Former Columbus Zoo purchasing agent pleads guilty

Published 5:00 am Thursday, July 11, 2024

Staff report

DELAWARE — A Columbus Zoo and Aquarium official has pleaded guilty to multiple felony charges in a wide-ranging theft of $2.29 million from the facility.
Tracy Murnane, 65, of Westerville, a former purchasing agent for the zoo, must pay $90,000 in restitution to the zoo after pleading guilty this morning to six felonies and two misdemeanors, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced on Monday.
Murnane pleaded guilty in Delaware County Common Pleas Court to one count of fourth-degree felony grand theft, one count of fourth-degree felony complicity in the commission of an offense, two counts of fourth-degree felony forgery, one count of fifth-degree felony telecommunications fraud, one count of fifth-degree felony telecommunications fraud filing incomplete, false and fraudulent tax returns plus misdemeanor counts related to the acquisition of motor vehicles without obtaining certificates of title in his name.
He will be sentenced on Sept. 23.
His plea agreement follows that of former zoo marketing director Pete Fingerhut, who last week pleaded guilty to 16 felony counts and one misdemeanor and is required to pay nearly $676,000 in restitution. He will also be sentenced on Sept. 23.
Fingerhut and two other former zoo executives were indicted in September 2023 on charges of stealing more than $2.29 million in public funds for their own benefit. In the two other cases:
Tom Stalf, former chief executive officer, was charged with 36 felony charges. He is scheduled to go to trial on Aug. 6 in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.
In October 2023, Greg Bell, former chief financial officer, pleaded guilty to 14 felony charges, including aggravated theft, conspiracy and tampering with records. Bell will be sentenced after his co-defendant’s cases conclude.
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.
The Attorney General’s Office was appointed to prosecute the case at the request of Delaware County Prosecutor Melissa Schiffel.

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