RENO, NV - In the course of a 40-year career, Ronald Wenker rose to the top of the Bureau of Land Management bureaucracy.
In 1995 he was named Outstanding Public Lands Professional. He eventually headed up the agency in Nevada and, in 2009, before retiring he served as its acting national director.
Today he's facing charges of child molestation.
Investigators say the victim told them, he began with inappropriate touching when she was just 8 years old, and escalated to oral sex. He was arrested in August after a relative witnessed the abuse and called 9-1-1.
After his arrest Wenker admitted the relationship and described struggling unsuccessfully against feelings he knew were wrong.
Wenker told investigators he knew his behavior was dumb and illegal, but thought his victim was enjoying it as much as he.
He denied molesting any other children, stating he was not a pedophile, but had a deep emotional attachment to the young girl which evolved into a sexual relationship.
He's charged with five counts of sexual assault on a child, two of lewdness with a child under the age of 14. All are felonies. Each carries a possible life sentence.
A status conference in Reno Justice Court was continued Tuesday and rescheduled for October 16.
Wenker remains free after posting a $170,000 cash bond.