Investigation upcoming after former Niabi Zoo director resigns from Columbus Zoo amid allegations

Local News

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has announced Thursday his office will be conducting an investigation after recent allegations against two former Columbus Zoo and Aquarium executives. 

According to a statement from the zoo, President and CEO Tom Stalf — the former director of Niabi Zoo in Coal Valley — and Executive Vice President and CFO Greg Bell have voluntarily resigned their positions.

“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. “I’m troubled by both the allegations and the lack of transparency here, and this office will get to the bottom of it.”

Stalf says he “became the youngest zoo director in the country when tapped to manage Niabi Zoo in 1995.” He left for Columbus in May 2010.

After a report of the possible improper use of Columbus Zoo resources, the zoo’s board of directors started an internal investigation and also hired a law firm, Porter Wright, to conduct an independent inquiry. Porter Wright reported their findings Monday.

Details on what the possible improper use entails were not mentioned in the zoo’s statement.

The Franklin County Board of Commissioners issued the following statement Thursday:

The Franklin County Commissioners continue to be concerned with the recent allegations involving the now-former executives of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. The Board of Commissioners is committed to pressing for transparency and looks forward to the release of the results of the Zoo Board’s thorough investigation.  In addition, the Board of Commissioners supports conducting a forensic audit of all zoo funds, including the more than $19 million in levy funds the zoo receives annually from Franklin County taxpayers.  The commissioners have asked for the Zoo Board to immediately enhance financial safeguards, including the strict segregation of all levy funds from other zoo funds going forward. The commissioners have also requested an examination of the governance structure of the Zoo Board to determine if it continues to provide the highest level of oversight, transparency, and accountability to the public.

FRANKLIN COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISIONERS

The Columbus Zoo is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that also receives levy funds from Franklin County taxpayers.

“The Ohio Attorney General is charged with protecting and regulating the charitable sector, including investigating abuses of alleged charitable trust. This mission is carried out by the office’s Charitable Law Section, which ensures trust in the nonprofit sector through transparency and accountability. The section ensures that charities responsibly use assets entrusted to them and takes enforcement action when charities exploit Ohioans’ generosity,” a release from Yost’s office stated.

Yost’s office also stated that investigations conducted by the Charitable Law Section are confidential, and Ohio Revised Code 109.28 excludes investigations of charitable trusts from public records.

Former Zoo Executive Director and Director Emeritus Jerry Borin will serve in an interim role as the zoo’s president and CEO.

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