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Additional Defendant Charged in Columbus Zoo Fraud Investigation


(COLUMBUS, Ohio) — A former purchasing agent for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium was charged this morning with grand theft and five other felonies, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced.

Tracy Murnane, 65, of Westerville, is the fourth former Columbus Zoo employee criminally charged with felony theft-related offenses as part of an ongoing criminal prosecution led by the attorney general’s Special Prosecution section.

The attorney general’s office was appointed to prosecute the case at the request of Delaware County Prosecutor Melissa Schiffel. The Ohio Auditor's Office is assisting in the investigation and prosecution.  

Murnane was charged with:

  • One count of grand theft (F4).
  • One count of complicity in the commission of an offense (F4).
  • Two counts of forgery (F4).
  • One count of telecommunications fraud (F5).
  • One count of filing incomplete, false and fraudulent tax returns (F5).
Murnane also is charged with two unclassified misdemeanors related to the purchase of motor vehicles without titles.

The charges are contained in a bill of information filed in Delaware County Common Pleas Court. A bill of information is a formal accusation of a crime issued by a prosecutor and presented to a defendant; it serves the same function as an indictment issued by a grand jury in felony cases.

According to the bill of information, Murnane, while working as a zoo purchaser, sold services from his family’s business to the zoo, sold personal cars using a straw seller and aided another defendant, former CEO Tom Stalf, in using zoo funds to buy a vehicle for Stalf’s personal use. Murnane is also accused of using a zoo vendor barter system to book a party bus for a family member’s wedding and filing tax returns for 2019 without accounting for his fraudulent gains.

The charges against Murnane follows the indictment in September of three former Columbus Zoo executives accused of stealing more than $2.29 million in public funds for their own benefit.

Their cases are ongoing:
  • A trial for Pete Fingerhut, the zoo’s former marketing director, is scheduled to begin on July 9. Fingerhut was indicted on 62 felony charges and one misdemeanor count.
  • A trial for Tom Stalf, former chief executive officer, is set to begin on Aug. 6. He faces 36 felony charges.
  • Greg Bell, former chief financial officer, pleaded guilty on Oct. 19 to 14 felony charges, including aggravated theft, conspiracy and tampering with records. Bell will be sentenced after his co-defendant’s cases conclude.
Zoo fraud graphic
Separately, the attorney general’s Charitable Law Section provided notice this week that it has completed, and will close, its regulatory investigation into the zoo itself and its Board.  

Steve Irwin: 614-728-5417

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