Former Queens Deacon Sentenced to 16 Years for Enticing Minors for Sex

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Queens, NY

By Paula Katinas and Jessica Easthope

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Rogelio Vega, a former deacon at St. Sebastian Church in Woodside, who pleaded guilty last year to enticing three minors to engage in sexual conduct, was sentenced to 16 years in prison on Wednesday, March 15.

Judge Eric R. Komitee, who handed down the sentence in Brooklyn Federal Court, also sentenced Vega to five years of supervised release after he gets out of prison and ordered him to register as a sex offender.

Vega, 52, who authorities said led a double life for years — as a deacon and someone engaging in unlawful sexual activities — was charged with both state and federal crimes.

“This was a crime that occurred on a large number of occasions over a long period of time,” said the judge, who added that Vega robbed the victims of their childhoods.

Deterring sex crimes against minors is “an essential task of the criminal justice system,” the judge added.

Vega was originally arrested on state charges on Jan. 22, 2021, when he was nabbed as part of a sting operation. Authorities said he began using a dating app in July 2020 and started communicating with a person he thought was a 14-year-old.

In reality, the person was an undercover NYPD detective. Prosecutors said Vega exchanged pornographic pictures with the “minor” and made plans to meet up with him.

But when Vega showed up at the agreed-upon location, the undercover detective was there to arrest him. Vega pleaded guilty in that case in October 2021.

The same day he pleaded guilty, he was arrested on federal charges after a search of his cell phone turned up evidence that he had enticed minors for sex, authorities said.

The Diocese of Brooklyn released a statement after Wednesday’s sentencing.

“We hope the healing process can begin for the victim-survivors in this case. We pray for them and all victim-survivors of sexual abuse,” the statement reads. “These heinous acts betrayed not only his victims but damaged the sacred trust of the faithful.”

The Diocese of Brooklyn immediately suspended Vega from his post as a deacon upon his Jan. 22, 2021, arrest. Following his guilty plea to the federal charges in September 2022, the diocese began the process that permanently removed him from ministry.

Upon Vega’s removal from St. Sebastian in 2021, the diocese sent a letter to parishioners to inform them of the arrest and actions taken against him and sent its vice chancellor and head of the Office of Victim Assistance to St. Sebastian to meet with parishioners.

The steps are part of the diocese’s commitment and protocols, including a zero-tolerance policy, put in place nearly two decades ago to combat sexual abuse.

In 2004, now-retired Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio established a reporting line (888-634-4499) for anyone to report allegations of sexual abuse within the diocese. The confidential line connects directly to law enforcement authorities. Victims are encouraged to report a crime no matter when the alleged abuse occurred.

The Office of Victim Assistance also provides supportive services to victims, including counseling and referrals for therapy. In addition, the diocese runs the Office of Safe Environment, which trains clergy, employees, and students on identifying the signs of sexual abuse and how to report it.

According to federal court documents, Vega used apps to find, coerce and entice his victims, between the ages of 14 and 16, and arranged to meet them in person.

In fact, Komitee said, the defendant used multiple cell phones, which “says something about the lengths Mr. Vega was going to” to commit his crimes.

The evidence showed that his criminal activity took place between approximately 2015 and January 2021, prosecutors said. Vega pleaded guilty in federal court on Sept. 16, 2022.

Federal prosecutors, led by Department of Justice Trial Attorney Assistant Patrick J. Campbell, sought a sentence of 30 years in prison, while Vega’s defense attorney, James Darrow, asked for him to get 10 years.

Vega wept as he read a statement in court. “It has not been easy. I lost the trust of my family,” he said. “I wish things could be different. I wish we could go back in time.”

As for the victims, he said, “I hope they are finding peace in their life.”

When Vega became too overcome to continue, Darrow read the remainder of his statement.

Vega was ordained a deacon on May 28, 2011. He had been serving at St. Sebastian Church from December 2015 until his arrest in 2021. Prior to that, he was assigned to Most Holy Trinity-St. Mary Parish in Williamsburg.

It was revealed in court on Wednesday that Vega was himself a victim of child sex abuse. But the judge said that meant he should have known better.

“You knew from your experience the harm you were causing,” he told Vega.