Former San Diego Zoo scientist gets prison for embezzling more than $200,000

The entrance to the San Diego Zoo
A former biologist at the San Diego Zoo will go to prison after admitting to stealing more than $200,000 from the nonprofit institution over a period of eight years by using fake invoices.
(San Diego Union-Tribune)

A former biologist at the San Diego Zoo has been sentenced to six months in prison for embezzling more than $200,000 from the nonprofit institution.

Matthew John Anderson, 50, of Ramona was fired in 2017 at the conclusion of an FBI investigation, after more than 17 years of employment at the zoo.

Anderson had pleaded guilty to a theft charge in March, admitting that over a period of eight years he had created fake invoices for items he never purchased or received, as well as submitted invoices for personal expenses. The invoices, often in the names of fake vendors such as GPS Innovation and Recording Excellence, were linked to bank accounts controlled by Anderson or third parties that paid him back, according to the plea agreement.

In imposing the sentence, U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns said, “You cannot systematically steal over a period and just say that you will pay it back,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Anderson, a citizen of the United Kingdom, started at the zoo as a research fellow and rose to the director of behavioral biology for the zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. He faces deportation when he is released from prison, authorities said.

He has already paid full restitution to the zoo: $236,682.

“For years, this defendant took advantage of the trust of one of our city’s most beloved institutions,” U.S. Atty. Robert Brewer said in a statement. “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.”


Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.