Henry Vilas Zoological Society and zoo respond to donation misappropriation allegations

The Dane County Sheriff's Office is investigating an alleged misappropriation of cash from donor tubes at Henry Vilas Zoo.

DANE COUNTY, Wis. (WMTV)-- The Henry Vilas Zoological Society said it is “not hiding anything,” as an investigation for misappropriating cash donations is underway.

The Dane County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an investigation into a discrepancy in donations collected for the Henry Vilas Zoo, which the society was responsible for until a split earlier this year.

“This was a surprise to us that seemingly there was some misappropriations of cash donations,” Thomas Hanson, chair of the society board, told NBC15 News. “We were clearly caught off guard.”

The society and the zoo maintained a century-long partnership, in which the society’s primary goal was to fundraise.

“I don’t honestly know what goes on,” Zoo director Ronda Schwetz said. “What I can tell you is that there was a big difference in the numbers of the donor tubes. Last year it was [approximately] $41,000, and this year's it's about $192,000.”

The county controller confirmed with NBC15 News that total donations from donor tubes and boxes, since the partnership with the society ended on April 1, was $192,142.

“We have provided the county audited financial statements for years,” Hanson said. “We didn’t know that there were any issues. We had the zoo director as a person that attended our board meetings.”

He added, in last year’s sums, donor tubes contributed to $41,125, and greeter boxes added $144,569, which amounted to $185,694.

According to Schwetz, the partnership ended on April 1 to follow accreditation standards.

“The accreditation process and finances need to know that the zoo director is the final say on all zoo operations, and that does include knowing more about what's going on with finances and the fundraising arms,” she said.

Hanson said the society respected the decision to separate. The county has managed all of the zoo’s operations since the split.

“Our purpose was to benefit the zoo,” Hanson said. “Whether that was raising money through the tubes or having the zoo lights, all of that money was used to benefit the zoo.”

The sheriff’s office said it will not comment on an ongoing investigation.