COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Three former Columbus Zoo officials have been accused of the alleged theft of nearly $2.3 million over a 10-year period in a 90-count indictment.

A Delaware County grand jury announced Monday the indictment of former Columbus Zoo CEO Tom Stalf, former chief financial officer Greg Bell, and former director of marketing Pete Fingerhut, who face dozens of felony counts in the misuse of zoo funds, according to Ohio state Auditor Keith Faber.

The indictment totals include 89 felony counts and one misdemeanor, per Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.

“You can’t rip off donors like this and they need to be held to account,” Yost said. “They need to have a felony conviction on their records and we believe that after we’ve proven this case in court that they will have that.”

An investigation released in 2021, conducted by the law firm Porter Wright, alleges Stalf and Bell misused zoo funds to attend sporting events, allow family members to live in zoo-owned houses, award a no-bid contract for construction at The Wilds and make other personal purchases.

Stalf and Fingerhut face felony charges of:

  • 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
  • Extortion

Bell’s charges include:

  • Conspiracy to engage in a pattern of corrupt activity
  • Aggravated theft
  • Tampering with records

As Porter Wright carried out its independent investigation on the Columbus Zoo Board of Directors’ behalf, it also hired accounting consultants from Plante Moran to conduct a forensic analysis. That company’s audit, released in 2021, had placed funds lost at a much lower number. Compared to the $2.29 million found in the attorney general’s investigation, the consultants had estimated that $631,651 had been misappropriated by the zoo’s former executive team.

In light of the indictments on Monday, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium said its current leadership had made “significant changes to policies, procedures and oversight at multiple levels.”

“Additionally, the Columbus Zoo has severed the relationship with several previous vendors, and has retained a new auditing firm to conduct its annual audit, ensuring a fresh perspective on its financial operations and a new advertising agency to better communicate its mission,” a spokesperson for the zoo wrote.

Stalf and Bell voluntarily resigned from their positions in March 2021, but attorneys for the former CEO and CFO had different messages when the case first went public. While a lawyer representing Bell said he was committed to paying back everything he owed his former employer, Stalf’s attorneys implied the investigation was unfair.

“Fair investigations do not start with two scapegoats and work backwards to get their desired results. Rather, fair investigations delve deep into each detail to determine the truth … We have evaluated investigatory reports for the past 28 years and it is evident that this report was published under pressure from the media,” said attorneys Mark Collins and Rex Elliott in a 2021 statement.

In a March 2022 settlement, Stalf agreed to pay back $400,000 to the Columbus Zoo for benefits he received inappropriately. Bell settled to pay $132,000 as well. At the time the two former executives had agreed to the settlements, the zoo’s board of directors was also seeking payback from Fingerhut to the tune of $56,998.