Ohio Official Spent Public Funds on $4K Wildebeest for Own Zoo

Township fiscal officer was sentenced to almost 5 years, ordered to repay $340K
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 21, 2023 12:25 PM CDT
Ohio Official Spent Public Funds on $4K Wildebeest for Own Zoo
An inventory of animals at Viestra's zoo.   (Ohio Auditor)

A crooked official in Ohio spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds on personal purchases including a $4,116 wildebeest for his roadside zoo, according to a state audit. Former Vinton Township fiscal officer Cy Viestra also bought "two owls, windows for a primate exhibit ... hot tubs, a snow cone machine, and other personal purchases that had nothing to do with the operations of the township," per a press release from Ohio Auditor of State Keith Faber. Viestra was investigated after a county auditor tipped off the state auditor that Viestra appeared to be misusing county debit and credit cards, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

The township in southern Ohio had a population of 548 in the 2010 census. Viestra resigned after his home was searched in July 2020. He pleaded guilty in October last year to multiple felonies. In February, he was sentenced to almost five years in prison and ordered to pay $340,000 in restitution. Investigators said Viestra created bogus records including invoices and billing slips to cover up "questionable transactions" starting in January 2016. Investigators said 812 transactions totaling $127,000 on an online auction website included the purchase of "generators, bicycles, a video game system, tricycles, telescopes, a drone, and numerous other items not related to the operations of the township."

Viestra also used public funds for renovations to his home and for expenses at the private zoo, which housed animals including tigers and chimpanzees. "This was an abuse of the public trust at its worst," Faber said. “Public funds that were supposed to be used for roads and bridges and needed services instead were stolen to buy kayaks, a popcorn cart, a swimming pool, a drum set, gazebos—the list goes on and on." (More Ohio stories.)

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