adoption and started communicating via email with a tour guide in Mexico.

Authorities said they later got a National Center for Missing and Exploited Children CyberTipline report and opened an investigation.

Then late last year, an agent with Homeland Security Investigations took over an email account and went undercover as the tour guide.

“Wright’s conversation initially centered around travelling to Tijuana for a medical appointment, meeting a woman to marry, and adopting a child,” according to a criminal complaint, which was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Southern California. “The conversation eventually shifted to Wright’s desire to engage in illicit sexual conduct with female infants.”

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In November 2015, Wright was asked whether he had any sexual experience with children, according to the court documents. His response, according those documents, was: “I have not gone all the way before but I have made it very close in the past.”

In December, according to court documents, he said he had some experience, but added: “I haven’t really tried anything to risky but I plan on going all the way when I visit I think we will have a 1 and 4 so it should be great.”

Wright appeared to back out. He later posted an ad “looking for a female tourguide.”

According to court documents, he said in an email last month that he wanted to “adopt” or “own” a baby girl under the age of 3.

“I want to have intercourse with her after I own her but don’t be telling people that,” he wrote, according to the documents.

A day later, according to the documents, Wright noted: “Virgin babies are the best and the ones that you have found sound good and that the parents are willing to have them rented out is so cool. So yes I want the 1, 2 and 3 year old that you have found for me.

“We will take videos and have all kinds of fun.”

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Carol Zamonski, with the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, told WBNS‑TV that the allegations were “common” for human trafficking cases.

“This is common, sexual abuse of children of this age is,” she told the news station. “This is not a shockingly isolated incident. This is human trafficking. This is sexual abuse within a religious context.

“This is possibly a perpetrator who was himself abused at some time.”

Wright is from Burlington, Vt., according to numerous news sources. He was reportedly diagnosed with Glaucoma, a degenerative eye disease, when he was a child and said he wanted to become a priest to help others.

The Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities in Vermont wrote about a man matching Wright’s name and description back in 2010.

“Joel Wright doesn’t need perfect 20/20 vision to have clarity about his career aspirations,” it said. “Joel feels a calling to the ministry of a priest in order to help others find themselves and find purpose in their lives. He also is drawn to show others what is possible when living with a disability and to increase their understanding around glaucoma — which is why he started Glaucoma Awareness Day at [Burlington High School] in 2009.”

Indeed, SNAP’s Zamonski told WBNS‑TV that human traffickers are oftentimes “very charming people, very personable.”

“The last person that anyone would suspect was doing this,” she told the news station. “There’s no net that can catch the perpetrator that’s charming and evasive.”

When Wright purchased an airline ticket for Jan. 29 to travel from Ohio to California, according to court documents, he requested “disability assistance.”

Wright was arrested Friday at Lindbergh Field. It was unclear late Monday what had happened during his arraignment.

The Rev. John Allen, a spokesman for Pontifical College Josephinum, said the school is “shocked and saddened” by the allegations.

“Such actions are both heinous and reprehensible,” he said in a statement on the school’s website. “As a Roman Catholic institution actively committed to the protection of all God’s children, we are eager to lend our full cooperation to the civil authorities responsible for investigating and pursuing justice in these matters.”

Wright, according to the Associated Press, has since been expelled from the school.

This story has been updated.


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