Hot tubs, wildebeest found after $340K in Ohio public funds go missing
McARTHUR, Ohio (WCMH) – A former fiscal officer in Ohio has been sentenced to nearly five years in prison and ordered to repay the almost $340,000 he stole from his office and used in part to purchase a wildebeest, owls, hot tubs, a drum set, a gazebo, and a snow cone machine.
According to the Ohio Auditor of State, Cyril “Cy” Vierstra of Wilkesville, stole $339,717.86 in public funds from operations of Vinton Township to buy several exotic animals, and numerous items for his own personal use or for a primate exhibit at his roadside zoo on near the Vinton Furnace State Forest.
In 2017, the Auditor of State’s Special Investigations Unit received a complaint from the Vinton County Auditor’s Office with allegations that Vierstra was misusing township debit and credit cards. The resulting investigation led to a review of band records which uncovered questionable transactions between January 2016 and July 2020 to fund renovations to his residence and for expenses at the Union Ridge Wildlife Center, a nonprofit wildlife refuge Vierstra operated.
The refuge housed animals including tigers, aoudads, capuchins, chimpanzees, lemurs, macaques, spider monkeys, birds of prey and cranes.
Investigators determined Vierstra created fake invoices, billing slips and other fraudulent documents to hide his activities, which included 812 debit card transactions totaling over $127,000 on an online auction website. There, he bought items such as a drone, a video game system, tricycles, telescopes, a dishwasher, custom-built enclosures for his refuge facility, two snow owls from England and a wildebeest.
Auditors also created a breakdown of the various purchases. Using public funds, Vierstra is said to have also obtained five hot tubs, an above-ground pool, a gazebo, outdoor grills, a popcorn cart, a projector screen, kayaks, pressure washers, and a CPR manikin.
Vierstra pleaded guilty in October 2022 to felony counts of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, theft in office, tampering with records and a misdemeanor count of dereliction of duty. He was sentenced to 59 months in prison, plus at least 18 months and up to three years of mandatory post-release control.
In addition, Vierstra was ordered to pay restitution of all funds and ordered to forfeit a 2020 Cushman Hauler 1200x utility vehicle, a 2019 Cub Cadet XT1-LT42 riding lawn mower, a 2006 Chevrolet animal rescue trailer, and six Jeld-Wen Vinyl windows.