A flute teacher once contracted by a Santa Ynez Valley school was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison Aug. 26 for producing child pornography that stemmed from sexual abuse committed against female juveniles.
U.S. District Court Judge Fernando M. Olguin sentenced John Edward Zeretzke, 62, of Ventura to 183 months after he pleaded guilty on Aug. 13, 2020, to one count of child pornography production as part of a plea agreement filed in February 2020, according to U.S. Attorney spokesman Ciaran McEvoy.
As part of that plea agreement, Zeretzke was required to plead guilty to all six counts of lewd or lascivious acts with minors under 14 years old from a criminal complaint that had been filed in Orange County Superior Court in April 2019.
Zeretzke will be allowed to serve his federal sentence concurrently with the 18-year state prison sentence he received in July 2020, according to McEvoy.
A former flute teacher who taught programs across Southern California, including in the Santa Ynez Valley, pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal child pornography-related charge, according to a U.S. Attorney spokesman.
In addition to prison, Zeretzke must serve 20 years of supervised release, register as a sex offender and pay more than $7,500 in fees, including $2,500 in restitution to a victim that was identified, according to court documents.
Originally from Rockford, Illinois, Zeretzke co-founded the Flutes Across the World nonprofit, which provided outreach music programs to developing nations.
At one point, Zeretzke was contracted with the Circle V Ranch near Cachuma Lake for one week in July from 2011 to 2015, and also conducted a workshop at the Wildling Museum in Solvang in May 2014. None of the crimes relate to his time in Santa Barbara County.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office began investigating Zeretzke, who was first arrested on federal charges on Sept. 23, 2017, and initially charged him with five counts that included receipt and production of child pornography.
During a Feb. 8, 2017, video chat session with a 14-year-old girl from the Philippines, Zeretzke admitted to persuading her into performing sex acts while he took screenshots, which he saved to external hard drives, according to court records.
After Zeretzke was charged federally, then-California Attorney General Xavier Becerra charged him with the six counts in Orange County.
In the state indictment, Zeretzke was accused of masturbating onto flutes similar to the ones students played and then watched them play the instruments during classes, according to a Feb. 18 sentencing memorandum.
"[Zeretzke] preyed on young, impoverished girls in Third World countries and used his Flutes Around the World program as a means to contact and sometimes take advantage of those girls,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Catharine Richmond said.
Additionally, prosecutors alleged Zeretzke traveled to foreign countries with the intent of committing sex acts with juveniles, but those charges were dropped as part of the plea agreement.
"Through mental health counseling, Mr. Zeretzke came to understand how the trauma and abuse of his prior relationship led him down a dark path of reckless and impersonal sexual gratification," Deputy Federal Public Defender Julia Deixler said in a Feb. 22 sentencing memorandum.