Prosecutors accuse a recently retired Navy officer enticing a youngster to engage in “illicit sexual conduct,” according to a seven-count federal indictment unsealed this week in Rhode Island.
One court filing states that Lt. Cmdr. Ronald W. Zenga, 49, admitted to sexually abusing the unnamed minor over the span of several years, including in Guam where he served as a Navy pilot.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island also alleges he swapped child pornography.
Zenga’s civilian defense attorney, John E. McDonald, declined comment.
A former Naval War College instructor, Zenga retired from the Navy on Oct. 31, 2017, according to service records provided to Navy Times.
Less than a year later, federal agents raided his Middletown, Rhode Island, residence and arrested him. He was placed into pretrial confinement on Oct. 17, 2018, and prosecutors continued to file motions delaying his indictment until this week.
Although much of the court file remains sealed, an affidavit submitted by a Homeland Security Investigations special agent states Zenga admitted "the sexual abuse began when he was in the U.S. Navy stationed in Guam” and it continued until two weeks before agents searched his home.
Zenga was assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 in Guam from 2010 to 2013, according to his military records.
The affidavit also alleges that Zenga confessed to "receiving, distributing, and possessing child pornography on the social media application Kik” and through an encrypted email address.
"Zenga described himself as a ‘Monster,’” the agent wrote.
Shortly before his arrest, British police alerted U.S. authorities that Zenga was engaging in graphic sexual discussions with an unidentified adult through a Russian file-sharing website, according to a press release issued by federal prosecutors following his indictment.
Zenga awaits arraignment.
Originally from Minnesota, he enlisted in 1997 and was commissioned three years later.
During his career, he was assigned to Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 4 in Sigonella, Italy, Florida-based Helicopter Training Squadron 8 and the aircraft carrier George Washington, plus tours to Kosovo and Iraq.
His last assignment was at Naval War College from 2015 to 2017.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.