Cy Vierstra mugshot.
Cy Vierstra was sentenced today to five years in prison for stealing about $287,000 in public funds, some of which he used to finance his roadside zoo Union Ridge Wildlife Center.
Vierstra, of Wilkesville, Ohio, was filmed in the 2021 documentary The Conservation Game. He owns a collection of exotic animals which he markets to attract visitors to his Airbnb.
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In October 2021, Vierstra was charged with 12 felonies and one misdemeanor for using his position as the Vinton Township Fiscal Officer to steal township funds between 2016-2020.
Documents indicate Vierstra had access to the town’s debit and credit cards and checks which he used for personal expenditures, renovations to his home and for Union Ridge Wildlife Center. Vierstra also created false records and fabricated town minutes to hide his fraudulent activity.
While on bond for the theft charges Vierstra hid an endangered chimpanzee named Tonka that was smuggled across state lines by Missouri exotic animal dealer Tonia Haddix to prevent the chimp from being confiscated by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) who was awarded the chimp in a lawsuit and planned to place him at an accredited sanctuary.
He also partnered with Michael Robison of SPARTN (Small Primate Animal Rescue Tennessee), to fraudulently solicit donations to construct a chimp house. The actual intended use of the donations was restitution in his criminal case.
Cy Vierstra is shown at left and center right with The Conservation Game director and cast.
Vierstra has since cancelled his U.S. Department of Agriculture license to operate his roadside zoo. The USDA issued a new license to operate Union Ridge Wildlife Center, valid through 2026, with Vierstra's name removed from the license.
Vierstra is under investigation by the Ohio Department of Agriculture for potential violations of Ohio’s Dangerous Animal Act.
Vierstra was convicted in October of five felonies for stealing $287,000 from Vinton Township.
He was sentenced today to four years in prison on one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and 11 months in prison on one count of theft in office, served consecutively. He was sentenced to 11 months in prison on each of three counts of tampering with records, concurrent with the other counts.
Four items that were seized in a search warrant were ordered to be forfeited to Vinton Township, with the proceeds from the sale of the items to be counted towards restitution.
Vierstra was arrested and booked into the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail. He will spend a total of four years and 11 months in prison and pay $340,000 in restitution, plus court costs.