Ohio student accused of explicit adoption plans to be held without bail

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – 10:41 a.m. – A seminary student accused of traveling from Ohio to San Diego with the intent of going to Tijuana to have sex with female infants waived his right to a detention hearing Thursday and agreed to be held without bail during the pendency of the case.

Joel Alexander Wright, 23, clad in an orange jumpsuit, answered "yes, your honor” when Magistrate Judge Bernard Skomal asked him if he agreed to postpone his preliminary hearing until Feb. 25, the same day as his scheduled arraignment.

Wright was arrested Jan. 29 at Lindbergh Field and charged with traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct and aggravated sexual abuse of a child. He faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Alessandra Serano.

After receiving a tip, a Homeland Security Investigations undercover agent took over an email account and started communicating with Wright. The defendant thought he was talking to a Mexico-based tour guide he met after placing an ad on Craigslist, soliciting the adoption of infants in Tijuana, according to the criminal complaint.

The reporting party said he responded to the ad and learned that Wright was studying to be priest in Columbus, Ohio. After an email exchange last July, the tipster told authorities that Wright’s initial conversation centered around traveling to Tijuana for a medical appointment, meeting a woman to marry and adopting a child.

The conversation eventually shifted to Wright’s alleged desire to engage in illicit sexual conduct with female infants, according to the complaint. Last Nov. 25, when asked if he had sexual experience with infants, Wright emailed that "I have not gone all the way before but I have made it very close in the past so I do have experience,” (sic), the complaint alleges.

In an email exchange with the undercover agent in December, Wright referred to a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old with whom he believed he was going to have sex, the complaint alleges. Wright broke off communications but allegedly placed another ad on Craigslist on Dec. 28 and asked the reporting party, "Is there anything you won’t do for me or help me with?”

Two weeks later, Wright wrote that he wanted to adopt a baby girl under the age of 3 and have intercourse with her, the complaint alleges.

2/1/2016 – An Ohio seminary student is expected to be arraigned in federal court Monday after he was taken into federal custody Friday at Lindbergh Field by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).  

Joel A. Wright, 23, of Columbus, Ohio, is suspected of traveling to San Diego to have sex with multiple infants in Mexico. He is being charged in a criminal complaint with two felony counts, including 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.

Wright’s arrest follows a months-long undercover child sexual exploitation investigation conducted by HSI special agents in San Diego.

The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California. "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. "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." According to the criminal complaint, after receiving a tip, an undercover HSI special agent took over an email account and began chatting with Wright. Wright believed he was still communicating with a Mexico-based male tour guide he met after placing an online ad.

During the email chats with the undercover investigator, Wright allegedly stated he wanted to travel to Tijuana to adopt or own a child under 3 years old and have intercourse with the child. Subsequently, Wright booked his flight to San Diego and made arrangements to meet the friend of a tour guide at Lindbergh Field. Investigators allege the plan was for Wright and the tour guide to then travel to a hotel in Tijuana where bring him the female infants.

Wright was taken into custody by HSI special agents after his plane landed at Lindbergh Field Friday morning.     

This investigation was conducted under HSI’s Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators.

Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has 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.

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