3rd former Columbus Zoo executive pleads guilty in $2.29M fraud case

Credit: WBNS

Credit: WBNS

A third former executive of the Columbus Zoo has pleaded guilty connected to a scheme to defraud the zoo of more than $2.29 million.

According to a release from Ohio Auditor of State Keith Faber, former director of purchasing for the zoo Tracy Murnane pleaded guilty to a bill of information Monday in Delaware County Common Pleas Court to felony charges of grand theft, complicity in the commission of theft of a motor vehicle, forgery, telecommunications fraud and filing incomplete, false and fraudulent returns. He also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges connected to acquisition of motor vehicles without obtaining certificates of title in his name.

According to this publication’s news partner WBNS, Murnane allegedly sold services from his family’s business to the zoo, sold personal cars using a straw seller, helped former CEO Tom Stalf use zoo funds to buy a vehicle for Stalf’s personal use, used 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 his fraudulent gains.

WBNS reported that Murnane will have to pay $90,000 in restitution after accepting a plea agreement.

He is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 23, WBNS said.

Murnane’s charges are connected to a joint investigation by the Auditor of State’s Special Investigations Unit and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office into the zoo executives that uncovered schemes by the executives to use zoo funds for vacations, vehicles, concerts, sporting events and other personal expenses between 2011 and 2021.

Murnane was indicted alongside Stalf, former CFO Greg Bell and former Director of Marketing Pete Fingerhut in September 2023 on several charges, which included aggravated theft, money laundering and extortion.

Stalf is scheduled for trial on Aug. 6 on 36 felony charges.

Bell pleaded guilty in October 2023 to 14 felony charges, including aggravated theft, conspiracy and tampering with records. He will be sentenced once his co-defendants’ cases end.

Fingerhut pleaded guilty July 2 to in an agreement 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. As part of the agreement, he will pay more than $675,000 in restitution to the zoo along with back taxes to the state of Ohio and the IRS, according to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 23 after the conclusion of his co-defendants’ cases.

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