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Three former Columbus Zoo officials indicted for stealing nearly $2.3 million

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium entrance sign
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Three former Columbus Zoo officials have been indicted after they were accused of stealing nearly $2.3 million over a 10-year period.

Ohio Auditor Keith Faber announced Monday that a 90-count indictment was handed down by a Delaware County grand jury.

An investigation by the Auditor of State's Special Investigations Unit (SIU) led to charges against former Columbus Zoo CEO Tom Stalf, former director of marketing Pete Fingerhut and former chief financial officer Greg Bell.

The alleged thefts happened between 2011 and 2021.

The zoo lost its accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in October 2021 over financial mismanagement and concern for animal welfare in one of the zoo's programs. The AZA restored the accreditation in May.

Stalf and Fingerhut are charged with aggravated theft, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activities, telecommunication fraud, money laundering, tampering with records, bribery, conspiracy to engage in a pattern of corrupt activity and extortion.

Bell is charged with conspiracy to engage in a pattern of corrupt activity, aggravated theft and tampering with records.

Delaware County Prosecutor Melissa A. Schiffel has appointed Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to lead the prosecution. An Auditor of State’s SIU attorney will act as a special assistant attorney general.

A 2021 investigation found Stalf and Bell took entertainment tickets intended for corporate clients and potential sponsors and used them for personal use without reimbursing the zoo.

The investigation determined the pair used arena suites the zoo previously leased for Ohio State basketball and Columbus Blue Jackets hockey games.

The reports found "documentation for the use of the suites does not disclose the specific individuals attending the event — a fact that is in itself a matter of concern — but numerous emails support a finding that the suites were used for personal use, including cost of the food and drink."

The report also found Stalf also let his in-laws live in a freshly-renovated house owned by the zoo for below-market rates.

Bell reportedly let his daughter and her college roommate also live in a house owned by the zoo. The report stated the home's utilities, taxes and maintenance were paid by the zoo.

Additional findings in the report found Stalf using a $45,000 RV purchased by the zoo for his own exclusive use, before it was later sold at a loss.

Jared Clayton Brown joined the WOSU News team in November 2022. He spent seven years working for the Fox and NBC affiliate stations in Louisville and three years with the CBS affiliate station in Columbus.