Ohio AG to probe allegations against Columbus Zoo ex-execs

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s top law enforcer placed one of the nation’s largest zoos under investigation Thursday after a newspaper reported misuse of assets by two top executives who later resigned.

Republican Attorney General Dave Yost placed his office’s Charitable Law Section in charge of the probe targeting the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, a 501(c)3 nonprofit located in the Columbus suburb of Powell. Its animal population is ranked second largest among U.S. zoos.

An email to the zoo seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Yost’s action was prompted by a Columbus Dispatch investigation that uncovered apparent improprieties by Tom Stalf, then president and CEO, and Greg Bell, then chief financial officer. The newspaper reported that Stalf, 52, and Bell, 61, allowed relatives to live in houses owned or controlled by the zoo and sought tickets for family members to zoo entertainment events.

Both Stalf and Bell resigned Monday. The zoo named Director Emeritus Jerry Borin interim president and CEO on Tuesday. He stepped out of retirement to take immediate control. Stalf had led the zoo since 2013.

“Charity may begin at home for an individual, but it’s trouble when an executive for a charitable organization uses company resources for friends and family,” Yost said in a statement. “I’m troubled by both the allegations and the lack of transparency here, and this office will get to the bottom of it.”

The newspaper has reported that its questions prompted an internal review by the zoo’s board of directors in March. A committee of the board recommended hiring outside counsel to investigate.

The first phase of work by the selected law firm, Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP, which focused on the two executives, is complete, The Dispatch reported, citing Board Chairman Alex Shumate. Shumate said a second phase is planned to address broader issues of policy, procedures and practices.

The Columbus Zoo receives levy funds from Franklin County taxpayers, whose county commissioners have called on the zoo to release its internal investigation results publicly.

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