Rita Crundwell pleaded guilty in federal court today to embezzling more than $53 million from the city of Dixon when she served as its comptroller.
Prosecutors say that since the 1990s, Crundwell has been funneling money sent from the state to the city into a phony bank account and then using it to fund a lavish lifestyle that included trips, multiple residences, and a horse breeding business. Crundwell pleaded guilty to one charge of wire fraud, and prosecutors reportedly expect that she will receive 15 years and 8 months to 19 years and 7 months in prison, but the defense is seeking 12 years and 7 months to 15 years and 8 months. She will remain free until her sentencing, which is scheduled for February 14.
Crundwell still faces 60 fraud charges in Lee County.
“Rita since the day of her arrest has worked with the government to accomplish the sale of her assets, including her beloved horses, all with the goal of hoping to recoup the losses for the city of Dixon,” Paul Gaziano, Crundwell’s attorney, told reporters in Rockford after she entered her plea. “I think the people of the city of Dixon ought to know that.”
Acting U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro told reporters that Crundwell’s actions constituted “one of the most significant abuses of public trust I’ve ever seen in Illinois.”
The city of Dixon, which has a population of 15,511 according to the U.S. census, has already begun selling Crundwell’s property to try to recover some of embezzled funds. However, Dixon Mayor Jim Burke said that many of her possessions are not available for sale until the federal case is resolved.
“We were very pleased that she had this guilty plea,” he said. “Lord only knows how long it would have gone on.”
He said the trade-off for residents is that Crundwell will likely get a reduced sentence for her cooperation. However, he said that more sales — such as an online auction of her jewelry, which has an estimated value of more than $500,000 — would proceed and bring some of the stolen revenues back to the town, “which will put people around here in a better mood, I’m sure.”
For a comprehensive look at this case of embezzlement, which has made national headlines, see the current edition of Illinois Issues.