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September 10, 2021Providence, RI, United StatesChild Exploitation

Former Navy commander sentenced to life in federal prison for coercing a minor, child pornography charges

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A former U.S. Navy pilot who admitted to coercing a minor to engage in illicit sexual conduct and to distributing, receiving and possessing child pornography, all while actively serving in the U.S. Navy and following his retirement from active service, was sentenced today to life in federal prison.

Lieutenant Commander Ronald W. Zenga, 45, of Middletown, Rhode Island, pleaded guilty on November 19, 2020, to coercion of a minor, distribution of child pornography, receipt of child pornography, and possession of child pornography. He was sentenced today by U.S. District Court Chief Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., to life in federal prison and lifetime federal supervised release and pay restitution to the victim 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. 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,’”noted acting United States Attorney Richard B. Myrus. “Thanks to the work of our dedicated law enforcement partners both here and abroad, this defendant has been held to account for his vile crimes. We hope that today’s result will provide some relief to the victim in knowing that the man who preyed upon her will be safely locked away.”

“Ronald Zenga committed heinous crimes and had the audacity to brag about his exploits online — hubris which ultimately led to his arrest. The abuse and exploitation of children is deeply cruel, violating the trust and safety of victims and generating trauma that may never fully heal. We hope that today’s sentence provides a measure of justice to those he harmed,” said Matthew Millhollin, Special Agent in Charge for the Homeland Security Investigations’ Boston Field Office. “Homeland Security Investigations is grateful to our international partners for their vigilance and assistance in this case.”

“Today’s sentencing closes the case for the exceptional team of investigators and prosecutors that worked tirelessly to pursue Mr. Zenga for his crimes, but today our thoughts are with his victims who continue to suffer from his actions,” said Colonel James M. Manni, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and Director of the Department of Public Safety. “The Rhode Island State Police is grateful for the definitive outcome of this investigation and proud to work with this outstanding group of law enforcement agencies to bring justice to Mr. Zenga’s victims.”

According to court documents and information provided to the court, in September 2018, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents in Providence received information from the Bedfordshire Police Department (BPD) in the United Kingdom that an individual, later identified as Zenga, was communicating with a BPD agent through a Russian file sharing website. The communications graphically described ongoing sexual encounters with a young minor child. Zenga described several years of sexual encounters with a child, dating back to the child’s prepubescent years.

On October 17, 2018, HSI agents and members of the Rhode Island State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force arrested Zenga and executed a court-authorized search of his Middletown residence. Forensic previews of Zenga’s electronic devices resulted in the discovery of emails and files of child pornography shared, received, and possessed by Zenga.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John P. McAdams.