DELAWARE, Ohio (WCMH) — A little over a month after a 90-count indictment pertaining to alleged theft was dealt to former Columbus Zoo executives, two of them made their first court appearances on Wednesday morning.

Former CEO Tom Stalf and marketing director Pete Fingerhut both appeared at a Delaware County courthouse for their arraignments. Stalf, Fingerhut, and former chief financial officer Gregory Bell were charged with 90 counts pertaining to the misuse of Columbus Zoo funds for over a decade.

Stalf and Fingerhut pleaded not guilty and both were released without bond. Stalf’s tentative trial date is set for Jan. 2, while Fingerhut’s is set for Jan. 23.

Tom Stalf (far left) and Pete Fingerhut (middle right) appear in Delaware County Common Pleas Court for their arraignment hearings on Oct. 25, 2023

Bell pleaded guilty last Thursday in Delaware County Common Pleas court to 14 charges including conspiracy, theft, and tampering with records. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 12 and agreed to pay restitution to the zoo.

An investigation released in 2021, conducted by the law firm Porter Wright, alleges the suspects misused zoo funds to attend sporting events, allow family members to live in zoo-owned houses, award a no-bid contract for construction at The Wilds and make other personal purchases.

Stalf and Fingerhut face felony charges of:

  • 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
  • Extortion

Stalf and Bell voluntarily resigned from their positions in March 2021, but attorneys for the former CEO and CFO had different messages when the case first went public. While a lawyer representing Bell said he was committed to paying back everything he owed his former employer, Stalf’s attorneys implied the investigation was unfair.