PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A retired Navy officer and former faculty member at the Navy War College in Newport, Rhode Island, has been sentenced to serve life in prison for sexually abusing a child for years.
U.S. District Judge John McConnell ordered retired Lt. Cmdr. Ronald Zenga, a former helicopter pilot, to serve the rest of his natural life in federal prison during sentencing Friday in Providence federal court, WPRI-TV reports.
Zenga tearfully apologized to the victim and others he’d hurt in court. His lawyer argued for leniency, saying he suffered from mental illness and was capable of rehabilitation.
But the victim’s mother described Zenga as manipulative and incapable of remorse.
Zenga, who had been on the faculty at the Naval War College before retiring in October 2017, pleaded guilty to coercion and distributing and possessing child pornography last November. He’d previously pleaded not guilty to eight charges.
Authorities say Zenga used a Russian website to communicate with an undercover law enforcement agent in England, where the case started, to graphically describe an ongoing sexual encounter with a child.
An affidavit submitted by a Homeland Security Investigations special agent stated that Zenga admitted “the sexual abuse began when he was in the U.S. Navy stationed in Guam.” It continued until two weeks before agents searched his home in Middletown, Rhode Island, in 2018, according to prosecutors.
Zenga was assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 in Guam from 2010 to 2013, according to his military records.
The federal indictment against him stated that he had transported the underage victim from Rhode Island to Texas, Florida and Cuba over the following decade or so, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Rhode Island District.
The affidavit also alleged that Zenga confessed to “receiving, distributing and possessing child pornography on the social media application Kik” and through an encrypted email address.
— Navy Times staff contributed to this story.