Town council fraudster used public money to buy owls, wildebeest and 5 hot tubs

A local government accountant who embezzled some $310,000 (about £250,000) from his employers spent the money on a bizarre list of luxuries including five hot tubs and owls and wildebeest for his roadside zoo.

Cyril S. Vierstra, of Wilkesville, Ohio, was sentenced to nearly five years in prison on corruption charges last month.

Now a full list of his bizarre purchases has been made public. Among other offbeat buy, Vierstra paid for two snowy owls to be shipped over to Ohio from the UK, as well as a golf cart, and a ride-on lawn mower.

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This was an abuse of the public trust at its worst,” Auditor of State Keith Faber told ABC15 News.

He added: “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.”

An investigation was launched after suspicious purchases from Wilkesville’s official debit and credit cards were noticed in 2020.

Many of them were made on behalf of Union Ridge Wildlife Centre, and State records showed Vierstra's name on the business.

Auditors uncovered at least $311,608 that has been misappropriated by Viestra, who was elected in 2014.

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A search of his home revealed a brand-new golf cart and the high-end lawn mower, as well as animal rescue trailer, and six UPVC windows awaiting installation in a building under construction for the wildlife centre.

Investigators said Vierstra had planned to create a zoo and start a holiday rental business through Airbnb at his home.

Vierstra pleaded guilty in October 2022 to felony counts of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, theft in office, and tampering with records, plus the misdemeanour offence of dereliction of duty.

He was sentenced in Vinton County Common Pleas Court in February 2023 to four years and 11 months in prison and ordered to pay $339,717.86 in restitution, which included audit costs as well as replacing the money he took.

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