Former Navy officer sentenced to life in prison for coercing child

Project Safe Childhood is a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice.

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Providence, Rhode Island: Lieutenant Commander Ronald W. Zenga was arrested in October 2018 after Homeland Security Investigators received a tip from the Bedfordshire Police Department in the United Kingdom concerning communications with an individual through a Russian file sharing website.

 

According to court documents, those conversations "graphically described ongoing sexual encounters with a young minor child" which spanned a number of years, and even invited the officer to join in the abuse.

 

Investigators determined that the individual the Bedfordshire officers had been speaking with was 44-year-old Zenga, a former instructor at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and executed a search warrant at his residence on October 17, 2018. Zenga retired in 2017.

 

A forensic preview of electronic devices found to be in his possession were reported to contain emails and files with child pornography which had allegedly been shared and received by Zenga.

 

The Department of Justice announced on November 19, 2020 that Zenga entered a plea of guilty to the charges against him which were coercing a minor to engage in illicit sexual conduct, and possession, distribution and receipt of child pornography.

 

The coercion charge carried a possible sentence of 10 years to life in prison.

 

On September 10, 2021, U.S. District Court Chief Judge John J. McConnell Jr. sentenced Zenga to life in federal prison and lifetime supervised release. He additionally ordered that Zenga pay restitution to the victim, his own child, in the amount of $500,000.

 

"Cases involving the coercion and sexual exploitation of children are among the most heart-wrenching and disturbing cases that federal prosecutors confront," Acting United States Attorney Richard B. Myrus said. "This case is particularly troubling because, as the prosecutor in this case stated in a court filing, '[Zenga] abused the most sacred trust a human being can be given, responsibility for the health and well-being of another living soul.'"

 

In a sentencing memorandum filed by Zenga's defense attorney, John L. Calcagni III, he argued that his client did not deserve a life sentence and that he had "the makings of being able to be rehabilitated."

 

In that memorandum, cited by American Military News, Calcangi revealed that Zenga himself had been the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a baby sitter, and then later in life, allegedly while serving in the Navy. Zenga did not report either incident and had "never received any counseling or mental health treatment," but had been utilizing resources available to him during his incarceration in the W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls.

 

McConnell commended Zenga for his "fine work" in seeking counseling and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, but stated that nothing less than a life sentence would "give [him] confidence" that Zenga would not commit similar crimes in the future.

 

"I hope you find a way to live a productive life," McConnell is said to have told Zenga during sentencing, "it just won't be with the liberties that the rest of us enjoy."

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