VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. - A former music teacher from Ventura who contracted with a number of school districts in Southern California was arrested Thursday on child exploitation crimes, including the production of child pornography.
John Edward Zeretzke, 60, was taken into custody by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, who are the leading agencies investigating this case.
A 5-count indictment against Zeretzke alleges that he:
- Coerced an underage girl to produce child pornography.
- Attempted to entice another victim to send him sexually explicit images.
- Traveled to the Philippines with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct with other minor victims.
- Twice received child pornography over the internet.
Authorities say none of the alleged victims in the case are located in Southern California. We do know that the man once hailed as an award-winning composer and musician, came into contact with kids in the Santa Ynez Valley from Goleta and Santa Maria.
The U.S. Department of Justice says Zeretzke faces a maximum penalty of life in federal prison if he's convicted of the charges in the indictment, and would also face mandatory minimum sentences for several of the offenses, including a mandatory 15-year prison for the offense of production child pornography.
To read the indictment, click here.
Zeretzke was featured on KEYT NewsChannel 3 in August 2014 as part of the "Flutes Across the World" project event at Circle V Ranch Camp in the Santa Ynez Valley. During the event, campers ages 7 to 13 made two folk flutes -- one was theirs to keep, the second was part of a 200 flute giveaway Zeretzke was putting together on an apparent goodwill mission to the Philippines later that same year.
The flute program was at the center of a state and federal investigation after allegations surfaced that flutes tainted with bodily fluids, including semen, were being distributed to children.
Zeretzke is expected to be arraigned on the indictment Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
In light of the shocking allegations against Zeretzke, officials with Child Abuse Listening Mediation (CALM) have some advice for parents.
"If an adult, whether a teacher or a family member is starting an inappropriate relationship with a teenager, it can take years and it is a slow and gradual grooming of that young person. It starts with a friendship but then layers and layers of adding nuances to the relationship becomes more more inappropriate," said Alana Walczak, CEO of CALM.
Walczak wants to remind parents how important it is to have an open dialogue with their kids at a young age about inappropriate behaviors and relationships.
"First and foremost the parent needs to be as comfortable and calm as they can be so they are seen by their children as a safe place to go. I think if a parent comes in too emotional or too animated, younger children may misinterpret that as that they've done something wrong," said Walczak
CALM's CEO says its best to be honest and direct, reinforcing to your child that their bodies are their bodies.
"Even starting as early as three and four, that it's ok that if you don't want to hug someone that a child has a right to say they don't want to give a hug," said Walczak.
Circle V Ranch contracted with Flutes Across the World from 2011 to 2015, they released a statement to us about Zeretzke's arrest:
It has come to our attention from media reports that John Zeretzke, founder of the program Flutes Across the World (FAW) has been arrested today (9/13/18) on child exploitation crimes, and been taken into custody by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, who are the leading agencies investigating this case. Authorities indicate that none of the victims in this case are located in Southern California. Located in Southern California near Santa Barbara, Circle V Ranch Camp independently contracted with FAW to provide music education to campers ages 7-13 during specific one-week sessions in July 2011, July 2012, July 2013, August 2014 and August 2015.
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. There have been no complaints or concerns about FAW and John Zeretzke from any campers, counselors or parents to Circle V staff. Camp staff will continue to monitor this situation very closely and apprise you if anything changes as soon as possible. Thank you for your concern and support as we continue to rebuild and reopen Circle V Ranch Camp after the Whittier Wildfire damages experienced on July 8, 2017.
We also reached out the Santa Barbara Unified School District and they could neither confirm or deny that anyone named John Zeretzke taught or worked with the district.