ST. LOUIS – A former youth pastor from the New York City area appeared in St. Louis federal court Thursday morning to be sentenced for grooming and sexually abusing a Missouri teenager in 2013.

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri said Jesse Vargas pleaded guilty in March 2022 to felony counts of traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual contact and enticement/coercion of a minor.

According to court documents, Vargas met the victim when she was 11 at a religious camp in Michigan where he worked.

The victim testified that Vargas spent the next few years getting her to push away or abandon her closest friends and spiritual leaders in her life.

In January 2013, Vargas traveled from New York to the St. Louis area teen’s home when she was 15. He stayed in her family’s home and preached a sermon at their church. During that visit, Vargas sexually abused her.

“I was assured by him throughout my formative young teenage years that ‘The World’ wouldn’t understand the illicit affair of ours he was suggesting, but God had provided us a path that we should follow together in secret. Tell no one. Trust no one else,” the victim said in court.

Vargas returned in March 2013 and abused her again. In June, he arranged for her to travel to New York, where he abused her again.

Prosecutors said Vargas also exchanged images and videos containing nude images with the teen via social media apps and text messages.

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Prior to sentencing, the victim told the court she dropped out of high school and now suffers PTSD as a result of the abuse.

A U.S. District Court judge sentenced Vargas to 13 years and four months in prison. Vargas was also ordered to pay $146,594 in restitution to the victim.