Report details misuse of zoo funds

Gazette Staff - [email protected]

POWELL — The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Board of Directors announced Thursday the results of a forensic analysis on the misuse of zoo resources by former leaders.

According to a press release issued by the zoo, the actions of former employees resulted in losses to the zoo of at least $631,651.

“While the analysis confirmed that public levy funds, which the Zoo receives to care for its animals, were not misused, the report documented losses attributed to the former leadership’s misuse of Zoo financial resources,” the press release states.

The forensic analysis, which was initiated by the zoo’s Board of Directors, was conducted by Plante Moran and overseen by Porter Wright Morris & Arthur.

The report, which was released Friday, details the zoo’s barter accounts, credit card purchases, and personal gains and benefits obtained without authorization.

The press release states the report shows several individuals — former Zoo President/CEO Tom Stalf, former CFO Greg Bell, former VP of Marketing Pete Fingerhut, and former Director of Purchasing Tracy Murnane — “used their leadership positions to blatantly ignore established policies and use a system among themselves to utilize Zoo resources for their personal advantage.”

An itemized audit of the $631,651 losses to the zoo appears as follows:

• Stalf is responsible for $423,049.00 in losses, plus interest.

• Bell is responsible for $138,889.00 in losses, plus interest.

• Fingerhut is responsible for $56,981.00 in losses, plus interest.

• Murnane is responsible for $12,732.00 in losses, plus interest.

The report also notes Bell provided prepayments and advances to IronRoad, the zoo’s former professional employer company, totaling $725,000. IronRoad owes the zoo a principal balance of approximately $375,000, plus interest, the report shows.

“We trusted these individuals with the privilege to lead this singularly outstanding organization, and they shattered that trust,” said Board of Directors Chair Keith Shumate. “We are determined to implement the sound recommendations contained in the forensic analysis, which, combined with the steps we already have taken, will protect the Columbus Zoo from such abuses in the future and earn back the confidence of the public.”

The board, the press release notes, is reviewing all options for recovering the losses and funds from the former employees.

“We are making changes and improvements to ensure something like this can never happen again. We are committed to restoring the excellent reputation of our Zoo,” said Shumate. “We have a remarkably talented and committed staff, which has been through a lot in this ordeal. We are grateful for their deep commitment to the animals, visitors, community and the Zoo’s mission.”

The board “will continue to operate openly and provide the public updates related to the forensic analysis,” the press release states.

Gazette Staff

[email protected]

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