Ex-Dixon comptroller gets 19 1/2 years in prison in $53 million theft
BY MATT MCKINNEY Staff Reporter February 14, 2013 11:34AM
Rita Crundwell, right, the former comptroller of Dixon, Ill., who pleaded guilty in November 2012 to wire fraud, admitting she stole nearly $54 million from the city of Dixon, arrives with her attorney Kristin Carpenter at the federal courthouse for her sentencing in Rockford, Ill., Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013,. (AP photo/Sauk Valley Media, Alex T. Paschal)
Updated: March 17, 2013 6:14PM
ROCKFORD — Despite a tearful apology, former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell was sentenced to 19 1/2 years in prison Thursday after she admitted to stealing $53.7 million from the northern Illinois city.
The longtime bookkeeper confessed to funneling public money into a secret bank account from 1990 until her arrest last April.
She used the funds to fuel a “lavish lifestyle” and large-scale horse-breeding operation, federal prosecutors said.
In the meantime, Dixon couldn’t afford to mow the cemetery lawns, update police radios or repair broken streets, city officials testified Thursday.
Crundwell’s scheme grew over time, increasing from $181,000 in 1991 to more than $30 million between 2006 and her arrest.
Street Department Supt. Michael Stichter testified that Crundwell denied his funding requests to update the department’s aging fleet of service vehicles.
“She said there wasn’t any money. She told me, ‘If you know where there’s a money tree, I’d be willing to get you a dump truck,’” he said.
On the covers of budget memos, Crundwell included clip-art that depicted “scissors” or “people drowning,” prosecutors said.
Meanwhile, her quarter horse company flourished.
RC Quarter Horses LLC produced 52 world champions at competitions held by the American Quarter Horse Association. The organization named Crundwell top breeder eight consecutive years prior to her arrest.
U.S. marshals auctioned nearly 400 of the horses in September in hopes of recouping the pilfered funds, as well as costs they accrued caring for the horses.
They also auctioned her remaining assets, including three houses, jewelry and a $2.1 million motor home.
Still, Dixon will likely recover just 20 percent of the stolen money, prosecutors said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Pedersen said after the hearing that he had sought a maximum 20-year sentence.
“There’s no evidence she was ever going to stop all this,” he said.
Crundwell’s attorney Paul Gaziano asked for a “lenient” 13-year sentence, citing his client’s cooperation with investigators and lack of previous criminal record.
As he explained his ruling, U.S. District Judge Phillip Reinhard said he was most struck by Crundwell’s betrayal of public trust, the seriousness of the crime and the effect it had on Dixon.
“You stole an astronomical amount of money, which crippled the city and its ability to provide essential services,” he said. “You’ve harmed both the city and its citizens.”
Before Reinhard announced the sentence, Crundwell, 60, addressed the court.
“I just want to apologize to the city of Dixon and my family and my friends,” Crundwell said, bursting into tears.
Crundwell, who pleaded guilty in November to one count of wire fraud, still faces 60 state felony charges for theft in Lee County.
“Her future is dark and bleak, but life’s not over until it’s over,” Dixon Mayor Jim Burke read from a victim’s statement.
Following the hearing, Dixon residents discussed Crundwell’s sentence.
“I don’t think there’s any way to find justice after what she did,” Beverly Eykamp, 74, said. “She took something we can’t get back. She took our trust.”