Former Priest Pleads Guilty on the First Day of Trial to Coercion and Enticement of a Minor to Engage in Criminal Sexual Activity

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Baltimore, Maryland – Fernando Cristancho, age 65, of Bel Air, Maryland, pleaded guilty yesterday to coercion and enticement of a minor who he met through the church to engage in illegal sexual activity.  Cristancho also admitted that he produced nude images of four other minor victims.

The guilty plea was announced by Acting United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner; Special Agent in Charge James R. Mancuso of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore; Colonel Woodrow W. Jones III, Superintendent of the Maryland State Police; Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler; and Harford County State’s Attorney Albert Peisinger.

According to his guilty plea, Cristancho was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in Colombia, South America, in 1985 and moved to Alexandria, Virginia, 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, and worked as a priest in Baltimore County, and then 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. 

John Doe was 11, 12, and 13 years old at the time of the offenses against him. 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. 

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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. 

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.  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.  Following the camping trip, Cristancho arranged for John Doe to assist around Cristancho’s house, including with his infant children.  Eventually, Cristancho arranged to have John Doe spend the weekend, which John Doe did on a regular basis well into 2003.  It was during these weekends that Cristancho sexually abused John Doe.  Cristancho sexually abused John Doe from 2002 through at least Fall 2003.

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In September 2017, Cristancho went to a retail pharmacy to use the store’s photo printing equipment. 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.  Law enforcement initiated an investigation, and a search warrant was executed at Cristancho’s residence on September 19, 2017.  During the search warrant, 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.


Cristancho and the government have agreed that, if the Court accepts the plea agreement, Cristancho will be sentenced to between 10 years and 25 years in federal prison.  U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander has scheduled sentencing for December 20, 2021 at 10:00 a.m. As part of his plea agreement, upon his release from prison, Cristancho must register as a sex offender in the places where he resides, where he is an employee, and where he is a student, under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).  

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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 marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc.  For more information about Internet safety education, please visit www.justice.gov/psc and click on the “Resources” tab on the left of the page.       

Acting United States Attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner 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 its assistance.  Mr. Lenzner thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul E. Budlow and Colleen E. McGuinn, who are prosecuting the federal case.

For more information on the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, its priorities, and 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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