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Zinn investigators contact club

Rotary says its cooperating with law enforcement

A Rotary district official said the club is cooperating with an investigation involving a man who was once Clark County’s largest auto dealer.

George “Mac” Hickman said the organization has been contacted by law enforcement, but he wouldn’t provide details about the case or whether the investigation involves the Rotary Club of Springfield or its Youth Exchange Program, a group Monte Zinn chaired as of November 2011.

“It’s an ongoing investigation so I probably shouldn’t comment,” said Hickman, governor elect of Rotary District 6670. “Our top priority is the safety of the kids in our program and the well-being of students in the program.”

On Feb. 8, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation raided Zinn’s home and his business, Monte Zinn Automotive Consulting, with the assistance of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Zinn was identified in the Springfield News-Sun and another local publication in November 2011 as chairman of the local Youth Exchange Program or the contact for high school students interested in spending a year abroad.

In the articles, Zinn sought high school students ages 15½ to 18 ½ who rank in the upper third of their class to participate.

Hickman, citing the ongoing investigation, declined to say if Zinn hosted students as part of the local Youth Exchange Program and wouldn’t comment when asked why Zinn was allowed to lead a student exchange program given his conviction for immigration fraud in 1996.

“I don’t have an inkling or know who or what they’re investigating,” Hickman said. “… That is a very specific question that might be a part of the investigation.”

The Youth Exchange Program application requires perspective host families to submit to a background check that asks applicants if they have ever been convicted or pleaded guilty to any crimes.

The application also asks if applicants have been subject to any court order involving sexual, physical or verbal abuse, including domestic violence, civil harassment injunction or protective order, according to an online application.

Multiple local Rotarian’s contacted Monday also declined to comment about the investigation. One Rotarian, who declined to give his name, said Zinn’s position as chairman of the student exchange program wasn’t an issue among members.

Springfield Rotary President Andy Irick said he hasn’t been contacted by authorities and said Hickman, who is over southwest Ohio youth exchange programs, is handling questions regarding the Zinn investigation.

When asked if Zinn hosted students, Irick said “not that I remember.”

Zinn is a philanthropist and has been a member of dozens of local nonprofit organizations, including Rotary and YMCA.

He hasn’t returned calls and emails seeking comment. His attorney, Jim Peifer, declined comment.

Zinn submitted a letter of resignation to the local Rotary, citing personal reasons, several years ago, Irick said initially, then later stated he doesn’t remember when Zinn resigned.

Earlier this month, Zinn resigned from the Ohio Alliance of YMCAs council, state YMCA Council Chair Sandra Berlin Walker said. Walker said the state YMCA council hasn’t been contacted by authorities.

His resignation came after Clark County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Capper sealed court documents detailing search warrant affidavits and information related to the investigation indefinitely to protect an unnamed suspect and potential victims in the case.

During the hearing, Clark County Sheriff’s Maj. Rusty Garman testified that the release of the documents would affect the investigation.

Zinn was the largest auto dealer in Clark County until he transferred all five of his franchises to the Cincinnati-based Jeff Wyler Auto Group in 2000.

The sale of the dealerships came after an immigration fraud case involving his contact with citizens from the Fiji Islands.

That investigation began in 1991 with a complaint from a Fijian exchange student who said that Zinn made unwanted sexual advances toward him. Zinn denied the allegations.

He pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge of falsifying documents and using false information to help Fijian citizens illegally enter the United States and work at his dealership.

Zinn was sentenced to two years probation. He was ordered to pay a $1,500 fine, perform 100 hours of community service and not travel to Fiji or sponsor any students from Fiji during his probation.

Area residents describe Zinn as a successful businessman committed to giving back to the community.

He was one of the founders of the Nehemiah Foundation, an organization that supports Christian-centered leaders whose programs reach more than 6,000 families a week.

Shelley Lopez, Nehemiah executive director, said Zinn was a part of a group concerned about the decline of the family and wanted to strengthen the community’s “fabric of faith.”

“Over the years he has made a real impact on the community, but not in a showy way. It’s really been about where is the need,” Lopez said.

She said she didn’t have any information about the investigation.

Vince Chase, a former local YMCA director and president-elect of the local Rotary, said he has known Zinn for years.

“He cares a lot about the community,” Chase said.

Speculation about the investigation is rampant, he said, but he urges people to wait for the facts.

“I hear so much, but I don’t know how much is fact. I hear the rumors, but I ask have you ever seen or witnessed anything? I haven’t, so you just have to be fair. Show me some evidence, otherwise you’re just spreading rumors,” he said.

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