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Local

Column: Frequently asked questions on the Crundwell case

Dateline Dixon is a weekly column discussing whatever Dixon is discussing. Emily 
Coleman has "office hours" from 1 to 2 p.m. Wednesdays at Books on First, 202 W. 
First St. Feel free to stop by to ask questions, suggest story ideas, or just chat. She 
also can be reached at ecoleman@saukvalley.com or 815-625-3600, ext. 526.
Dateline Dixon is a weekly column discussing whatever Dixon is discussing. Emily Coleman has "office hours" from 1 to 2 p.m. Wednesdays at Books on First, 202 W. First St. Feel free to stop by to ask questions, suggest story ideas, or just chat. She also can be reached at ecoleman@saukvalley.com or 815-625-3600, ext. 526.

DIXON – After last week’s column, I’ve gotten a lot of questions centering around the arrest of Dixon’s top financial officer.

I thought I’d answer a few of them in this column. If your questions aren’t answered here, feel free to give me a call. We’ve also compiled all of our Crundwell coverage here.

First, let’s start with the bit I’m sure you’re all familiar with by now: Rita A. Crundwell, 59, of Dixon, was arrested April 17 at City Hall and charged with federal wire fraud in connection with what prosecutors now say is the misappropriation of $53 million in city funds since 1990.

Question: What is a comptroller, and is it an elected position?

Answer: Crundwell was the comptroller and treasurer for the city of Dixon, which means she both kept the books and authorized spending. The only accounts she didn’t oversee were the ones for the water and waste water departments, Mayor Jim Burke said.

It is an appointed position created in 1971. Darlene Herzog was the first to hold the post. Crundwell succeeded her in 1983.

Q: Who was her boss?

A: The comptroller’s immediate supervisor is the finance commissioner. When Crundwell took the job in 1983, Walt Lohse held the post. Gerald Wermers held it his last 4 years on the council, then Roy Bridgeman was finance commissioner for 20 of his 24 years on the council, from 1991 to 2011. David Blackburn has held the post since April 2011, when Bridgeman did not win re-election.

Q: Could this money that Crundwell is accused of misappropriating have been used to reopen Memorial Pool?

A: Nope. Memorial Pool is owned by the Dixon Park District, not the city.

Q: What about the horse farm in Beloit, Wis.?

A: Contrary to some reports, Crundwell does not own the Meri-J Ranch.

According to a 2003 story by The Equine Chronicle, the ranch was established in the 1990s by Bob and Eleanor McKillips, parents of Crundwell’s longtime boyfriend, Jim. The ranch was bought by Percott Co.; Jim McKillips stayed on as manager.

A woman who answered the phone at Percott last week said Crundwell was “only a client.” In federal documents released Tuesday, prosecutors say Crundwell kept some of her horses at the ranch.

Q: Why is her bond so low?

A: Crundwell was released on a $4,500 recognizance bond, which means she put no money down, but will have to pay $4,500 and face detention if she violates the conditions the judge set to allow her to remain free. (For example, she can’t travel out of the general Dixon-to-Beloit area.)

Former federal prosecutor Joel Levin, who is not trying the case, told Sauk Valley Media that it’s not uncommon for a federal defendant, especially one accused of a white-collar crime, to be released on bond. A judge needs to determine whether a defendant is a flight risk or a danger to the community before making a decision on bond. A report compiled prior to Crundwelll’s bond hearing determined that she was neither.

You can find the whole story, “Expert: This case is ‘huge,’ ‘extraordinary,’” by clicking here.

Q: What’s her connection to the city’s refuse collector?

A: Rumors are swirling around Affordable Waste, which is owned by relatives of Crundwell.

While there is no way of knowing who, if anyone, the FBI is investigating, I did look into the bids for the city contract that were submitted in 2007, when Affordable beat longtime contract holder Allied Waste.

At the time, the city was considering switching to 60-gallon toters because it was getting complaints that the 35-gallon toters then in use were too small, Public Works Director Shawn Ortgiesen said.

The city took bids on 35-, 60- and 90-gallon toters.

Allied Waste would have been the low bidder if the city decided to stay with the 35-gallon toters.

Affordable Waste, though, was the low bidder for both the 60- and 90-gallon toter proposals. Its 60-gallon toter bid was about $50 a year less per resident than Allied’s, and about $80 a year per resident less than the third bidder, Moring Disposal.

When the city seeks bids, they are delivered to City Hall in sealed envelopes, which are opened all at once in council chambers, Ortgiesen said. A recommendation is then given to the council and a vote is taken. In 2007, the council voted 3-1 with Mayor Jim Burke and commissioners Roy Bridgeman, Ralph Contreras and Clark Kelly voting yes. Commissioner David Blackburn voted no because, according to meeting minutes, he didn’t think all residents should have to switch to a larger toter.

Q: What about the tax abatement received by her family, the Humphreys?

A: The Humphrey family farm received a tax abatement in June 2005 when it was annexed into city limits.

The property, which is on Dutch Road, gets the abatement on its unimproved property until one of the following happens: it is developed for something other than agriculture uses; all or part of the property is transferred to someone other than the Humphrey children; or 10 years passes.

Those terms were typical of annexations at that time, City Clerk Kathe Swanson said, and I confirmed that, looking at other annexation agreements.

SVM reporter Tara Becker contributed to this column.

Dateline Dixon is a weekly column discussing whatever Dixon is discussing.

Emily Coleman has "office hours" from 1 to 2 p.m. Wednesdays at Books on First, 202 W. First St. Feel free to stop by to ask questions, suggest story ideas, or just chat.

She also can be reached at ecoleman@saukvalley.com or 815-625-3600, ext. 526.

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