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Former Fiscal Officer Used Vinton Township Funds to Buy Wildebeest, Hot Tubs, Windows for Primate Exhibit at His Roadside Zoo
For Immediate Release
COLUMBUS – A former Vinton Township fiscal officer, convicted of theft in office and other criminal counts, used public funds to buy a wildebeest, two owls, windows for a primate exhibit at his roadside zoo, hot tubs, a snow cone machine, and other personal purchases that had nothing to do with the operations of the township.
Details of the investigation into Cyril S. Vierstra, of Wilkesville, who legally changed his name to “Cy” in 2017, were released Tuesday as part of a special audit by the Auditor of State’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which served as special prosecutor in the case.
A copy of the full report is available online (ohioauditor.gov/auditsearch/search.aspx).
“This was an abuse of the public trust at its worst,” Auditor of State Keith Faber said. “Public funds that were supposed to be used for roads and bridges and needed services instead were stolen to buy kayaks, a popcorn cart, a swimming pool, a drum set, gazebos – the list goes on and on.”
SIU began its investigation after receiving a complaint from Vinton County Auditor Cindy Owings Waugh with allegations that “Cy” Vierstra was misusing township debit and credit cards.
A subsequent review of bank records uncovered a number of questionable transactions between January 2016 and July 2020 to fund renovations to his residence and for expenses at the Union Ridge Wildlife Center, a nonprofit wildlife refuge he operated. He created fake invoices, billing slips, and other fraudulent documents to hide his activities.
Among other improper purchases, SIU determined “Cy” Vierstra made 812 debit card transactions totaling $127,204 on an online auction website, including purchases of generators, bicycles, a video game system, tricycles, telescopes, a drone, and numerous other items not related to the operations of the township.
Other significant improper purchases included a wildebeest, two snow owls from England, animal food, custom-built enclosures for his residence and wildlife refuge, indoor and outdoor furniture, and a dishwasher.
“Cy” Vierstra pleaded guilty in October 2022 to felony counts of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, theft in office, and tampering with records, plus a misdemeanor count of dereliction of duty.
He was sentenced in February 2023 in Vinton County Common Pleas Court to 4 years and 11 months in prison and ordered to pay $339,717.86 in restitution, which included funds he stole and audit costs.
The special audit released Tuesday included $345,049 in findings for recovery, including improper debit and credit card transactions, non-payroll disbursements, Internal Revenue Service penalties and interest, improper health care reimbursements, and audit costs.
Since 2019, the Special Investigations Unit has assisted in 108 convictions resulting in more than $5 million in restitution -- see Map of SIU Convictions since January 2019 (ohioauditor.gov/fraud/convictions_map.html).
The team receives hundreds of tips of suspected fraud annually. Tips can be submitted anonymously online or via SIU’s fraud hotline at 866-FRAUD-OH (866-372-8364).
The Auditor of State’s office, one of five independently elected statewide offices in Ohio is responsible for auditing more than 5,900 state and local government agencies. Under the direction of Auditor Keith Faber, the office also provides financial services to local governments, investigates and prevents fraud in public agencies, and promotes transparency in government.