Ex-Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell pleads guilty to federal theft charges

November 14, 2012 (ROCKFORD, Ill.)

Crundwell remains free on bond for now. She initially pleaded not guilty a couple weeks ago but today changed her plea and accepted responsibility for the largest ever embezzlement of public funds.

Crundwell was silent as she left the courthouse. There were faint tears in her eyes which offered a hint of emotion.

"Twenty-one years of this going on and never being caught just defies the imagination," Acting U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro said.

It was a stunning fall for the former Dixon comptroller who for most of her adult life held the purse strings in the city of 16,000.

Federal authorities say Crundwell stole more than $53 million from 1990 until spring 2012 by diverting taxpayer funds into secret accounts in the city's name. She used the money to pay for this luxury R.V., homes, jewelry and horses for her nationally-known quarter horse breeding business, according to authorities.

"This case is coming to an end, and it's a good end. It's unfortunate it went on for over 20 years," Special FBI Agent-In-Charge Bill Monroe said.

After Crundwell's April arrest the U.S. Marshall's service auctioned off all 400 of her horses, raising over $7 million which will be returned to the city.

"This was a large undertaking for our agency due to the numbers that we were dealing with," U.S. Marshall Darryl McPherson said.

"Rita since the day of her arrest has worked with the government the sale of her assets, including her beloved horses, all with the goal of hoping to recoup the losses for the city of Dixon," Crundwell's attorney Paul Gaziano said.

In this city best known as Ronald Reagan's hometown, visitors are drawn to the 40th president's boyhood home and this statue of Reagan, ironically, on a horse.

Today, federal officials paraphrased Reagan's Cold War quote about trust.

"Public officials who manage their citizens' money need to trust if they must, but they need to verify," Shapiro said.

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