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Fourth former Columbus Zoo official indicted in pubilc funds theft probe

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(The Center Square) – More than six months after three executives were accused of stealing more than $2 million in public funds, a fourth Columbus Zoo official was indicted.

On Thursday, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced the six-count indictment of former Zoo purchasing agent Tracy Murane, who faces felony theft charges. Yost serves as the special prosecutor in the case.

The indictment says Murnane, while working as a zoo purchaser, sold services from his family’s business to the zoo, sold personal cars using a straw seller and aided another defendant, former CEO Tom Stalf, in using zoo funds to buy a vehicle for Stalf’s personal use.

Murnane is also accused of using a zoo vendor barter system to book a party bus for a family member’s wedding and filing tax returns for 2019 without accounting for the gains.

Murnane’s charges include two counts of forgery and one count each of grand theft; complicity in the commission of an offense; telecommunications fraud; and filing incomplete, false and fraudulent tax returns.

Stalf, former Chief Financial Officer Greg Bell, and former Director of Marketing Pete 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.

Fingerhut’s trial is expected to begin in early July, while 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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