Former Dixon comptroller gets 235 months, gives tearful apology
CRUNDWELL

Former Dixon comptroller gets 235 months, gives tearful apology

ROCKFORD, Ill.  — A former city bookkeeper was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison Thursday for embezzling more than $53 million from her Illinois community, in what ranks as one of the worst abuses of public trust in the state's corruption-rich history.

Rita Crundwell, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud for embezzling money from the city of Dixon from 1991 until her arrest last April, tearfully apologized in a Rockford federal courtroom before U.S. District Judge Philip Reinhard sentenced her to 19 years and 7 months in federal prison — just shy of the maximum 20 years. She was taken into custody at the end of the hearing.

"I am truly sorry to the city of Dixon, to my family and my friends," Crundwell said in court, sobbing.

For more than two decades as comptroller for Dixon, a northern Illinois community best known for being the site of Ronald Reagan's boyhood home, Crundwell siphoned city funds to pay for properties, vacations, luxury cars and a horse-breeding operation that became nationally renown.

Crundwell's apology marked the first time she spoke publicly about her massive theft, and before she got her turn in court, she had to listen to people testify about the damage she had done.

Before sentencing her, Reinhard told Crundwell that she had crippled the largely working-class city of roughly 16,000 residents.

"You showed a much greater passion for the welfare of your horses than you did for the people of Dixon who you represented," the judge said.

He said his sentence means the 60-year-old Crundwell will likely remain locked up until she is 77.

Crundwell still faces 60 separate but related state felony charges for theft in Lee County. She has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Crundwell got away with her scheme for so long because for years, she had sole control of the city's finances and would hide her theft behind fictitious invoices for things such as municipal sewer projects. All the while, she was spending the city's money on her prize-winning horses, expensive jewelry, luxury cars and birthday bashes in Florida.

Prosecutors say Crundwell began depositing Dixon's money in a secret bank account in January 1991 and continued doing so until her arrest in April 2012, months after the FBI began monitoring her transactions. Her scheme began to unravel when she sent on an extended vacation in 2011 and the person filling in for her stumbled upon her secret account, prompting the mayor's call to the FBI.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Pedersen said after the hearing that Crundwell would have continued stealing if she hadn't been caught.

"There was no evidence she was going to stop," he said.

Crundwell's public defender had requested a sentence of about 13 years, which would have been on the lower end of the sentencing guidelines. But prosecutors sought closer to the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and an up to $250,000 fine.

The judge also ordered Crundwell to pay full restitution — $53.7 million — as per the terms of her deal, but prosecutors said they only expect to recover about $10 million of that. Over the past several months, U.S. Marshals have been auctioning off Crundwell's assets, including houses, horses and jewelry.

Crundwell began working for the city about 100 miles west of Chicago when she was 17 and began overseeing its finances in the 1980s. Prosecutors say residents, many of whom who work in factories and on grain farms, came to trust her.

Besides the luxury homes and vehicles she bought over the years, Crundwell spent millions on her horse-breeding operation, RC Quarter Horses LLC, which produced 52 world champions in exhibitions run by the American Quarter Horse Association.


EARLIER STORY: ROCKFORD, Ill. — A former city bookkeeper was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison Thursday for embezzling more than $53 million from her small Illinois community, in what ranks as one of the worst abuses of public trust in the state's corruption-rich history.

Rita Crundwell, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud for embezzling money from the city of Dixon from 1991 until her arrest last April, tearfully apologized in a Rockford federal courtroom before U.S. District Judge Philip Reinhard sentenced her to close to the maximum 20 years. She was sentenced to 235 months, or slightly more than 19½ years.

For more than two decades as the comptroller for Dixon, a northern Illinois city best known for being the site of Ronald Reagan's boyhood home, Crundwell stole the public's money to live lavishly and build what became a nationally renowned horse-breeding operation.

Before she addressed the court Thursday, Crundwell listened to people testify about the damage she had done. She was taken into custody at the end of the hearing.

Crundwell still faces 60 separate but related state felony charges for theft in Lee County. She has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Crundwell had sole control of the city's finances for years, enabling her to siphon city funds into a secret bank account and to hide her scheme by producing fictitious invoices for things such as municipal sewer projects. All the while, the money was going toward her prize-winning horses, expensive jewelry, luxury cars and birthday bashes in Florida.

Prosecutors say Crundwell began stealing Dixon's money in January 1991 and continued doing so right up until her arrest in April 2012. Authorities began investigating Crundwell in 2011 after she went on an extended vacation and a city employee filling in for her became suspicious. The mayor notified the FBI, which was able to monitor Crundwell as she continued stealing city funds for months.

The wire fraud count carried a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Crundwell's public defender requested leniency, arguing for a punishment at the lower end of the sentencing guidelines, or around 13 years, while prosecutors sought a sentence closer to the maximum.

Crundwell's plea agreement also requires her to pay full restitution. Over the past several months, U.S. Marshals have been auctioning off Crundwell's fortunes, including houses, horses and jewelry, to raise restitution funds.

Crundwell had worked for the city about 100 miles west of Chicago since she was 17 and started to oversee public finances in the 1980s. The town's residents are largely lower-middle class, working at factories and grain farms. Prosecutors say residents came to trust her with the town's finances, but she began stealing money in 1990 to support her extravagant way of life.

Authorities say Crundwell bought luxury homes and vehicles and spent millions on her horse-breeding operation, RC Quarter Horses LLC, which produced 52 world champions in exhibitions run by the American Quarter Horse Association.

Her scheme unraveled when a co-worker filling in during Crundwell's vacation stumbled upon her secret bank account, prosecutors said.


EARLIER REPORT: ROCKFORD, Ill.  — A judge has sentenced a small Illinois city’s former bookkeeper to nearly 20 years in prison for embezzling more than $53 million over more than two decades.

U.S. District Judge Philip Reinhard in Rockford sentenced 60-year-old Rita Crundwell to 235 months on Thursday after witnesses testified about the hardship her massive theft had caused the city of Dixon.

The former Dixon comptroller pleaded guilty to wire fraud in November and admitted to embezzling city funds from 1991 until her 2012 arrest.

She still faces 60 separate but related state felony theft charges to which she’s pleaded not guilty.

Crundwell used the stolen money to establish a nationally renowned horse breeding operation and to live lavishly.

Prosecutors say the theft ranks among the worst abuses of public trust in the corruption-rich history of Illinois.


EARLIER REPORT: Former Dixon comptroller Rita Crundwell is sentenced to 235 months in federal prison for embezzling more than $53 million from the northern Illinois city.

The judge has ordered Crundwell to be taken in custody.

Workers at Dixon City Hall, who were glued to Twitter, let out a "woohoo" when the sentence of Crundwell was tweeted, according to a reporter on the scene.


EARLIER STORY: ROCKFORD, Ill.   — Former Dixon comptroller Rita Crundwell is set to be sentenced for embezzling more than $53 million from the northern Illinois city.

Crundwell’s sentencing is scheduled for Thursday morning in Rockford federal court. She pleaded guilty in November to wire fraud, admitting she stole the money from the city of Dixon while she was comptroller. She still faces 60 separate but related state felony charges for theft in Lee County. She has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Crundwell’s public defender has asked for a lenient prison sentence, saying Crundwell has cooperated with investigators. That would be at the lower end of sentencing guidelines, between 13 and 16 years in prison. The most she could face is 20 years in prison. Prosecutors have said her sentence should be above the guidelines.

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