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Dixon comptroller released, ordered not to sell horses

Monday, July 23, 2012

How did $30 million vanish in the tiny town of Dixon, Ill.? And how could no one notice?

Comptroller Rita Crundwell is accused of stealing more than $30 million in funds from the city of Dixon. That's about $1,900 tax dollars per resident in the town of 15,000.

Crundwell was released on her own recognizance Wednesday. In addition, she agreed to U.S. Magistrate Judge P. Michael Mahoney in Rockford's order not to sell, dispose or transfer any real estate or horses in her name or under her control, and her travel is restricted to the Northern District of Illinois and the Western District of Wisconsin. She waived preliminary hearing.

The U.S. state's attorney calls Crundwell's one of the largest "theft of taxpayer money" cases in recent times. Crundwell is accused of misappropriating the $30 million over the last six years for her own use. Many residents want to know how, in a city with a $7 million budget, that much money could vanish without anyone noticing.

The prize show horses. Farms with her initials emblazoned on barns. It was no secret Crundwell had money. Most here assumed that cash came from her horse business and not her job at Dixon City Hall.

"How could something like this happen? How could it happen? How could she have gotten away with it and who else knows?" Rosemary McAlister, Dixon resident, said.

Crundwell siphoned off $30 million in taxpayer money over six years, according to a criminal complaint. Prosecutors say the money funded a "lavish lifestyle" including vet bills, care and feeding at two horse farms, a $2.1 million motor home seized Tuesday, and a $2.5 million credit card bill that included $339,000 worth of jewelry.

"My neighbor went to school with her, they've known her for years. They're flabbergasted as I am. Everyone is outraged," McAlister said.

"Our memorial pool can't open because there's no money. Maybe we know why now," Judy Witt, Dixon resident, said.

"$30 million is not something that's easy to hide. She must have had total control. It doesn't make sense to me," Joshua Herrmann, Dixon resident, said.

Dixon's mayor went to the FBI six months ago after Crundell, the city's chief financial officer since the 1980s, went on vacation and a fill-in staffer noticed off-the-books bank statements.

Crundwell is well known in the close-knit world of quarter horses where her arrest is big news. Insiders say she owns or is involved with hundreds of animals.

"She had a breeding operation that included raising foals and mares and including standing stallions to the general public, as well. It is a fairly significant operation in our industry," Jim Brett Campbell, American Quarter Horse Association, said.

If convicted, the feds can move to seize some of Rita Crundwell's assets but that's a process that can take years.

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