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3News Investigates: Strongsville priest arrested in child pornography case

Exclusive video: 3News on scene as agents searched St. Joseph's church rectory in Strongsville, uncovering large number of pornographic images of children

STRONGSVILLE, Ohio — Agents with the Internet Crimes Against Children task force searched a Strongsville church Thursday before arresting a Catholic priest on child pornography charges, a source confirmed to 3News.

Agents were seen patting down and handcuffing Rev. Bob McWilliams while students at St. Joseph Catholic Church on Pearl Road played outside during recess, apparently unaware of what was transpiring.

Authorities say McWilliams' computer, cell phone and iPad were seized as part of the investigation.

McWilliams, 39, was booked into the Cuyahoga County Jail on a charge of pandering obscenities. Additional charges could be brought after a county grand jury reviews the evidence.

He is scheduled to appear Monday in Common Pleas Court. He was being held under a $100,000 cash bond, according to court records.

The search warrant was first obtained by Geauga County prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies. County Prosecutor James Flaiz would not comment or provide details of the ongoing investigation.

The investigation started with allegations the priest had sent an inappropriate text to a teenager at St. Helen’s Church in Newbury, where McWilliams worked with the church’s youth program.

That investigation eventually grew to involve ICAC agents and Strongsville police. The search took place unannounced on Thursday.

A source told 3News that a substantial amount of child pornographic images were found and connected to the priest during the search at the St. Joseph church rectory, where the priest lived and worked as a parochial vicar.

McWilliams was ordained as a priest in 2017.

3News' Tiffany Tarpley spoke with members of McWilliams church who were shocked by the allegations. 

 A spokesman for the Cleveland diocese said McWilliams was placed on administrative leave. The diocese released the following statement:

"The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland was made aware this afternoon that law enforcement associated with the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force arrived at St. Joseph Parish in Strongsville this morning with a warrant to search the living and office spaces of parish parochial vicar Rev. Robert McWilliams for items related to possible crimes committed in Geauga County. Law enforcement conducted its search and seized various electronic devices, including laptop computers, a cell phone, and an iPad associated with or belonging to Fr. McWilliams. As a result of search, Fr. McWilliams was taken into custody. After being notified of the matter, the diocese immediately placed Fr. McWilliams on administrative leave pending the outcome of this matter. St. Joseph Parish, Sts. Joseph and John School and the Diocese of Cleveland are committed to protecting children and stand ready to cooperate with law enforcement to assist in the investigation."

ICAC is a Cuyahoga County agency that investigates instances of child pornography and other crimes in which children are victimized. The agency is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The agency, and others like it across the U.S., focus on investigations involving online predators.

This story is developing and will be updated as information becomes available.

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