Rita Crundwell

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Rita A. Crundwell
Born Rita A. Humphrey
(1953-01-10) January 10, 1953 (age 61)
Dixon, Illinois
Residence Dixon, Illinois
Occupation Accountant, horse breeder
Criminal charge
Wire fraud (embezzlement)
Criminal penalty
19 years 7 months imprisonment, forfeiture of $53.7 million
Criminal status Imprisoned at Federal Correctional Institution, Waseca; projected release date of March 5, 2030
Conviction(s) November 14, 2012 (pleaded guilty)

Rita A. Crundwell (born January 10, 1953) was the comptroller and treasurer of Dixon, Illinois, from 1983 to 2012, and the admitted operator of what is believed to be the largest municipal fraud in American history. She was fired in April 2012 after it was revealed that she had embezzled $53.7 million from the city over 22 years to support her championship American Quarter Horse breeding operation. [1][2][3][4] She pleaded guilty to her crimes and was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison.[1]

Crundwell's Quarter Horse operation, RC Quarter Horses, was one of the best-known Quarter Horse breeders in the country; her horses won 52 world championships and she was named the leading owner by the American Quarter Horse Association for eight consecutive years prior to her arrest.[1][5][6]

Early life and career[edit]

Born Rita Humphrey, the daughter of Ray and Caroline Humphrey,[7] she grew up on her family's farm near Dixon[6] and in 1970, a year before graduating from Dixon High School,[6] began working at the Dixon City Hall as a work-study student.[1] She began showing quarter horses in 1978. She married engineering tech Jerry L. Crundwell in 1974, while working as a secretary for Dixon's mayor; they divorced in 1986.[7]

In 1983 Crundwell was appointed the treasurer/comptroller for Dixon, and she worked in this capacity for almost three decades.[1][6][8] She acquired a sterling reputation; for instance in 2011 one of the city commissioners praised Crundwell for her stewardship of city finances, saying "she looks after every tax dollar as if it were her own."[9]

Embezzlement[edit]

In 1990, Crundwell opened a secret bank account named RSCDA (Reserve Sewer Development Account), making it appear to be a city account. She was the only signatory. She would have money deposited into another account called the Capital Development Fund, create false state invoices, and then write checks from the fund payable to "Treasurer," which she would deposit into the RSCDA account. This relatively uncomplicated scheme continued for 22 years.[1]

On average, Crundwell stole $5 million per year from the city. In 1991, she stole $181,000, while in 2008 alone she managed to embezzle $5.8 million.[1] She not only used the money to finance her Quarter Horse operation, but also to support a lifestyle well beyond her $80,000 city salary. Among other things, she bought several cars, a second house and a motorhome.[10]

Crundwell covered up her embezzlement by claiming the state dragging its feet in paying tax revenue to the city, causing budget shortfalls.[11] She forced city departments to make drastic service cuts in order to keep the budget within reason. As a result, employees went two years or more without raises and the police department couldn't get new radios.[12] The most visible effect, however, was on street maintenance. The city was forced to lay off three of its nine street repair workers and cut the rate of maintenance. From the turn of the century to Crundwell's arrest, only 65 blocks of road were repaired or replaced.[9]

For most of Crundwell's tenure, residents trusted her despite the city's perilous economic conditions. They assumed that either she inherited wealth and/or that her award-winning quarter horse breeding business was profitable in its own right. By the late 2000s, with the financial crisis and economic recession, as city maintenance and equipment suffered, there were some suspicions that she was stealing money, which went as high as Mayor James G. Burke. However, the city's outside auditors, CliftonLarsonAllen and local accountant Sam Card, dismissed his concerns, as they presumed that Crundwell was honest and signed off on Crundwell's financial statements annually without concern. For small American cities similar to Dixon, lack of sufficient outside audits was a recurring problem, as third-party auditors at best could only give limited attention. For most of her tenure as comptroller, Crundwell had nearly complete control over the city's accounts, while few if any city employees had access to the city financial statements.[1]

Caught and arrested[edit]

In the fall of 2011, while Crundwell was on an extended vacation, city clerk Kathe Swanson, who served as acting comptroller in Crundwell's absence, discovered the account and many checks written on it.[6] Swanson suspected that this was not a legitimate city account, and brought the information to Burke, who contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The fraud continued for six more months, as Burke and Swanson (whose payroll was controlled by Crundwell) had to remain silent while the FBI built up their case.[13]

Crundwell arrived for work on April 17, 2012 to find FBI agents waiting for her. She was arrested later that day and indicted by a federal grand jury for embezzling $30 million from the city during the previous six years.[5][14][13] She was charged with one count of wire fraud and released on $4,500 bail the next day.[15][16] On May 2, 2012, a superseding indictment charged her with embezzling $53 million over the prior 22 years.

On November 14, 2012, Crundwell pled guilty before Judge Philip Reinhard to a single count of wire fraud.[17] As part of the deal, she also admitted to money laundering by using the stolen money to finance her Quarter Horse operation. She was required to forfeit over $53.7 million in cash, assets and possessions, equivalent to the amount she stole, which will be used to make full restitution to the city.[11] She reportedly told FBI agents that some of the money was spent on her horses and their upkeep. Prosecutors sought the forfeit of her horse farm and 300 horses, in addition to her three homes and a luxury motor vehicle.[5] Prosecutors later discovered that Crundwell's crimes had begun as early as 1988, when she siphoned off $25,000 from the Dixon Sister City program over two years.[2] Had she not pleaded guilty, she would have faced additional charges of bank fraud, wire fraud and money laundering that could have sent her to prison for the rest of her life.

