Cy Vierstra of Union Ridge Wildlife Center in Wilkesville, Ohio, pled guilty to five felonies and one misdemeanor Oct. 26 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. Cy used the township debit and credit cards, and issued checks on the township bank account for expenditures for his personal benefit, renovations to his residence and for Union Ridge Wildlife Center, documents say.
Cy also created false records and falsified township trustee minutes in an effort to disguise his personal expenditures. In October 2021, Cy was charged with 12 felonies and one misdemeanor.
Cy was featured in the 2021 documentary The Conservation Game along with his close friend, Tim Harrison of Outreach for Animals. Harrison has repeatedly defended Cy’s illegal activity, going so far as to call Cy a “hero.” Harrison claims to operate a nonprofit organization but IRS records show his nonprofit status was revoked for failing to file tax returns.
While on bond, Cy hid an endangered chimp named Tonka that was involved in a PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) lawsuit for Tonka’s caregiver, Tonia Haddix. Cy later returned Tonka to Haddix.
PETA confirmed in an Oct. 20 letter to the USDA that Tonka was transferred to and from Union Ridge Wildlife without obtaining any of the legally required state permits for importing and exporting exotic animals.
Haddix's home was raided by U.S. Marshals in June and Tonka was turned over to PETA, who placed him at a sanctuary. (Read more)
Earlier this year, Cy joined forces with SPARTN (Small Animal Primate Rescue of Tennessee) to fraudulently solicit donations to cover his legal fees and restitution, under the guise that the donations were going to Union Ridge Wildlife. He later made false statements alleging SPARTN scammed him. (Read more)
Cy pled guilty Oct. 26 to one felony count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, one felony count of theft in office, three felony counts of tampering with records and one misdemeanor count of dereliction of duty. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $55,000. He’ll also have to pay restitution in the amount of $339,717.