DIXON, Ill. (WLS) -- Former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell was released from federal prison in central Illinois Wednesday, the FBI confirmed.
She was convicted in 2013 of stealing millions from the community west of DeKalb.
The city of Dixon said Crundwell was released from a federal corrections institution in Pekin, Illinois.
Many in town are left in shock as her release reopens the wounds she left on the community.
"You can't help but feel that punch in the stomach again," said city council member and businessman, Mike Venier.
Dixon was hoping to go back to being known as Ronald Reagan's boyhood home and a quaint community to visit, but now they are being forced to relive the painful legacy of Rita Crundwell.
Nine years ago, Crundwell pleaded guilty to wire fraud, admitting she stole $50 million from the city of Dixon and its taxpayers while she was comptroller, using the money to live lavishly.
"They specifically said they were trying to bring justice to the city of Dixon and our residents and deter future crimes like this, and to not even serve half the term, half the sentence that was a bit shocking," said Dixon Mayor Liandro Arellano Jr.
"I think that she should have served her term for what she did to the city and I don't know that eight years was long enough," said Melissa Lawrence, Dixon Resident.
Crundwell, who is now in her late 60s, was due to be released from prison in 2029.
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But Dixon officials said over the past week there have been rumors surrounding her early release.
"We tried to put it, as a council, in the rearview mirror," Venier said. "I think, as we'll see now, that this word gets out, our community is still bitter, and rightfully so.
Back in 2020, Crundwell petitioned a judge for early release based on her deteriorating health condition and the COVID pandemic, which the city of Dixon opposed.
Crundwell withdrew her request at the time, so the reasons surrounding her release remain unclear.
Arellano said he's frustrated that he received no official victim notification of any release, and Dixonites are still dealing with the social and financial aftermath of the damage she did. Her release has opened a wound that has been healing slowly.
"Outrageous is a great word, definitely shocking," Arellano said. "We know Illinois has a long history of corruption that we have been trying to fight all across the state -- to not even serve half the term was a bit of a slap in the face."
He's been left with little explanation as to why Crundwell was released early.
The Bureau of Prisons said for privacy, safety and security reasons, they can't discuss Crundwell's release plans or conditions of confinement.
"We simply have no idea," Arellano said. "Is there a medical issues? We don't know. You know, is it COVID-related? We don't know."
He believes Crundwell might have pivoted, seeking her release through the prison system rather than the judicial system.
City leaders said they recovered about $40 million after legal fees, and are now in a much better place, but the long term Crundwell crime impact remains a scar.
"Over the course of 10 to 20 years, there would have been new businesses coming in as you build out road infrastructure, water, sewer, so really, Dixon lost over $100 million between the public money that she stole and in the private money that would have followed that as investments," Arellano said.
Some in Dixon wondered if she might stay with family, perhaps on the farm she once owned.
Her nephew, who bought it at auction, was confrontational when we started shooting video of the property.
"It's my property -- has nothing to do with Rita Crundwell. Hit the road," said Rick Humphrey, Crundwell's Nephew. "I paid good money for this property it's no longer hers."
As of Thursday morning, the convicted embezzler is either on home confinement or at a residential reentry center.
"Go find somewhere else to live that's not Dixon, you're not welcome," said Dixon resident Lori Bennett.
Since then reforms have changed city government and ushered in more transparency.
"We're gonna move on again. That's been our focus over these last years, and we're really happy to get to the place where Dixon is starting to be known for things that are not Rita Crundwell," Arellano said.
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