SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — The founder of a nonprofit group that was investigated over allegations it gave flutes possibly tainted with semen to schoolchildren has been charged with committing lewd acts against girls in California, it was announced Thursday.
John Zeretzke, 60, of Ventura was indicted by an Orange County grand jury last month on charges involving five girls under age 14 in Los Angeles and Orange counties, the state attorney general’s office said.
Court records show he has pleaded not guilty to the charges, the Orange County Register reported.
He was arrested this month and remained jailed Thursday, according to the county Sheriff’s department website.
A call to Zeretzke’s home seeking comment was not immediately returned.
Zeretzke founded an international program called Flutes Across the World that held programs in schools where thousands of students played or made flutes, which were distributed around the world.
In 2017, California authorities began investigating reports that some flutes distributed to schoolchildren in Orange County school districts were tainted with semen.
Parents in some districts were urged to put the flutes in paper bags and turn them in to authorities for testing.
The new indictment did not provide many details and the attorney general’s office declined to say whether the charges involved any allegations of tainted flutes.
However, a statement from the office said the charges “are not based upon allegations that he personally had physical contact with any child.”
“Crimes against children are despicable. Schools must represent a safe environment for our students,” Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in the statement. “No parent should fear for the safety and security of their child at school. We will work relentlessly to hold people who exploit our children criminally accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
The state charges against Zeretzke involve different accusers than a previously-issued federal indictment that alleges child exploitation and receiving child pornography, authorities said.
Federal prosecutors say Zeretzke tried to convince someone he believed was a 15-year-old girl to have sex with him and that he went to the Philippines in 2017 to have sex with a young person.