Biologist sentenced to prison for stealing $230K from San Diego Zoo

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SAN DIEGO – A former biologist at the San Diego Zoo was sentenced Wednesday to six months in prison for embezzling more than $230,000 from the institution over an eight-year period.

Ramona resident Matthew John Anderson, 50, pleaded guilty in March to a charge of theft or conversion concerning programs receiving federal funds.

Anderson, a 17-year employee, last serving as director of behavioral biology for the zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research, admitted he submitted “dozens” of fake invoices to the zoo for products that were not purchased or received, according to a release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California. He also submitted invoices for personal expenses, often in the names of fake vendors to accounts controlled by him or by third parties that paid him back.

Chief U.S. District Judge Larry Burns argued Anderson, who was fired in late 2017, abused his trusted role at the zoo “over the long haul,” rather than as a temporary lapse in judgment, the release shows.

“For years, this defendant took advantage of the trust of one of our city’s most beloved institutions,” U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer said. “His theft compromised the San Diego Zoo’s world-renowned conservation work, made possible by government grants, charitable donations and the work of thousands of unpaid volunteers.”

Anderson already has paid his restitution in full to the zoo, according to the release, but as a citizen of the United Kingdom, he potentially faces deportation after being released from prison.

He was remanded to custody after appearing for the sentencing hearing.

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