4/1/2021

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) 4-2-21 — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced today that an investigation has been opened following recent allegations involving two executives at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

Yost said –

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

President and CEO Tom Stalf and Executive Vice President and CFO Greg Bell

The Columbus Zoo is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that also receives levy funds from Franklin County taxpayers. On Monday, the zoo’s president/CEO and chief financial officer (Tom Stalf and Greg Bell) resigned after an internal investigation related to the personal use of zoo assets. Both allegedly received improper benefits, according to reporting by The Columbus Dispatch.

Franklin County Commissioners released the following statement today:

“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.

The governing documents of the Columbus Zoo Board automatically make the president of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners an ex officio member of the Zoo Board. The Board of Commissioners does not take a formal action for this appointment. Kevin L. Boyce, the president of the Board of Commissioners, is committed to transparency in all matters related to the zoo but as an ex-officio member of the Zoo Board, any confidential information he has received from the legal counsel to the Zoo’s Board is covered by attorney-client privilege and he is not legally permitted to independently make statements on matters covered by attorney-client privilege.”

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.

Investigations conducted by the Charitable Law Section are confidential. Ohio Revised Code 109.28 excludes investigations of charitable trusts from public records.