The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and the former chief financial officer reached an agreement after it was found that he and other executives had misused the zoo’s resources, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses for taxpayer-supported nonprofits.
Chairman Keith Schumat said former zoo chief financial officer Greg Bell has agreed to pay the zoo $132,000. Shomat said the board approved the settlement with Pell in a private meeting on Wednesday.
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Bell and former zoo chief executive Tom Stalf resigned in March last year after Dispatch revealed the two men had allowed their relatives to live on zoo-owned properties at below-market rents, and sought tickets and suites for concerts and entertainment events — resources dedicated to hosting zoo supporters Animal and build relationships with donors – for themselves and their family members.
A forensic study later concluded that shady and erroneous business practices by Stalf and Bell, along with two others, cost the zoo at least $631,000. The zoo’s assets were improperly used for executives’ personal purposes, including concert tickets, golf memberships, Amazon purchases, satellite radio subscriptions and vehicles, the audit found.
Schumat said Tracy Mornan, a former purchasing manager, also reached a settlement with the zoo, agreeing to pay $11,000.
Forensic auditors found that Bell was responsible for nearly $139,000 of the $631,000 in losses, while Mornan was responsible for nearly $13,000.
While the settlement amounts for the two men were less than the total estimated losses the auditors assigned to their businesses, Chomati said the amounts were a compromise.
“I think the numbers were fair,” Chomati said.
Stalf was responsible for the vast majority — $423,000 — of the losses, according to a forensic review. The reviewers found Pete Fingerhout, the zoo’s former vice president of marketing and sales, was responsible for an estimated $57,000 in losses.
Chomati said the zoo had not reached settlements with Stalf or Wengerhout, and the zoo board had agreed to take any necessary steps to collect what was owed.
Board officials are still hopeful that they can reach an agreement with Stalf and Fingerhut. But “everything is on the table,” Chomati said, including legal action.
Bell’s attorney, Sam Shamansky, said Wednesday evening that there were some contested parts to the review, which is the way the parties came up with the settlement number, “which we believe represents a rough estimate of the response due,” he said.
Within weeks of his resignation, Shamansky said Bell was committed to compensating the zoo. Shamansky said the money had already been paid to the zoo by Wednesday night.
“Mr. Bell, from day one, recognized the gaps in judgment and before taking responsibility for it, and believed that the best way to show understanding was to repay the money he was not owed,” Shamansky said.
Brad Barbin, who represents Murnan, said he and the former zoo’s procurement director disagreed with the forensic review’s assertions, but wanted to move on from what Barbin described as a “bad situation.”
“Organizations are supposed to have systems in place for determining when bosses get out of hand,” Barbin said. “The zoo didn’t have that system. Paying $11,000 is[Mornan’s]attempt to make up for this.”