On Wednesday, a former deacon of the Catholic Church in Queens, Rogelio Vega, was sentenced to 16 years in prison for luring three boys he met online into having sex with him. In Brooklyn Federal Court, Vega expressed remorse for his actions and cried as he acknowledged the harm he had caused to his victims and family.
“I wish things can be different and we can go back in time,” he said. “I’d say sorry to [the victims] and to my family also because they’re struggling with what I have done” he told Judge Eric Komitee, taking of his glasses as his emotions overcame him.
“You’ll probably notice that my family is not here today, because I told them not to come, because I don’t want to expose them any more,” Vega added.
Komitee called Vega’s case “especially complex,” but noted, “Deterring the sexual exploitation of children is one of the most important, most essential tasks of the criminal justice system.”
A former deacon of St. Sebastian Roman Catholic Church in Woodside has been sentenced to 16 years in federal prison for luring three boys he met online into sexual encounters. Rogelio Vega, 52, pleaded guilty to three counts of enticing minors to engage in sexual conduct in September 2021.
An undercover NYPD operation caught Vega in January 2021 when he sent sexually explicit messages and images to a detective posing as a 14-year-old boy on Grindr.
During the investigation, authorities found evidence of more victims on Vega’s phone, leading them to identify three underage boys he had enticed into sexual encounters. Vega was previously given 10 years of probation and a spot on the sex offender registry after his guilty plea in Queens court.
However, new charges were brought against him by federal prosecutors, and he faced a maximum of 30 years in prison. Vega’s lawyer argued for the mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, citing his client’s eligibility for treatment and pointing to previous cases with lower sentences.
James Darrow, the defense lawyer, pointed out during Vega’s sentencing hearing that another defendant, Brooklyn gynecologist Aaron Weinreb, who enticed two underage boys into sex, received a sentence of 54 months in prison, despite prosecutors asking for 87 months.
Darrow also mentioned that Vega was a victim of abuse himself as a child, which he struggled to bring up during his statement to the judge.
“It has been delicate speaking to Mr. Vega about his own experience as a child,” Darrow said, explaining that Vega told him that he wishes he’d offer help to the victims instead of exploiting them. “He wishes that he instead spread the gospel to them, is what he said to me.”
Komitee noted that typically in Brooklyn, similar cases result in a 15-year sentence. He recommended that the government investigate how social media and dating websites have made it easier for potential sexual offenders to locate and communicate with victims, compared to the past when they had to identify vulnerable youth, isolate them from their parents, and groom them over a period of time.
The judge also pointed out that one of Vega’s victims had clearly indicated on Grindr that he was 15 years old.
“What obligation do they have to police this?” Komitee said. “If we’re talking broadly here about deterence, that question seems to me to leap off the page.”