A Catholic deacon in New York City has been sentenced to 16 years in prison after pleading guilty to federal charges of enticing three minors to engage in sex.
Rogelio Vega, now 52, pleaded guilty to the charges in September. He had already entered a guilty plea to similar charges brought locally and had been sentenced to 10 years’ probation, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York filed the additional charges against him.
Between 2015 and January 2021, Vega used Grindr and another app called Kik “to express his interest in ‘young guys’ and coerce and entice three male victims between the ages of 14 and 16 to meet him for sexual acts,” says a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Vega had been a deacon at St. Sebastian Roman Catholic Church in Queens. He was the subject of a sting operation by the New York Police Department, in which a detective posed as a 14-year-old boy on Grindr.
“After Vega sent sexually explicit messages and pictures of his genitals for months, he set up a meeting in Queens,” the New York Daily News reports. “Vega was arrested after he propositioned the ‘teen’ and grabbed his leg.”
Investigators then found evidence of communications with minors on Vega’s cell phone. He pleaded guilty to the local charges in October 2021, receiving the sentence of probation, but federal prosecutors brought their charges the same day.
In federal court in Brooklyn, Vega’s lawyer, James Darrow, said his client had been abused as a child. Darrow asked for the minimum sentence of 10 years. He said Vega was an “ideal candidate” for rehabilitation and that Vega said he wished he had “spread the gospel” to the young men he’d met instead of victimizing them.
Vega expressed remorse directly, saying in court,, “I wish things can be different and we can go back in time. I’d say sorry to [the victims] and to my family also, because they’re struggling with what I have done.”
Prosecutors sought a 30-year sentence, and last Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Eric Komittee handed down a sentence almost in the middle, at 16 years. “Deterring the sexual exploitation of children is one of the most important, most essential tasks of the criminal justice system,” Komittee said, according to the Daily News.
The judge called for dating apps to do a better job of monitoring. “What obligation do they have to police this?” Komitee said. “If we’re talking broadly here about deterrence, that question seems to me to leap off the page.”
Vega was temporarily removed from his ministerial duties when he was arrested in January 2021, and the removal was made permanent when he pleaded guilty to the federal charges last September. Deacons are ordained Catholic clergy members who assist priests and can perform some of the same duties.