Catholic priest from former Archdiocese of Baltimore sentenced to 22 years in federal prison for coercing and instigating minor met through church | USAO-MD
Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander sentenced Fernando Cristancho, 65, of Bel Air, Maryland, to 22 years in federal prison, followed by life probation, for coercion and incitement of a minor whom he met through the church to engage in illegal sexual activity. Cristancho also admitted to producing nude images of four other underage victims. Judge Hollander also ordered that upon his release from prison, Cristancho must register as a sex offender in the places where he resides, where he is employed and where he is a student, under the Registration and Sex Offender Notification (SORNA) .
The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron; Acting Special Agent in Charge Selwyn Smith of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore; Col. Woodrow W. Jones III, Superintendent of Maryland State Police; Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler; and Harford County State’s Attorney Albert Peisinger, Jr.
“Cristancho is finally being held accountable for his horrific crimes. May this sentence serve as a deterrent to anyone who seeks to sexually abuse children, especially those in positions of trust intended to be a place of safety and refuge for children. said United States Attorney for the District of Maryland, Erek L. Barron. “The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland will prosecute and relentlessly prosecute predators who exploit the trust of children and families.”
According to his guilty plea, Cristancho was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in Colombia, South America, in 1985 and moved to Alexandria, Virginia, where he worked as an assistant priest. Around 1999, Cristancho obtained faculties to work as a priest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and worked as a priest in Baltimore County and at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Harford County. In 2002, the Archdiocese of Baltimore revoked Cristancho’s faculties to work as a priest in the archdiocese.
As stated in his plea agreement, John Doe was 11, 12 and 13 at the time of the offenses against him. John Doe’s family were members of St. Ignatius. Shortly after Cristancho arrived at St. Ignatius in 1999, he began spending time with John Doe’s family outside of church, including meals at the restaurant and at the family home, and during family reunions. John Doe also became a lector at church, with Cristancho working with him and coaching him in the process.
Starting when John Doe was 11, Cristancho asked John Doe for back massages; offered alcohol to John Doe; took John Doe to dinner, kissed John Doe, told John Does he loved him; and acted as if they were in a romantic relationship. Cristancho also showed John Doe pornography and suggested they do the same sexual activities.
After Cristancho no longer worked at the church, he arranged to hold church services at the home of a parishioner, with John Doe acting as lector or altar server. Also, in the summer of 2002, Cristancho invited himself to attend John Doe’s family camping trip and arranged to sleep next to John Doe in a tent. After the camping trip, Cristancho arranged for John Doe to help him around Cristancho’s house, including with his small children. Eventually, Cristancho arranged for John Doe to spend the weekends at Cristancho’s house, which John Doe did regularly until 2003. It was during these weekends that Cristancho sexually abused John Doe. Cristancho sexually abused John Doe from 2002 until at least the fall of 2003.
In September 2017, Cristancho visited a retail pharmacy to use the store’s photo printing equipment. When a store employee assisted Cristancho, they observed several photos of naked children and an image of what appeared to be a bite mark on a young boy’s buttocks on Cristancho’s smartphone. The employee then made a report.
Law enforcement opened an investigation and a search warrant was executed at Cristancho’s home on September 19, 2017. During the search warrant, investigators seized various digital devices, including a smartphone. A subsequent forensic examination of the phone resulted in the discovery of nude photos and videos of four other underage victims, with most of the images recorded when the victims were under the age of five.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorney’s Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood brings together federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit child sexual abuse, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information on the Safe Childhood Project, please visit www.justice.gov/psc. For more information on internet safety training, please visit www.justice.gov/psc and click on the “Resources” tab on the left side of the page.
United States Attorney Erek L. Barron commended HSI, the Maryland State Police, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, and the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office for their work in the investigation and prosecution and thanked the Harford County Child Advocacy Center for their assistance. Barron thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul E. Budlow and Colleen E. McGuinn, who prosecuted the federal case.
For more information about the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, its priorities, and the resources available to help the community, please visit www.justice.gov/usao-md/project-safe-childhood and https://www.justice.gov/usao-md/community-outreach.
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