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Former Chief Financial Officer of the Columbus Zoo Pleads Guilty for Role in Alleged Theft of $2.29 million
For Immediate Release
COLUMBUS – The former Chief Financial Officer of the Columbus Zoo pleaded guilty Thursday to criminal charges for his role in the alleged theft of $2.29 million, Auditor of State Keith Faber announced.
Greg Bell pleaded guilty to 12 counts of tampering with records, one count of conspiracy to engage in a pattern of corrupt activity, and one count of aggravated theft, all felonies. He submitted his plea during a hearing in Delaware County Common Pleas Court, where he was scheduled to be arraigned.
Bell, former Chief Executive Officer Tom Stalf and former Director of Marketing Pete Fingerhut were indicted on Sept. 18. Delaware County Prosecutor Melissa A. Schiffel appointed Attorney General Dave Yost’s office to head the prosecution; two attorneys from Yost’s office and one attorney from the Auditor of State’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) are serving as special prosecutors in the case.
SIU and the Attorney General’s Office launched a joint criminal investigation and forensic audit in April 2021, shortly after a Columbus Dispatch article brought some of the issues involved to light. Ultimately, investigators uncovered schemes perpetrated by Columbus Zoo executives, who used zoo funds for vacations, vehicles, and other personal purchases, as well as payments made by contractors to receive favorable treatment.
The crimes allegedly took place between 2011 and 2021.
Stalf and Fingerhut face felony counts 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, and extortion, under the indictment in Delaware County Common Pleas Court.
Stalf and Fingerhut are both scheduled to be arraigned on Oct. 25. A tentative sentencing date for Bell was set for February 2024.
Since 2019, the Special Investigations Unit has assisted in 117 convictions resulting in more than $8.2 million in restitution (see Map of SIU Convictions since January 2019). 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.
Contact: Marc Kovac