Union Ridge Wildlife Center owner Cy Vierstra is fraudulently soliciting donations to cover his legal fees and restitution for stealing nearly $300,000 from his town.
Cy was formerly the Vinton Township Fiscal Officer in Vinton, Ohio. An investigation was launched in 2020 after Vinton County Auditor Cindy Waugh learned there were insufficient funds in the township’s account and found questionable charges on the township debit and credit cards that were assigned to Cy. The subsequent audit revealed $287,565 in financial losses attributable to theft by Cy. In October 2021, Cy was charged with 12 felonies and one misdemeanor.
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Last December, Cy partnered with Michael Robison of SPARTN (Small Primate Animal Rescue Tennessee) to fundraise $348,000.
The funds were to be used to complete a chimp house at Union Ridge, however, it is suspected that the actual intended use of the money was to pay back the restitution in his criminal case.
Roadside Zoo News reported the activity to the Ohio Auditor of State (OAS). A pretrial hearing in Cy's criminal case was held August 10. The day after the hearing, Cy posted on social media that he is not affiliated with Robison and SPARTN and that any donations that were acquired were used for Robison’s personal gain.
In a subsequent letter posted to the website simplebooklet.com, Cy again claimed Robison scammed him.
“Tens of thousands of dollars, possibly hundreds of thousands, raised for the investment in me: For restitution; and separately, for the current construction project for chimpanzees here at the sanctuary; every dime consumed by Robison for personal gain,” he wrote.
A review of the PayPal address that Robison linked in his fundraising posts for Union Ridge indicates it is the same PayPal address that is linked on the Union Ridge Facebook page. OAS obtained the PayPal records and confirmed the linkage.
It is unclear why Cy is falsely claiming the donations were stolen when evidence shows that the donations were sent directly to his PayPal account.
Cy is now attempting to fundraise on his own to obtain donations to pay back the money he stole. He wrote a letter admitting to his poor decisions as the town fiscal officer and asking his supporters to donate $350 to attend a private open house at his roadside zoo. Cy has subsequently deleted the letter but screenshots are below.
Tim Harrison of Outreach for Animals (OFA) has vocally supported Cy and has also been fundraising. Both Harrison and Cy were featured in the 2021 documentary The Conservation Game. OFA's nonprofit status was revoked by the Internal Revenue Service in March for failure to file tax returns.
Harrison continues to fraudulently solicit donations as a nonprofit, in apparent violation of state and federal law.
Cy's criminal case is scheduled for a plea hearing October 26.