A former Columbus Zoo and Aquarium chief financial officer pleaded guilty to 14 felony charges Thursday in Delaware County Common Pleas Court in connection with a fraud case worth millions of dollars.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office announced earlier this month that three former Columbus Zoo and Aquarium executives — former CEO Tom Stalf, former Marketing Director Pete Fingerhut and former Chief Financial Officer Greg Bell — had been indicted and charged with defrauding the zoo of more than $2.29 million. The charges cover a period from 2011 to 2021.

Stalf, of Ostrander, was charged with one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, a first-degree felony; two counts of aggravated theft, first-degree felonies; two counts of bribery, third-degree felonies; one count of conspiracy, a second-degree felony; six counts of money laundering; third-degree felonies; 22 counts of tampering with records; third, fourth and fifth-degree felonies; and two counts of telecommunications fraud, a first and third-degree felony.

Fingerhut, of Powell, was charged with one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, a first-degree felony; two counts of aggravated theft, first-degree felonies; two counts of bribery, third-degree felonies; one count of conspiracy, a second-degree felony; two counts of extortion, a third-degree felony; seven counts of money laundering, third-degree felonies; 39 counts of tampering with records, third, fourth and fifth-degree felonies; 8 counts of telecommunications fraud, first, third and fourth-degree felonies; and one count of falsification, a first-degree misdemeanor.

The pair are accused of “operating a criminal enterprise to hijack the zoo’s purse strings and colluding to conceal their thievery,” according to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

Bell is alleged to have become “ensnared in the wrongdoing” and was also indicted and charged with one count of aggravated theft, a second-degree felony; one count of conspiracy, a second-degree felony; and 12 counts of tampering with records, fourth and fifth-degree felonies.

On Thursday, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office announced that Bell had pleaded guilty to all 14 charges as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors. According to court documents, Bell is ordered to pay restitution to the Columbus Zoo as part of the plea agreement.

A sentencing hearing for Bell has been set for Feb. 12, 2024.

An arraignment for Stalf is set for Oct. 25 at 8:30 a.m. before Delaware County Common Pleas Judge David M. Gormley. An arraignment for Fingerhut is set for Oct. 25 at 8:45 a.m.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office alleges that the former executives manipulated credit card and check authorization forms for more than a decade, using the nonprofit’s public funds for personal use. The Columbus Zoo receives about $19 million in taxes annually from Franklin County residents, the office reported.

Delaware County Prosecutor Melissa Schiffel has been named special prosecutor to represent the State of Ohio in this case.

Stalf and Bell resigned from the zoo in March 2021 after an internal investigation. Fingerhut had been let go by the zoo during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903.