The U.S. Marshals Service isn’t done with Rita Crundwell and her ill-gotten gains.
When the former Dixon, Ill., comptroller was sentenced last week to nearly 20 years in federal prison for embezzling $53 million from taxpayers, the judge set in motion a process for possibly reclaiming and selling more of the 60-year-old’s assets.
The Marshals Service already has turned many of Crundwell’s belongings into cash, including her 400-plus horse herd. Some of her jewelry, property and vehicles also have been sold, and the net proceeds of about $10 million are expected to be released to the city of Dixon in the spring.
But Crundwell had many other belongings that have not yet been sorted out, including an estimated 400 trophies from her famously successful career as a quarter-horse breeder.
In the days leading up to the September horse auction at Crundwell’s ranch on Red Brick Road in Dixon, she and longtime boyfriend Jim McKillips removed the collection from the stable-side building dubbed the “trophy room.”
Jason Wojdylo, chief inspector for the U.S. Marshals Service’s asset forfeiture division, said the trophies were stored at Meri-J-Ranch in Beloit, Wis., which is where Crundwell stayed while she awaited sentencing.
McKillips’ family owns the ranch, and Wojdylo said the operators of the facility have “voluntarily agreed to provide inventory of all assets,” that remain there, including the trophies.
Officials from the Marshals Service must then determine whether it is worth their while to petition the court for the right to seize them. But Wojdylo said considerable effort would go into the seizure and sale.
“Keep in mind, we would have to box, photograph, inventory, store, appraise and sell every trophy,” he said.
Before the judge’s order at sentencing, the U.S. Marshals Service did not have the authority to pursue assets that Crundwell did not voluntarily surrender. Since the order was issued, the Marshals Service has been notifying anyone who may have possession of Crundwell’s property to preserve it or risk legal sanctions.
“She dictated, to a degree, what she wanted to give up and what she didn’t,” Wojdylo said. “We (now) can go after anything she didn’t voluntarily give up.”
The smaller items she surrendered, such as the furnishings at her homes in Dixon and Englewood, Fla., were easy to liquidate, he said, because the items could be sold where they stood.
Other items, such as “show clothing” from her days on the quarter-horse circuit, are likely to be less profitable, Wojdylo said.
“She has many designer jeans, for instance,” he said. “I certainly don’t envision the Marshals Service holding a garage sale. I don’t want to spend money to lose money.”
He will consult horse-industry experts to get an idea of the value of Crundwell’s trophy collection before deciding whether the hardware is likely to yield sufficient profit for the effort.
Taylor Waddell, awards clerk for the Amarillo-based American Quarter Horse Association, or AQHA, estimated some trophies’ values at $2,000.
He said the bronze figures are valued between $1,000 and $2,000 while AQHA champion figures are worth about $400 each. Depending on which division the trophies were awarded in, Waddell said, Crundwell’s name is likely to appear on many of them.
Wojdylo said the appearance of Crundwell’s name, along with the names of some of her more recognizable prize-winning horses, could add considerably to the value of the trophies.
He said the “notoriety aspect” of the Crundwell case was apparent during the auctions of her tack equipment. In some cases, he said, the original price tags were still on some of the equipment, and buyers paid more than the retail price for items bearing Crundwell’s initials and/or the symbol for Meri-J-Ranch.
He likened the effect to the sale of a diamond ring that was owned by convicted investment schemer Bernie Madoff. When the ring was sold through asset forfeiture, its appraised value was $350,000. Even so, the jewelry piece sold for more than $500,000, Wojdylo said.
But one factor that could reduce the value of the Crundwell trophy collection is its sheer volume.
“We need to find out whether we would be flooding the market,” he said. “Everyone (with Crundwell property) has been put on notice, by me. If they try to sell anything … certainly that would be problematic to them.”