Joel Wright, a 23-year-old former seminary student, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to traveling to California to adopt young children and infants — with the goal of sexually molesting them.
Wright, who was studying to become a Roman Catholic priest at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, posted several Craigslist ads in November 2015, seeking a tour guide to Tijuana.
He initially talked to the respondents about getting married and adopting a child in. However, the conversations became disturbing when Wright admitted he wanted to have sexual relations with young children and infants.
In a conversation with one of the people who responded to the Craigslist ad, Joel Wright reportedly said “I want to have intercourse with her after I own her… virgin babies are the best, and the ones you have found sound good and that the parents are willing to have them rented out is so cool. So yes, I want the one, two, and 3-year-old that you have found for me.”
Federal investigators received a complaint from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children concerning a man looking to adopt Mexican children. They immediately launched an investigation into Joel Wright and his online activities.
In an attempt to gather evidence against the suspect, a Homeland Security agent set up an account masquerading as a tour guide and engaged the seminary student in a conversation about his disturbing plans.
According to court records, when asked if he had any sexual experience with children, Joel Wright admitted he did not have intercourse with any children or infants. However, he confessed to committing some forms of sexual abuse.
— NBC4 Columbus (@nbc4i) April 14, 2016
Authorities said the phony tour guide arranged to meet with Joel Wright — who thought he would be given access to several children under the age of three at a hotel in Tijuana. In a conversation with the agent, the suspect said he was looking forward to being able to “take videos with [the children] and have all kinds of fun.”
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said, “There are no words to describe the horror that might have happened, had an innocent baby been placed in this man’s arms … there is nothing more important on my agenda than keeping children safe from pedophiles.”
On January 29, Wright was arrested at San Diego International Airport after he called the fictitious tour guide to announce his arrival. According to the LA Times, Joel Wright was carrying a duffel bag filled with toys, baby clothes, bottles, lubricant, and candy.
Joel Wright was arrested and charged with numerous criminal counts. On Wednesday, the former seminary student pleaded guilty to a single count of attempted enticement of a minor — a charge that carries a minimum sentence of ten years and a maximum of life imprisonment.
— Boyce Watkins (@drboycewatkins1) April 14, 2016
However, as he agreed to a plea agreement, prosecutors have asked the judge to be lenient. Wright is scheduled for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw on July 1.
Carol Zamonski, who works with the Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests (SNAP), said the disturbing case is, unfortunately, not unique. Zamonski said human traffickers are generally charming and personable, which makes them difficult to catch.
Authorities said Joel Wright requested “disability assistance” when he purchased his flight ticket from Ohio to California.
Wright was diagnosed with glaucoma when he was a child and reportedly had a lifelong dream to help others. In a 2010 biography, published by Washington Post, Vermont’s Committee on Employment for People with Disabilities spoke highly of the forme seminary student.
“Joel Wright doesn’t need perfect 20/20 vision to have clarity about his career aspirations… Joel feels a calling to the ministry of a priest in order to help others find themselves… he 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.”
In an official statement, the Pontifical College Josephinum said they were “shocked and saddened” to learn of the sexual allegations against one of their former students.
Neither Joel Write nor his attorney has commented about Wednesday’s guilty plea or his expected sentence.
[Photo by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP Images]