WARNING: This article contains descriptions of an alleged crime that may be disturbing to some readers; viewer discretion is advised.
SAN DIEGO (January 31, 2016) -- A 23-year-old Ohio man was arrested by federal agents in San Diego on Friday for allegedly planning to have sex with multiple infants in Mexico, authorities said.
Joel A. Wright, a seminary student and resident of Columbus, was charged with two felony counts: crossing state lines with the intention to engage in a sexual act with a minor, and attempting to travel “in interstate and foreign commerce” for the purpose of engaging in illegal sexual conduct with another person, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.
Wright is expected to be arraigned on Monday, according to news release obtained by KTLA.
The suspect was taken into custody at San Diego International Airport by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement, following a monthslong investigation into child sexual exploitation, according to a news release from the agency.
Dave Shaw, special agent in charge of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations in 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 of where they live.”
“Fortunately, in this instance, our perseverance and diligence prevented the sexual exploitation of yet another innocent victim,” Shaw added.
According to the criminal complaint, an undercover ICE agent received a tip that prompted the agent to take over an email account and begin corresponding with Wright.
The suspect believed he was still communicating with a Mexico-based male tour guide whom he had met after placing an ad on Craigslist, the news release said. During the email conversations with the ICE investigator, “Wright allegedly stated that he wanted to travel to Tijuana to adopt or own a child under 3 years old and have intercourse with the child," the statement said.
The suspect later booked a flight from Ohio and made arrangements to meet the friend of a tour guide at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field, according to prosecutors. Wright allegedly planned to travel across the border with the tour guide to a Tijuana hotel, where he would meet the female infants, the news release said.
Photos provided by ICE show plainclothes agents taking Wright into custody on a sidewalk outside of a terminal at the airport, a spokeswoman for the agency said. One of the images shows a handcuffed man in a baseball cap being escorted away by Homeland Security personnel.
The Diocese of Steubenville issued the following statement.
"Joel Wright was a first year pre-theology student at the Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, Ohio.
Wright was discerning ordination to the priesthood for the Diocese of Steubenville.
Immediately upon learning of the allegations against Wright, Diocese of Steubenville Bishop Jeffrey M. Monforton suspended Wright from the studies.
The action is in accord with the diocesan child protection decree.”
The investigation was conducted as part of ICE's Operation Predator, launched in 2003 and described by the agency as "an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators."
Since the operation's inception, federal investigators have arrested more than 12,000 individuals for crimes against children, "including the production and distribution of online child pornography, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children," the statement said.