Court

BALTIMORE — A former Harford County church priest was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison Wednesday for, in part, coercing a boy — a parishioner there — to engage in sexual activities with him for nearly a two-year period, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The defendant, Fernando Cristancho, 65, of Bel Air, also admitted that he “produced nude images of four other minor victims,” as part of a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty to coercion and enticement of a minor in October, which left him facing a combined sentence of 10 to 25 years in prison, federal prosecutors reported.

During Wednesday’s courtroom hearing, U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander imposed a 22-year sentence on Cristancho. The judge ordered Christancho to serve lifetime supervised probation after he is released from prison. As part of that probation, Christancho must register as a convicted sex offender for the rest of his life.

“Cristancho is finally being held accountable for his horrific crimes. Let this sentence serve as a deterrent to anyone that seeks to sexually abuse children, especially those in trusted positions intended to be a safe place and haven for children.” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron, after Wednesday’s sentencing. “The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland will relentlessly pursue and prosecute predators that exploit the trust of children and families.”

Prosecutors said Christancho met the victim at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Bel Air in 1999. Christancho started committing his offenses against the victim when the boy was 11, and he did not stop until the youngster turned 13, prosecutors added. The victim is identified only as “John Doe” in court records to protect his identity.

The USAO provided the following case background:

Cristancho was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in Colombia, South America, in 1985, before moving to Alexandria, Va., where he worked as an assistant priest from 1994 to 1997.

In approximately 1999, Cristancho was granted faculties to work as a priest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which led to him working as a priest in Baltimore County and then at St. Ignatius Catholic Church.

“John Doe’s family were members of St. Ignatius. Not long after Cristancho arrived at St. Ignatius in 1999, he began to spend time with John Doe’s family outside of church, including meals at restaurants and the family’s home, and at family gatherings. John Doe also became a lector at the church, with Cristancho working with him and coaching him in that process,” a USAO spokesperson reported.

The spokesperson further outlined, “Beginning when John Doe was 11, Cristancho would complain of a bad back and ask John Doe for back rubs; offered John Doe alcohol; took John Doe to dinner, kissed John Doe, acted as if they were in a romantic relationship, and told him that he loved him. Cristancho also showed John Doe pornography, including movies of sex acts between males and suggesting they do the same sexual activities.”

In 2002, the Archdiocese of Baltimore revoked Cristancho’s faculties to work as a priest in the Archdiocese, according to federal prosecutors.

After Cristancho was no longer working at the church, he arranged to hold religious services in the home of a parishioner, with John Doe performing as a lector or altar server, prosecutors reported.

In the summer of 2002, Cristancho invited himself to attend John Doe’s family’s camping trip and arranged to sleep next to John Doe in a tent, prosecutors said. Following the camping trip, prosecutors added, Cristancho arranged for John Doe to assist around Cristancho’s house, including with his infant children.

Eventually, Cristancho arranged to have John Doe spend weekends, which John Doe did on a regular basis well into 2003, according to prosecutors.

“It was during these weekends that Cristancho sexually abused John Doe. Cristancho sexually abused John Doe from 2002 through at least Fall 2003,” the spokesperson said.

The investigation leading to Cristancho’s arrest, charges, convictions and sentence started shortly after September 2017, when Cristancho went into a pharmacy and used the store’s photo printing equipment, according to prosecutors.

“While assisting Cristancho, a store employee observed some of the images on Cristancho’s iPhone, including several photos of naked children and an image of what appeared to be a bite mark on a young boy’s buttocks. The employee made a report to police,” the spokesperson said.

During the investigation, detectives conducted a court-approved search of Cristancho’s residence on Sept. 19, 2017, prosecutors said, adding that investigators seized various digital devices, including an iPhone 6s.

“A subsequent forensic examination of the phone recovered nude photos and videos of four other minor victims, with most of the images being recorded when the victims were less than five years old,” the spokesperson reported.

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