The founder of a music program contracted by a Santa Ynez Valley summer camp has been federally indicted on child pornography, exploitation charges, but camp operators said the allegations are not connected to their program.
Former Ventura music teacher John Edward Zeretzke, 60, was arrested Thursday by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, the leading agencies in the investigation.
Zeretzke is the founder of Flutes Across the World, which has contracted with Circle V Ranch Camp near Cachuma Lake and numerous Southern California school districts to provide music education programs.
However, Circle V officials said the alleged crimes did not involve any campers, and investigators said none of the victims were Southern California children.
“Circle V staff have not received any official notifications or inquiries by any authorities at this time regarding Flutes Across the World activities at Circle V Ranch Camp,” officials said in a statement Thursday.
“There have been no complaints or concerns about (Flutes Across the World) and John Zeretzke from any campers, counselors or parents to Circle V staff,” the statement said. “Camp staff will continue to monitor this situation very closely and apprise you if anything changes as soon as possible.”
Zeretzke made his first court appearance Thursday afternoon at the U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin R. Rhoades, who is prosecuting the case.
Zeretzke is currently detained at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles, where he is awaiting a detention hearing scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday, when counsel will discuss his bond. A tentative trial date has been set for Nov. 6. An attorney with the Federal Public Defender's Office has been assigned to represent him, Rhoades said.
Rhoades confirmed on Friday that throughout the last year, several search warrants were served in Zeretzke's residence in Ventura County, along with his personal iCloud account on his computer.
When asked whether Zeretzke was connected in any way to the flutes that were sent to 13 school districts around the state that were later seized by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Department of Justice in October 2017, Rhoades said that Zeretzke's current criminal case has nothing to do with that matter, but directed all inquiries to the State Attorney General's Office.
A spokesperson for the Attorney General's Office on Friday afternoon confirmed that Zeretzke was under investigation but declined to comment any further.
The federal indictment filed against Zeretzke accuses him of five counts of coercing a minor to produce child pornography, soliciting a child to send him sexually explicit images, receiving/transporting child pornography twice over the internet and traveling to the Philippines intending to engage in sexual conduct with minors. The crimes allegedly occurred between 2015 and 2017.
Details of the indictment further allege that between Nov. 6, 2015, and May 28, 2017, in Los Angeles, Zeretzke tried to coerce a 15-year-old girl to engage in sexual activity and used Facebook to message minors.
On Nov. 7, 2015, "during a chat on Facebook, an underage victim told Zeretzke that she planned to lose her virginity on her upcoming 16th birthday, to which Zeretzke said he always wanted to have sex with a virgin and wished he could be that person for the victim."
In that same chat, Zeretzke allegedly sent the child about eight photographs of himself having sex with his ex-girlfriend. The next day, Zeretzke reportedly sent about eight photos of his genitalia to the child, along with 26 photographs of himself masturbating to ejaculation, according to the indictment.
Zeretzke also asked the teen to see a photo of her genitalia up close, and described in detail how he'd like to have sex with her, the indictment continued.
On Dec. 15, 2015, Zeretzke told the same victim that he sent her a pair of cowboy boots as a Christmas gift; a week later, during another Facebook chat with the same victim, he reportedly asked her to send more photos after she already sent him photos of her wearing the boots, the indictment said.
Between August 2017 and September 2017, Zeretzke reportedly traveled to the Philippines to engage in sexual conduct with a minor between the ages of 12 and 16, according to the indictment. The indictment also alleges that on Aug. 17, 2017 and Aug. 19, 2017, Zeretzke received child pornography on his Facebook account.
Several of the alleged offenses carry mandatory minimum sentences, including a 15-year prison sentence for producing child pornography. Zeretzke faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted of all counts, according to Rhoades.
Circle V Ranch Camp contracted with Flutes Across the World to provide music education to campers ages 7 to 13 during specific one-week sessions in July 2011, July 2012, July 2013, August 2014 and August 2015, a camp spokesman said.
In Flutes Across the World sessions, children make two folk flutes from PVC pipe and can keep one, while the other “friendship flute” is to be given away to a child elsewhere in the world.
Flutes made by children at Circle V Ranch Camp in 2014 were allegedly going to be taken to children in the Philippines by Zeretzke as part of a goodwill mission later that year.
He reportedly delivered 600 flutes to the Philippines that December.
Zeretzke’s program drew considerable attention, earning him feature stories in newspapers and magazines as well as feature spots on television news.
In May 2014, Arts Outreach and Wildling Museum presented Zeretzke in a free performance on his ancient flutes and other wind instruments at the museum in Solvang.