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Press Release

Former Biologist Sentenced to Prison for Stealing Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars from San Diego Zoo

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California

Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey D. Hill (619) 546-7924

NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – October 21, 2020

SAN DIEGO ­– Former San Diego Zoo biologist Matthew John Anderson was sentenced in federal court today to six months in prison for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the San Diego Zoo.

In March, Anderson pleaded guilty to a theft charge, admitting that he created dozens of fake invoices, often in the names of fictitious vendors, and submitted them to the zoo for payment for products never purchased or received. Anderson also submitted invoices for personal expenses. The zoo paid these invoices by, in some cases, sending money to accounts controlled by Anderson, and in others by sending payments to third parties who kicked back the bulk of the payments to Anderson. Over the course of eight years of fraud, Anderson caused the zoo to suffer a total loss of $236,682.86.

In imposing sentence, Chief U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns noted that Mr. Anderson not only abused a position of trust, but that he did so “over the long haul” and that this was not a case of one discreet lapse of judgment.  Anderson, 50, appeared for his sentencing hearing having tendered full restitution to the zoo.  In imposing a custodial term, Chief Judge Burns noted that “you cannot systematically steal over a period and just say that you will pay it back.” The judge then remanded Mr. Anderson into custody to serve his term.

Anderson worked for the zoo for more than 17 years, starting as a research fellow and ultimately serving as the Director of Behavioral Biology for the zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research until the zoo terminated his employment in late 2017. A citizen of the United Kingdom, Anderson faces likely deportation as a consequence of his sentence.

“For years, this defendant took advantage of the trust of one of our city’s most beloved institutions,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “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.” Brewer praised the excellent work of prosecutor Jeffrey Hill and FBI agents.

“The FBI unraveled a years-long plot to steal money from San Diego's prized institution by a trusted employee,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner.  “Today, the zoo has been made whole again through payment of full restitution and Mr. Anderson was forced to face justice for his fraudulent actions through his prison sentence.”

DEFENDANT                                               Case No. 20-CR-0812-LAB

Matthew John Anderson                                 Ramona, California                 Age: 50


Theft or conversion concerning programs receiving federal funds – 18 U.S.C. § 666


Federal Bureau of Investigation

Updated October 21, 2020

Financial Fraud
Press Release Number: CAS20-1021-Anderson