The following month, Dixon's new finance director said that the city had seen an almost $3 million rebound since Crundwell's arrest, but that the operating budget was still off by $16.6 million.[18] It was also reported that Dixon lost $30 million in operating funds over the prior decade.[18] The city sued its outside auditors, as well as the city's banker, Fifth Third Bank, for ignoring numerous red flags in Crundwell's actions. In September 2013, the auditors and Fifth Third agreed to pay the city $40 million in a settlement, while the auction of Crundwell's assets brought in another $10 million.[19]

On February 14, 2013, Reinhard sentenced Crundwell to 19 years and 7 months in prison, just under the maximum 20-year sentence and close to what prosecutors had sought. The defense asked for 13 years, saying that Crundwell had cooperated with authorities in recovering the money. However, Reinhard noted that she put her passion for raising horses ahead of the needs of the city residents whom had entrusted her with their fund, and that a significant prison term was required to restore public confidence. The judge agreed with the Mayor and city staff who testified saying she used dramatic analogies to force spending cuts, which left Dixon unable to provide the most basic services. He was so disgusted with Crundwell's behavior that he revoked her bail and remanded her to custody rather than allow her to self-report to prison. [1][2][9][20] Crundwell appealed the sentence, claiming that it was too draconian. However, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the sentence in November.[9]

On September 20, 2012, Crundwell was also indicted on 60 state counts of theft, alleging that she stole $11.2 million from April 2010 right until the day before she was arrested on federal charges. Burke and Lee County State's Attorney Henry Dixon said the state charges, which carried a minimum of six years per count, were a backup in case Crundwell was acquitted on the federal charges.[21] However, the state charges were dropped in April 2013. Dixon's successor as state's attorney, Anna Sacco-Miller, said that it did not make sense to spend taxpayer money on prosecuting Crundwell since there were virtually no assets left for the state to seize (though Dixon had initially said he had no plans to seize assets from her). Sacco-Miller also said that Illinois sentencing guidelines require state and federal sentences to run concurrently, Crundwell would likely serve out any sentence imposed at the state level while she was still in federal prison.[22][23]

The case was profiled on CNBC's American Greed., as well as on CBC's "The Fifth Estate".

Crundwell is currently incarcerated at Federal Correctional Institution at Waseca, Minnesota. She is scheduled for release on March 5, 2030.[24]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Pavlo, Walter (February 13, 2013). "Fmr Dixon, IL Comptroller, Rita Crundwell, Sentenced to 19 1/2 Years In Prison". Forbes. 
  2. ^ a b c Jenco, Melissa (February 15, 2013). "Ex-Dixon comptroller gets nearly 20 years for theft". Chicago Tribune. 
  3. ^ "4/25 UPDATE: 69 Page Crundwell Seizure Document Released". The Equine Chronicle Online. April 25, 2012. 
  4. ^ Coleman, Emily K (May 2, 2012). "Column: Frequently asked questions on the Crundwell case". Sauk Valley Media. 
  5. ^ a b c Jenco, Melissa; Grimm, Andy (May 2, 2012). "Authorities increase amount allegedly embezzled by Dixon, Ill., comptroller to $53 million". Chicago Tribune. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Keyser, Jason (April 27, 2012). "Feds: Ill. suspect spent stolen millions on horses". Associated Press. 
  7. ^ a b Giuliana, David (April 28, 2012). "Piecing Crundwell together". Sauk Valley Newspapers. 
  8. ^ "Hall-of-Infamy corruption?". Chicago Tribune. April 18, 2012. 
  9. ^ a b c d Appeals court ruling in Crundwell case
  10. ^ Guerrero, Lisa. She Lived Like a Queen By Scamming An Entire City. Inside Edition, 2013-02-13.
  11. ^ a b Plea agreement
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ a b American Greed: The Cunning Cowgirl Crook (Television Production). United States: CNBC. 2013. 
  14. ^ "Dixon city ex-comptroller, Rita Crundwell, stole $53 million in public funds: Feds". Associated Press. May 1, 2012. 
  15. ^ "Woman accused of bilking $53 million from Reagan's boyhood home". Reuters. May 1, 2012. 
  16. ^ Becker, Tara (April 18, 2012). "Crundwell free on $4,500 bond: Judge OKs bond, with restrictions". Sauk Valley Media. 
  17. ^ Keyser, Jason (November 14, 2012). "Prosecutor: Embezzlement plea a warning to others". Associated Press. 
  18. ^ a b "Dixon budget rebounding after comptroller arrest". Peoria Journal Star via Associated Press. December 4, 2012. 
  19. ^ Barichello, Derek. Dixon to recoup $40 million. Sauk Valley Media, 2013-09-25.
  20. ^ Babwin, Don. "Former Dixon bookkeeper who stole $53M gets nearly 20 years". Peoria Journal Stardate=February 14, 2013. 
  21. ^ http://wqad.com/2012/09/20/crundwell-faces-60-additional-counts
  22. ^ Jeffreys, Samantha. State charges against Rita Crundwell dropped. WREX-TV, 2013-04-30.
  23. ^ http://wqad.com/2013/04/30/charges-dropped-against-rita-crundwell
  24. ^ Rita A. Crundwell, inmate # 44540-424, Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Dep't of Justice, at [2].