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Business & Economy

Former Columbus Zoo marketing director pleads guilty to 17 charges related to fraud scandal

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium entrance sign
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Former Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Marketing Director Pete Fingerhut pleaded guilty to 16 felonies and one misdemeanor charge Tuesday.

The charges stem from a scheme to defraud the zoo of almost $2.3 million between 2011 and 2021. In October 2021, the zoo temporarily lost its accreditation from the Associations of Zoos and Aquariums because of financial mismanagement and concern for animal welfare.

Fingerhut pleaded guilty to aggravated theft, conspiracy, 11 counts of tampering with records, three counts of telecommunications fraud and a misdemeanor count of falsification.

Former CEO Tom Stalf and former chief financial officer Greg Bell were also accused in the scandal. Bell pleaded guilty in October to 14 felonies, while Stalf awaits an Aug. 6 trial in Delaware County Common Pleas Court on 36 charges.

Last month, former zoo purchasing agent Tracy Murnane, 65, of Westerville, was also charged with grand theft and five other felonies related to the scandal. Court documents allege that while working as a zoo purchaser, Murnane sold services from his family’s business and personal cars to the zoo, and helped Stalf buy a personal vehicle with zoo funds. Murnane is also accused of using a zoo bartender system to book a party bus for a family member’s wedding and mishandling 2019 tax returns.

Fingerhut’s trial would have started July 9. As part of a plea deal, he will pay more than $675,000, which includes money paid directly to the zoo and back taxes owed to the Ohio IRS.

Fingerhut is expected to be sentenced Sept. 23, after legal proceedings finish for the other defendants in the case. Bell is also expected to be sentenced around that time, according to the state attorney general’s office.

Business & Economy Columbus ZoofraudTheft
Allie Vugrincic has been a radio reporter at WOSU 89.7 NPR News since March 2023.