Ex-Columbus Zoo executive pleads guilty to theft



(The Center Square) – With a trial date approaching, the former marketing director of the renowned Columbus Zoo pleaded guilty Tuesday to 16 felony counts.

Attorney General Dave Yost announced the plea agreement with Pete Fingerhut, who will pay $675,572.65 in restitution, which includes money to be paid to the zoo and back taxes to Ohio and the IRS.

Fingerhut was scheduled to go on trial Tuesday. After the legal proceedings for his co-defendants end, he will be sentenced on Sept. 23.

Fingerhut pleaded guilty in Delaware County Common Pleas Court to one count head of aggravated theft and conspiracy; 11 counts of tampering with records; three counts of telecommunications fraud; and one count of falsification.

As previously reported by The Center Square, former Zoo purchasing agent Tracy Murnane was charged with a felony, becoming the fourth zoo executive to be charged with stealing more than $2 million in public funds.

Former CEO Tom Stalf, former Chief Financial Officer Greg Bell and Fingerhut were indicted Sept. 18. Charges included 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.

Bell pleaded guilty in October 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. Stalf’s trial is set to begin in early August.

Yost began the investigation into executives at the taxpayer-funded Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, made famous while under the direction of celebrity Jack Hannah, in April 2021.

The nonprofit Columbus Zoo receives more than $19 million annually from a Franklin County tax levy.

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