U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander sentenced Fernando Cristancho, age 65, of Bel Air, Maryland, to 22 years in federal prison, followed by lifetime supervised release, for 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. 

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 an employee, and where he is a student, under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (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; 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, Jr.

“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 United States Attorney for the District of Maryland, Erek L. Barron. “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.” 

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. 

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 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. 

Beginning when John Doe was 11, Cristancho asked John Doe for back rubs; offered John Doe alcohol; took John Doe to dinner, kissed John Doe, told John Does that 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 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.  Additionally, 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 at Cristancho’s house 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.

In September 2017, Cristancho went to 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 subsequently made a report.

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 a smartphone.  A subsequent forensic examination of the phone resulted in the discovery of 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.