Former Columbus Zoo marketing director pleads guilty in fraud case

Credit: WBNS

Credit: WBNS

The former marketing director for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium pleaded guilty Tuesday to 16 felony counts and one misdemeanor, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced.

It is the latest development in the investigation and prosecution of a scheme to defraud the zoo of more than $2.29 million.

As part of a plea agreement, Pete Fingerhut, the former marketing director for the zoo, will pay more than $675,000 restitution, which includes money to be paid to the zoo along with back taxes to the state of Ohio and IRS, according to Yost.

Fingerhut, who was scheduled to go on trial July 9, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Delaware County Common Pleas Court to one count each of aggravated theft and conspiracy, 11 counts of tampering with records, three counts of telecommunications fraud and a misdemeanor count of falsification.

He will be sentenced Sept. 23 following the conclusion of his co-defendants’ legal cases.

Others charged in the scheme are:

Tom Stalf, the zoo’s former chief executive officer. He is scheduled for trial Aug. 6 on 36 felony charges.

Greg Bell, former chief financial officer pleaded guilty Oct. 19, 2023, to 14 felony charges, including aggravated theft, conspiracy and tampering with records. He will be sentenced once his co-defendants’ cases conclude.

Tracy Murnane, a former zoo purchasing agent, was charged by a bill of information on June 23 with grand theft and five other felonies. he will be arraigned July 8.

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

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