Geauga Prosecutor Files Charge Against Former St. Helen’s Seminarian
January 8, 2020 by John Karlovec

Sheriff’s Deputies Take Priest into Custody at Cuyahoga Jail

“We had some concerns about his availability given the nature of the charges that we expect in Geauga County, and the charges that he is facing in Cuyahoga, so we made the decision to issue a warrant on our case on Dec. 31.” – Prosecutor Jim Flaiz

Former St. Helen Catholic Church seminarian intern Robert McWilliams posted bond in Cuyahoga County Jan. 2 after a panel of appellate court judges reduced his bond on child pornography charges.

However, he won’t be getting out of jail because that same day, an active warrant for his arrest was issued in Geauga County.

Geauga County Prosecutor Jim Flaiz’s office filed a single charge against McWilliams in Chardon Municipal Court last Thursday, accusing him of soliciting a photograph from a minor, a second-degree felony.

Flaiz explained McWilliams’ court-appointed lawyers had requested a bond reduction in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court and when their motion was denied, they filed a writ of habeas corpus with the Eighth District Court of Appeals, which ordered McWilliams’ bond be reduced from $50,000 cash or surety to 10 percent of $50,000.

“We found out about that New Year’s Eve,” Flaiz told the Geauga County Maple Leaf Jan. 7. “So, we filed charges and issued a warrant.”

He added, “We had some concerns about his availability given the nature of the charges that we expect in Geauga County, and the charges that he is facing in Cuyahoga, so we made the decision to issue a warrant on our case on Dec. 31.”

All of the paperwork was filed Jan. 2 due to the court being closed New Year’s Day, Flaiz said.

“I expect to present additional charges to a grand jury within the next 60 days,” he said, noting there could be serious additional felony charges filed based on the evidence.

Tuesday afternoon, Geauga County Sheriff’s Office deputies took McWilliams into custody at the Cuyahoga County Jail.

Despite the filing of a criminal case in Geauga and the issuance of a warrant — and the fact McWilliams had posted bond — it was unclear if he would remain in the Cuyahoga County Jail or be transferred to Geauga County. According to a law enforcement source, there were some issues with the Cuyahoga County Jail releasing McWilliams to Geauga authorities.

And to complicate matters, the appellate court apparently granted another writ of habeas corpus ordering McWilliams’ release from jail.

Now that McWilliams is in Geauga’s custody, he is expected to make an initial appearance in Chardon Municipal Court this week.

McWilliams initially was arrested Dec. 5 at St. Joseph Parish in Strongsville on charges of possessing child pornography after agents with the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force raided his living space and office. The underlying search warrant was obtained by the Geauga County Prosecutor’s Office and sheriff’s deputies.

The Cleveland Catholic Diocese placed McWilliams on administrative leave following his arrest.

Flaiz previously told the Maple Leaf the investigation started with allegations McWilliams had sent an inappropriate text to a teenager at St. Helen’s Church. That investigation eventually grew to involve ICAC agents and City of Strongsville police.

According to the Cleveland Catholic Diocese, McWilliams served at St. Helen as a seminarian from September 2014 to May 2015. It was considered an internship.

In that capacity, McWilliams served the Life Teen Mass on Sundays at 5 p.m. and took part in the youth activities following the service. He also was actively involved in St. Helen School.

After he was ordained in 2017, McWilliams was assigned to St. Joseph parish in Strongsville as a vicar — a priest who is not the pastor. He occasionally would fill in for St. Helen pastor Jay McPhillips when he was away on vacation.

McWilliams also faces multiple charges in Cuyahoga County, including counts of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material or performance. The alleged crimes occurred between April 2016 through Dec. 5, 2019, according to Cuyahoga County court records.

He has entered a not guilty plea on those charges.

Flaiz said he expects additional charges to be brought in Cuyahoga County once their case is presented to a grand jury.