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Former director of purchasing latest Columbus Zoo employee facing charges in alleged theft of $2.29 million

COLUMBUS – Another former Columbus Zoo official has been charged as part of a larger investigation into the alleged theft of more than $2.29 million, Auditor of State Keith Faber announced.

Tracy Murnane, the zoo’s former director of purchasing, faces felony counts of grand theft; complicity in the commission of theft of a motor vehicle; forgery; telecommunications fraud; and filing incomplete, false, and fraudulent returns, plus misdemeanor counts related to the acquisition of motor vehicles without obtaining certificates of title in his name.

The new charges were included in a Bill of Information filed Thursday in Delaware County Common Pleas Court. A plea hearing in the case will be scheduled for a later date.

The Auditor of State’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and the Attorney General’s Office launched a joint criminal investigation and forensic audit of the Columbus Zoo in April 2021, shortly after a Columbus Dispatch article brought to light some of the issues involved. 

Ultimately, investigators uncovered schemes perpetrated by Columbus Zoo executives, who used Zoo funds for vacations, vehicles, concerts, sporting events, and other acts of personal enrichment. The crimes allegedly took place between 2011 and 2021.

Former Chief Executive Officer Tom Stalf, former Chief Financial Officer Greg Bell, and former Director of Marketing Pete Fingerhut were indicted Sept. 18 on multiple criminal counts, including 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, and extortion.

Delaware County Prosecutor Melissa A. Schiffel appointed Attorney General Dave Yost’s office to head the prosecution; two attorneys from Yost’s office and one attorney from SIU are serving as special prosecutors in the case.

Bell pleaded guilty in October to 12 counts of tampering with records, one count of conspiracy to engage in a pattern of corrupt activity, and one count of aggravated theft, all felonies. He will be sentenced at a later date.

The criminal counts announced Thursday against Murnane include allegations of selling personal cars to the Zoo using a straw seller and personally profiting, attending special events with tickets purchased by the Zoo, and booking a party bus for his son’s wedding with Zoo resources, among other alleged criminal conduct.

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