Special to 1808Delaware

The former director of marketing for the Columbus Zoo pleaded guilty Tuesday to 17 criminal counts, admitting his role in the alleged theft of more than $2.29 million, Auditor of State Keith Faber announced on Tuesday.

During an appearance in Delaware County Common Pleas Court, Pete Fingerhut pleaded guilty to one felony count of aggravated theft, 11 felony counts of tampering with records, three felony counts of telecommunications fraud, one felony count of conspiracy, and one misdemeanor count of falsification.

As part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, Fingerhut will pay restitution of $675,572.65 and cooperate in the ongoing investigation of Columbus Zoo officials. He will be sentenced at a later date.

The Auditor of State’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and the Attorney General’s Office launched a joint criminal investigation and forensic audit of the Columbus Zoo 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, concerts, sporting events and other acts of personal enrichment. The crimes allegedly took place between 2011 and 2021.

Fingerhut, former Chief Executive Officer Tom Stalf, and former Chief Financial Officer Greg Bell were indicted in September 2023 on multiple criminal counts, including aggravated theft, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activities, telecommunications fraud, money laundering, tampering with records, bribery, conspiracy to engage in a pattern of corrupt activity, and extortion.

Tracy Murnane, the Zoo’s former director of purchasing, was subsequently charged in a bill of information as part of the case on felony counts of grand theft; complicity in the commission of theft of a motor vehicle; forgery; telecommunications fraud; and filing incomplete, false, and fraudulent returns; plus misdemeanor counts related to the acquisition of motor vehicles without obtaining certificates of title in his name.

Bell pleaded guilty in October 2023 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 will be sentenced at a later date.

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 SIU are serving as special prosecutors in the case.

Since 2019, the Special Investigations Unit has assisted in 120 convictions resulting in more than $8.3 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).

Image by VBlock from Pixabay


1808AM
Sign up here for 1808AM, our incredible weekday morning enewsletter, bringing you the latest Delaware County news -- for free!
You May Also Like

State Of The Region Date Announced

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, better known as “MORPC,” has announced that…

ODOT Weekly Construction Report For Week Beginning April 17

By 1808Delaware; ODOT District 6 This weekly report from ODOT District 6…

Rediscovering Nature At McCammon Creek Park: A New Trail Awaits

Access to this nature retreat is convenient.

Bald Eagle Nesting Season Begins Soon In Ohio; First Delaware County Sighting Made

By 1808Delawar