Former Columbus Zoo CEO to repay $400,000 audit says he owed

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A former chief executive has agreed to refund hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium after audits found improper spending and questionable business practices cost the institution more than $630,000.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A former chief executive has agreed to reimburse hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium after audits found improper spending and questionable business practices cost the institution more than $630,000.

The zoo’s board announced Friday that it had approved a settlement with former CEO Thomas Stalf for $400,000, which an August 2021 forensic audit said it improperly received.

The Columbus Dispatch reports that Stalf’s attorney, Rex Elliott, said his client had agreed to repay the money so he could move on with his life – but he said the zoo was fine. aware of Stalf’s actions and alleged that officials scapegoated his client.

In January, the zoo announced agreements with two other former top officials. The board approved a $132,000 settlement with former chief financial officer Greg Bell and said former chief purchasing officer Tracy Murnane had agreed to pay back $11,000, officials said. Discussions continue with former vice president of marketing Peter Fingerhut, who officials say owes the zoo just under $57,000.

Both Stalf and Bell quit nearly a year ago after a newspaper investigation found they were allowing relatives to live in homes owned or controlled by the zoo and seeking tickets for members of the family for zoo entertainment events.

Elliott said in a statement that Stalf agreed to resolve the issue “after the zoo made it clear that the goal was to pursue every means possible to destroy it.”

‘The zoo scapegoated Mr Stalf even though he knew about and checked all the expenses which he now claims were inappropriate. The expenses involved have passed formal annual audits,” he said, adding that his client’s work had raised the zoo’s national profile and increased its revenue.

Zoo board chairman Keith Shumate, the son of the zoo’s board, told the newspaper that the zoo took “a different view of things” and stood by the conclusions of the forensic audit. Shumate said the settlement will allow the zoo to move forward and focus on “what we should be doing: animal welfare and providing the community with a top-notch zoo.”

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