Ex-Zoo CEO: I Did Nothing Wrong, Here Is $400K Back

Thomas Stalf agrees to return $400K to Columbus Zoo; lawyer says he's a scapegoat
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 14, 2022 8:58 AM CDT
A Former Zoo CEO Is Paying Back a Lot of Money
This 2016 photo shows a Western Gorilla at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio.   (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

A former chief executive officer has agreed to repay hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium after audits concluded that improper spending and questionable business practices cost the institution more than $630,000, per the AP. The zoo's board of directors announced approval of a settlement with former CEO Thomas Stalf for $400,000, which an August 2021 forensic audit said he received inappropriately. The Columbus Dispatch reports that Stalf's attorney, Rex Elliott, said his client agreed to pay back the money so that he could move forward with his life—but he said the zoo was well aware of Stalf’s actions.

“The zoo made Mr. Stalf a scapegoat even though they knew about and audited every expenditure it now claims was improper," said Elliott, asserting that his client's work had improved the zoo's national profile and increased its revenues. Stalf and former chief financial officer Greg Bell both resigned nearly a year ago after an investigation by the newspaper found they allowed relatives to live in houses owned or controlled by the zoo and sought tickets for family members to zoo entertainment events. Auditors described an “overall culture of entitlement” among execs, as they used zoo assets for everything from golf memberships to vehicles, trips, and World Series tickets.

In January, the zoo announced settlements with two other former top officials. The board approved a $132,000 settlement with Bell and said former purchasing director Tracy Murnane agreed to repay $11,000, officials said. Discussions continue with former marketing vice president Peter Fingerhut, who officials have alleged owes the zoo just under $57,000.

(Read more Columbus, Ohio stories.)

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