Columbus Zoo releases full report detailing misuse of $631K in funds by top officials

Columbus Zoo

POWELL, Ohio (WCMH) — The Columbus Zoo is the pride of Central Ohio. But a 92-page report shows people once at the zoo’s very top mis-used zoo money for their own benefits, cheating the zoo out of $631,000.

The report says two-thirds of that money fell under former president and CEO Tom Stalf’s name.

Porter Wright’s investigation was able to connect who accounted for losses because of emails and some receipts — many were not accounted for.

The report cites email proof that Stalf used to barter zoo tickets to get World Series tickets—and tickets to Broadway shows and concerts.

Credit card records for Stalf and former CFO Greg Bell, shows Bell purchased Sirius XM and Stalf bought items from Amazon for his personal use, like binoculars which cost upwards of $5,000.

The report found the zoo purchased an RV for $45,000 and Stalf used it for vacation — but there was no zoo use.

The report released by Proter Wright is an independent investigation. The Ohio Attorney General’s office is gathering evidence for its own analysis.

AG Dave Yost says there needs to be restitution.

“If they don’t have it we ought to look at their assets their ought to be, the zoo should be looking to recover against their personal home their personal financial account it’s simply unacceptable,” Yost said.

The investigation also found that the zoo paid $375,000 to a company whose CEO is Jack Hanna’s son-in-law. The zoo board did not approve the payments. The report says the company never paid the money back and should have with interest. Email from Hanna’s son-in-law shows the company was having money problems.

It also uncovered Stalf and Bell rented out 3 homes once owned by the zoo— one in Dublin, two others in Powell. Now we know just how low those rents were—and how much rent money the zoo should have received– more than $80,000.

One home was rented to Stalf’s in-laws for $900 a month. The going rate for rent should have been $200 to $700 dollars more every month. Another home was rented to a friend of Bell’s daughter for $800 a month. Rent should have been $400 to $800 dollars more a month.

When “The Wilds” was under construction three years ago, Stalf told the architect not to put the project up for bid—that the work would go to Meade Construction. several zoo employees questioned a $125,000 invoice from Meade to the zoo—there was no documentation of the work, and it wasn’t budgeted. The report called the “transaction highly suspicious.” The $125,000 invoice and the payment were dated the same day.

The report said “Stalf’s directive to use Meade Construction on this significant project is questionable since this vendor’s primary business is roofing.”

Yost says his investigation is ongoing. He couldn’t comment on what they’ve found or where they’re going next.

“As I mentioned we still have a ways to go before we finish our work on the charitable side of this and there’s more chapters in the book afraid,” Yost said.

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