Ex Ohio official misused town's debit card to buy wildebeest, snow cone machine, hot tubs, and more
04/19/2023 3:21 pm PDT
COLUMBUS, Ohio (TCD) -- A new report by the Ohio Auditor of State reveals how a town’s former fiscal officer used hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds to purchase exotic animals and other objects that "had nothing to do with the operations of the township."
According to the audit report, the Vinton County auditor reached out to the Ohio Auditor of State on July 13, 2020, to allege Cyril "Cy" Vierstra misused Vinton Township’s debit card. Vierstra formerly served as the Vinton Township fiscal officer and took office April 1, 2014.
Over the course of 4 1/2 years, Vierstra misused more than $310,000 in public funds to "purchase goods and services for his nonprofit agency, Union Ridge Wildlife Center, to start a lodging service through Airbnb at his personal residence, and for his personal use."
Vierstra’s transactions with the debit card "increased significantly" in 2018, and he spent over $127,000 on an online auction site called Fast Track It. He reportedly purchased five hot tubs, an aboveground pool, gazebos, storage sheds, a drum set, a drone, generators, outdoor grills, a popcorn cart, a snow cone machine, kayaks, telescopes, and more.
The audit says some other purchases include a wildebeest, two snow owls from England, an animal trailer, animal food, a deluxe cottage garage, and furniture.
The Ohio Auditor of State said in a press release Vierstra operated his own roadside zoo, and many of the funds went to his nonprofit, Union Ridge Wildlife Center. The auditor said Vierstra "created fake invoices, billing slips, and other fraudulent documents to hide his activities."
Vierstra was indicted by a grand jury Oct. 15, 2021, on charges of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, theft in office, theft, telecommunications fraud, dereliction of duty, and eight counts of tampering with records.
About a year later, on Oct. 26, 2022, he pleaded guilty to engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, theft in office, three counts of tampering with records, and dereliction of duty. He was sentenced in February to 59 months in prison and up to three years of post-release control. The judge also ordered Vierstra to pay $339,717.86 in restitution.
Additionally, Vierstra must forfeit a 2020 Cushman Hauler 1200X utility vehicle, 2019 Cub Cadet XT1-LT42 riding lawn mower, 2006 Chevrolet animal rescue trailer, and six Jeld-Wen vinyl windows to the Vinton Township trustees.
Auditor of State Keith Faber said in the press release, "This was an abuse of the public trust at its worst. 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."
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