Former Columbus Zoo marketing director pleads guilty in fraud case

Published 2:45 pm Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Staff report


DELAWARE — With a trial date looming, the former marketing director for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium pleaded guilty today to 16 felony counts and one misdemeanor, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced on Tuesday afternoon.

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As part of the plea agreement, Pete Fingerhut will pay $675,572.65 in restitution. The amount includes money to be paid to the zoo, along with back taxes to the state of Ohio and Internal Revenue Service.

Fingerhut’s trial was scheduled to start July 9.

He pleaded guilty in Delaware County Common Pleas Court to the following charges:

  • 1 count of felony aggravated theft
  • 1 felony count of conspiracy
  • 11 felony counts of tampering with records
  • 3 felony counts of telecommunications fraud
  • 1 misdemeanor count of falsification

Fingerhut will be sentenced on Sept. 23, following the conclusion of his co-defendant’s legal proceedings.

Tuesday’s court action is the latest development in the investigation and prosecution of a scheme to defraud the zoo of more than $2.29 million:

  • Tracy Murnane, a former zoo purchasing agent, was charged by bill of information on June 23 with grand theft and five other felonies. He will be arraigned on Monday.
  • Greg Bell, former chief financial officer, pleaded guilty on Oct. 19 to 14 felony charges, including aggravated theft, conspiracy and tampering with records. Bell will be sentenced after his co-defendants’ cases conclude.
  • Tom Stalf, the zoo’s former chief executive officer, is scheduled to stand trial beginning Aug. 6. He faces 36 felony charges.

The Attorney General’s Office was appointed to prosecute the case at the request of Delaware County Prosecutor Melissa Schiffel. The Ohio Auditor’s Office is assisting in the investigation and prosecution.