Police: No criminal conduct found in Henry Vilas Zoo donations investigation

MADISON, Wis. — The Dane County Sheriff’s Department completed its investigation into concerns that hundreds of thousands of dollars, donated through various donor tubes in the Henry Vilas Zoo, were missing.

Up until last year, the Zoological Society was responsible for collecting donated money. The county took over that role and found a discrepancy in the amount of donated cash it reported and the amount of cash that was reported when the society was in charge from 2011-2018.

Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said his investigative staff members did not identify any criminal conduct on the part of the Zoological Society or any employees. The Dane County District Attorney’s Office reportedly agreed with the findings.

Mahoney explained the reason for the discrepancy:

“There were different ways that money was being collected at the zoo when the zoological society and the zoo were running two separate processes,” he said. “After it became just the Dane County Zoo, we were able to go back and reconcile, look at the files from before and after and find that all the moneys and dollars were accounted for.”

The Dane County Executive’s office, which originally raised red flags on the zoological society, released a statement that said, in part: “The non-profit accounted for these cash donations differently and these amounts were not previously included in the financial documents provided to the zoo or Dane County.”

In November, the Dane County Sheriff’s Department was asked to investigate discrepancies in cash donations collected by the Zoological Society at the Dane County Zoo. According to a news release, officials at the Zoological Society fully cooperated with the investigation and provided documentation regarding the donations in question.

Mahoney said, “When there’s questions that need to be answered I think the right thing to do is to do an investigation and that’s what we did. We found that there was no wrongdoing.”

Ronda Schwetz, the executive director at the Henry Vilas Zoo, said when she heard that the money that was thought to be missing was accounted for, she said, “I’m super happy about it. I am so thankful that was just something that was a misunderstanding. It’s just kind of nice to close the chapter on this finally.”

Zoological Society spokesperson Thomas Hanson responded to the conclusion of the investigation stating: “From our perspective there was never really a question. The society has always prided itself on sound financial oversight and public transparency.”