An Ohio student studying to be a priest traveled to San Diego Friday seeking sex with infants, officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed.
Joel A. Wright, 23, was taken into federal custody by special agents with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) outside of baggage claim at the San Diego International Airport. Investigators allege Wright had flown into San Diego with plans to travel to Mexico to have sex with at least three babies.
Wright is charged with two felony counts: traveling with the intent to engage in a sexual act with a minor and attempting to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country within the southern district of California.
His arrest follows a months-long undercover child sexual exploitation investigation conducted by HSI special agents in San Diego.
Wright originally posted a Craigslist ad in Tijuana seeking to adopt an infant, a federal complaint details. An unidentified man saw Wright's ad and told Wright he could bring a child to him at a Tijuana hotel.
The man then contacted HSI special agents with details about his communications with Wright.
The informant said Wright paid him an adoption fee upfront and waited at a hotel in Tijuana. However, the informant told investigators he never went to the hotel with a child or otherwise.
Records show Wright entered Mexico in July 2014, which is consistent with the informant's story.
The man said he communicated with Wright again in July 2015 after Wright posted a Craigslist ad for a Tijuana guide, according to the complaint. By this time the informant was using a different email.
Although he initially stated he wanted to adopt a child, Wright eventually said he wanted to have sex with female babies, federal officials say.
When asked via email if he had sexual experience with infants, the complaint states Wright wrote, "I have not gone all the way before but I have made it very close in the past so I do have experience."
In January Wright wrote again, allegedly adding, "virgin babies are the best," according to the complaint.
In another correspondence Wright wrote, "Yes, I like church - it makes me feel good."
Documents state Wright also planned on giving the one to three-year-old kids Tylenol and candy "to relax them."
With the informant's consent, HSI special agents took over the email account in December and began corresponding with Wright themselves. Wright did not know he was going back and forth with law enforcement and thought he was still speaking with a Mexico-based tour guide.
The complaint says after describing in graphic detail what he might do to a baby sexually, Wright wrote, "It is so much more fun when it's a bit of a struggle."
An undercover HSI agent continued to communicate with Wright via email.
Wright allegedly told the undercover agent via email that he wanted to travel to Tijuana and either own or adopt a child under three and have sex with the child.
Wright then booked his flight to San Diego, where he planned to meet the tour guide. Their plans were then to travel to a Tijuana hotel where he would be brought female infants, according to HSI agents.
“This investigation opens a window into a secret world where sexual predators prey on young children around the globe,” said Dave Shaw, special agent in charge for HSI San Diego, 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 where they live. Fortunately, in this instance, our perseverance and diligence prevented the sexual exploitation of yet another innocent victim.”
Wright was a first year pre-theology student at the Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, Ohio according to the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville. He was immediately suspended from his studies after his arrest in accordance with the diocesan child protection degree.
Wright is expected to be arraigned on Monday. It's unclear if he has obtained an attorney.