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Cy Vierstra used stolen money to buy exotic animals, hot tubs, kayaks and items for his roadside zoo

Cy Vierstra, shown in this mugshot, formerly owned Union Ridge Wildlife Center.

Cy Vierstra of Union Ridge Wildlife Center used stolen money to purchase exotic animals, hot tubs, electronics, kitchen appliances, and to fund his roadside zoo, according to a report released today by Ohio Auditor of State Keith Faber.

Vierstra, of Wilkesville, Ohio, who legally changed his name to “Cy” in 2017, was formerly the Vinton Township Fiscal Officer. Click here to read more about Vierstra.

The Auditor of State’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) began investigating after receiving a complaint that Vierstra was misusing township funds for his personal benefit, renovations to his residence and to support his roadside zoo.

Vierstra created fake invoices, billing slips and other fraudulent documents to hide his illegal activities.

“This was an abuse of the public trust at its worst,” Faber said. “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.”

SIU determined Vierstra made 812 debit card transactions totaling $127,204 on an online auction website. The township reported total losses of $287,565 attributed to Vierstra’s theft.

A list of items Vierstra purchased with stolen money is below:

The wildebeest Vierstra purchased with stolen money was no longer at Union Ridge Wildlife Center as of October 2022.

Ohio Auditor of State photo.

Vierstra was filmed in the 2020 documentary The Conservation Game selling one of the snow owls – purchased with stolen money – to Grant Kemmerer of Wild World of Animals, a traveling exotic animal show out of New York.

Vierstra used stolen money to pay off a federal fine imposed on Union Ridge Wildlife Center, to purchase windows for his primate exhibit, an animal trailer, pet products and other supplies for his roadside zoo.

Vierstra pleaded guilty in October 2022 to five felony counts of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, theft in office, and tampering with records; and a misdemeanor count of dereliction of duty.

He was sentenced in February 2023 to 4 years and 11 months in prison and ordered to pay $339,718 in restitution, which included funds he stole and audit costs. He was ordered to forfeit a utility vehicle, riding lawnmower, animal rescue trailer and vinyl windows.

While on bond for felony charges, Vierstra hid a chimpanzee named Tonka for exotic animal dealer Tonia Haddix to prevent PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) from placing the chimp at a sanctuary.

PETA was awarded Tonka in a lawsuit and Vierstra admitted to keeping him for seven months while Haddix lied and said he was dead. The chimp was twice transported across state lines without the necessary import permit and health certificate.

PETA later recovered Tonka and placed him at a sanctuary, where he’s thriving.

Roadside Zoo News and PETA each reported Vierstra to state and federal officials and the Ohio Department of Agriculture began an investigation last year. An ODA representative confirmed last month that all of the animals at Union Ridge Wildlife Center are being rehomed.

Save the Chimps in Fort Pierce, Florida, announced earlier this week that chimps Anna, April, Lucy and Cash made their way from Union Ridge to Florida in a caravan staffed by sanctuary workers.

The four chimps, ranging in age from 13-26, had been confined indoors at Union Ridge, according to a press release. They will now live in a large island habitat with 15-20 companions.

Vierstra is incarcerated at Belmont Correctional Institution.

Download the full audit report here:

Download PDF • 1.17MB


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