Deacon faces sex-abuse charges after church members offered victim $400K in hush money
Virgil Maxey “V.M.” Wheeler III (screenshot)

A former Roman Catholic deacon has been charged with child sex abuse after prominent church members allegedly offered a victim $400,000 to stop cooperating with a criminal investigation.

Virgil Maxey “V.M.” Wheeler III, who is also a prominent lawyer in Metarie, Louisiana, is charged with two counts each of sexual battery and indecent behavior with a juvenile.

The abuse allegedly took place between March 2000 and March 2002, when Wheeler is accused of taking a shower with a pre-teen boy and performing oral sex on him. Authorities reportedly have received allegations that Wheeler preyed on at least one other young person.

"The charges mark the latest twist in Wheeler’s case since his arrest by the Sheriff’s Office in March," New Orleans' CBS affiliate reports. "In July, the accuser filed a civil lawsuit alleging a sweeping pressure campaign by prominent local Catholics to get him to back off, including an offer of $400,000 to stop cooperating with the criminal investigation."

According to the alleged victim's lawsuit, his family first reported the abuse to the archdiocese in 2002. But the archdiocese claims it has no record of the complaint, and Wheeler was ordained as a deacon by Archbishop Gregory Aymond in 2018.

"When the family learned Wheeler had been ordained in 2018, they renewed their complaint with the church, but Aymond initially took no action," the station reported. "Only later, in the summer of 2020, did the alleged victim disclose more specific details of the abuse to his father, who called for another meeting with Aymond. The lawsuit says that during a meeting with the alleged victim in 2020, Aymond said, “Now, I have to do something.”

Ten days later, Aymond announced he had removed Wheeler indefinitely from ministry.

Watch a July report on the alleged victim's lawsuit below.

New lawsuit outlines abuse claims against Metairie deacon