Guest Author - Vance R. Rowe
Rita Crundwell was known as the queen of the quarter horses. She had hundreds of quarter horses and dominated the field for many years. Everyone who knew her, loved her. She was very kind, generous, and was not afraid to get her hands dirty. Unfortunately, her hands were not just dirty from shoveling horse manure from her stalls, they were dirty because she was embezzling money from the city of Dixon, Illinois where she worked as the city comptroller. Crundwell embezzled more than 53 million dollars from the city during the 30 years she worked as comptroller. 53 million dollars from a city of about 16,000 that an annual budget of usually just under 10 million dollars.
Rita Crundwell began working part-time for the city of Dixon, Illinois while she was in high school back in 1970. In 1978 she began showing quarter horses. In 1983, Crundwell was appointed to the position of comptroller for the city and in 1990, her criminal career began. She opened a secret bank account under the name of Reserve Sewer Capital Development Account. Crundwell made this look like a city account and she was the only signatory on it. She would funnel money into another account called Capital Investment Fund. Crundwell would then create fake invoices and write checks payable to “treasurer” of the RSCDA. She used the money she embezzled to support her lavish lifestyle and to fund her quarter horse business.
Over the decades that she did this, the city suffered because employees did not get pay raises, roads went without repair, the city police had to forgo getting new radio equipment, and the city laid off three of its nine street-repair employees, and the city had to cut the rate of its maintenance. Meanwhile, Rita Crundwell was buying horses, a million dollar mobile home, a quarter million dollar horse trailer, several cars, and even a second home in Florida. People in the city thought she was making money because of the horses and the people in the horse business thought she was already wealthy. No one really questioned her about it and when she was questioned about the city not having enough operating capital, she laid it off as the state being late paying them their tax revenues.
In the fall of 2011, Rita Crundwell was on an extended vacation and a clerk who was temporarily filling in for her discovered the secret account and the many checks written to it. The woman brought this to the attention of the mayor and the mayor called the FBI. When Crundwell came back to work, no one said anything to her and just let her go with business as usual. However, she was being watched by the FBI for the next six months and she managed to funnel another 3 million dollars into the secret account.
In April of 2012, Rita Crundwell was taken into custody by the FBI and at her trial, she pleaded guilty to her crime. She was sent to prison and ordered to pay restitution of the 53 million plus dollars she embezzled. Her properties, horses, and trophies were auctioned off in order to help pay her restitution. Thousands of people from all over the country and a few from other countries descended upon the city of Dixon for the horse auction. Hotels filled up for miles around for buyers and spectators. All of her horses were sold off and one champion quarter horse brought in over 700,000 dollars.
Rita Crundwell is currently serving 19 years and 7 months in prison for wire fraud and money laundering. The prosecution was seeking 20 years. If Crundwell did not cooperate and had been found guilty in a trial, she would have faced numerous other charges and possibly the rest of her life in prison.
The city of Dixon began to rebound just a few months after Crundwell’s incarceration. The city sued the outside auditors and their own bank, Fifth Third Bank, for not catching the theft earlier and Fifth Third bank settled the suit and paid the city 40 million dollars in restitution. The auction of Crundwell’s assets brought in another 10 million for the city.