Three former executives of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium have been indicted on various criminal charges, accused of embezzling nearly $2.3 million over a span of 10 years. The former CEO, Tom Stalf, faces 36 felony charges, including corrupt activity, theft, bribery, conspiracy, money laundering, tampering with records, and fraud. Pete Fingerhut, the former marketing director, is facing 62 felony charges that include corrupt activity, theft, bribery, conspiracy, money laundering, tampering with records, fraud, and extortion. Greg Bell, the former CFO, was indicted on 14 felony charges, including theft, conspiracy, and tampering with records.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced the indictments and stated that more charges may follow. Investigators believe that the three former executives manipulated credit card and check authorization forms to divert funds for personal use. The misappropriated money was allegedly spent on luxury suites, concert and sports event tickets, golf memberships, domestic and international trips, meals, alcohol, and vehicles.
Additionally, the executives are accused of bribing and extorting zoo vendors. Fingerhut allegedly threatened a vendor’s business opportunities unless large sums of cash were paid to him. The indictment also alleges that zoo tickets were exchanged for tickets to the 2016 World Series between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs.
Stalf and Bell resigned from their positions in March 2021 amid the investigation, while Fingerhut was let go during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office was appointed as the special prosecutor for the case, and Senior Assistant Attorney General Dan Kasaris is leading the prosecution. The investigation involved assistance from the Ohio Auditor’s Office.
Delaware County Prosecuting Attorney Melissa Schiffel expressed her hopes that the Columbus Zoo will continue to thrive, praising the grand jurors for their dedication to reviewing extensive testimony and evidence to secure the indictment.
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