A disgraced deacon from the Queens Catholic Church will spend 16 years behind bars for enticing three guys he met online into having sex with him.
Rogelio Vega, 52, faced his trial in Brooklyn Federal Court on Wednesday, breaking down in tears as he described how his actions hurt his victims and their family.
“Hopefully things can be different and we can go back in time,” he said. “I would apologize to (the victims) and to my family as well because they are struggling with what I have done,” he told Judge Eric Komitee, removing his glasses as his emotions got the best of him.
“You probably notice that my family is not here today, because I told them not to come, because I don’t want to expose them anymore,” Vega added.
Komitee called Vega’s case “especially complex” but noted that “deterring the sexual exploitation of children is one of the most important and essential tasks of the criminal justice system.”
Vega pleaded guilty to three counts of inciting a minor to engage in sexual conduct last September.
He was a deacon at St. Sebastian Roman Catholic Church in Woodside when an NYPD sting operation revealed him as a sexual predator in January 2021.
The detective posed as a 14-year-old boy on the dating site Grindr, and after Vega sent him sexually explicit messages and photos of his genitals for months, he arranged a meeting in Queens. Vega was arrested after he propositioned the “teenager” and grabbed his leg.
His arrest led to further revelations. Investigators found evidence of more victims on the deacon’s cell phone, leading feds to identify three underage boys whom he induced to have sexual encounters.
Vega pleaded guilty in Queens court in October 2021 in exchange for 10 years probation and a place on the sex offender registry, and on the day of his guilty plea, the feds swooped in and indicted him on new charges. .
Prosecutors were seeking 30 years behind bars, while Vega’s attorney, James Darrow of Federal Defenders, asked the judge for the mandatory minimum, 10 years in prison.
Darrow described Vega as an “ideal candidate” for treatment, saying he will be closely monitored and live in a “supportive community” after his release. The lawyer also noted that similar defendants in the Brooklyn federal judicial district have received sentences far lower than the 30 years requested by prosecutors.
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A similar defendant, Aaron Weinreb, a Brooklyn gynecologist who prosecutors say enticed two underage boys to have sex, was sentenced to 54 months in prison in 2021, with prosecutors asking for 87 months, Darrow noted.
The defense attorney also mentioned that Vega was abused as a child, after the former deacon had trouble bringing it up during his statement before the judge.
“It has been delicate talking to Mr. Vega about his own experience growing up as a child,” Darrow said, explaining that Vega told him that he would like to offer help to victims rather than exploit them. “He wants me to take the gospel to them instead, is what he told me.”
Komitee noted that similar cases in Brooklyn generally carry a 15-year sentence.
He also suggested that the government look at how social media and internet dating sites make it easier for would-be sex offenders to find and communicate with victims, whereas in the past they had to identify vulnerable youth, isolate them from their parents, and groom them. over time.
One of Vega’s victims clearly identified herself as a 15-year-old on Grindr, the judge noted.
“What obligation do they have to monitor this?” Komitee said. “If we’re talking broadly here about deterrence, that question seems to me to jump off the page.”