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3 former Columbus Zoo execs indicted in $2.2M corruption scheme following audit revealing improper spending

Three former Columbus Zoo and Aquarium executives engaged in a pattern of corrupt activity that cost the facility more than $2.2 million, according to an indictment.

Tom Stalf, who was the zoo’s president and chief executive officer; ex-Chief Financial Officer Gregory Bell and Peter Fingerhut, its former marketing director “extorted, conspired, bribed and stole” while colluding with each other for over 10 years, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in announcing the 90-count indictment on Monday.

The charges stem from a 2021 investigation by The Columbus Dispatch, which found the executives allowed relatives to live in houses owned or controlled by the zoo and used company funds to buy tickets for family members to various events. Subsequent audits initiated by the zoo’s board found questionable business practices and improper spending on executives’ personal items including concert tickets, golf memberships and vehicles.

Fingerhut’s attorney did not immediately respond to a message from The Associated Press Tuesday.

Concerns about financial mismanagement played a role in the zoo losing its accreditation in 2021, but that was reinstated by the Association of Zoos And Aquariums in March.

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