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Ohio Seminary student arrested, charged with trying to arrange sex with infants

Photo Credit: US Immigration and Customs Enforcement

(WSYX/WTTE) -- A seminary student from Ohio is facing federal charges for reportedly traveling to San Diego trying to arrange to have sex with infants in Mexico, officials said.

Joel Wright, 23, from Columbus, was arrested at San Diego International Airport by agents from Immigration and Custom Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Wright was a student at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus.

Investigators said they got a tip in November about an ad Wright placed on Craiglist in search of adopting an infant in Tijuana, Mexico. According to the criminal complaint, the tipster said he'd responded to the ad and learned the person was studying to be a priest in Ohio. Federal investigators said Wright placed the ad.

Authorities said the tipster later revealed he'd first started communicating with Wright in 2014 about adopting a child. The tipster added Wright traveled to Tijuana in July of 2014 to meet with him, hoping to adopt the child. The person -- who investigators kept anonymous -- said Wright paid him money as an adoption fee. The tipster took the money and told Wright he would come with the child -- but never did.

Investigators said after the tipster began responding to the newest Craigslist ad, the conversation eventually revealed Wright's "desire to engage in illicit sexual conduct with female infants." In one email, Wright reportedly said, "I have not gone all the way before but I have made it very close in the past so I do have experance." (sic)

An undercover agent took over the email account and began chatting with Wright about traveling to Tijuana, according to a news release. Again, Wright allegedly said he wanted to travel "to adopt or own a child under 3 years old and have intercourse with the child."

Wright was arrested after flying to San Diego Jan. 29. Investigators said he was told he would meet the tour guide who would travel with him to a Tijuana hotel to meet female infants. He was instead handcuffed by federal agents.

"This investigation opens a window into a secret world where sexual predators prey on young children around the globe," Dave Shaw, special agent in charge for HSI San Diego, said.

Father John Allen, with the Pontifical College Josephinum says Wright became a former seminarian when he left Friday without authorization, and is no longer a student or a member of his diocese in Steubenville. He also said on behalf of the administration "We are shocked, saddened, and truly sickened by the intent of the alleged actions. We have zero tolerance for any type of misconduct, most especially that which would endanger children. The seminary is eager to help with the investigation."

In the release, ICE officials said Wright was charged with two felony counts: travelling with the intent to engage in a sexual act with a minor, and attempting to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country.

Wright is expected to be arraigned in federal court Monday.

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