Each day we wonder, What’s coming next?
Day by day, piece by piece, the Rita Crundwell puzzle comes together.
How long before we get the full picture?
Good question. This is no simple case.
For starters, we have the U.S. Justice Department taking the lead on what appears to be largely a state case.
And we have more than 20 years of history of RSCDA to sort out.
Anybody figured out yet what those initials mean?
HOW COULD THIS happen – so much misappropriated ($53 million) for so long (more than 20 years) – without anyone noticing?
Part of the problem involves Dixon’s commission style of government.
With citizen members responsible for the supervision of various functions of city government, the commission is the most democratic form.
With a group of well-meaning but part-time amateurs overseeing city operations, the commission is also the least professional.
Sure, the books were audited every year by certified public accountants and reviewed by the state. Those are the financial experts, right?
Problem was, nobody was looking for fraud.
Especially not the primary fiscal expert on the city payroll.
WE LEARNED ONE new piece of the puzzle this past week: “fictitious invoices” that understated city income.
OK, that can happen. But $53 million worth?
We still don’t know how much of that staggering sum is missing and how much was merely “misappropriated” – illegally shuffled in and out and around various accounts as money was taken in and paid out.
For such a sum to actually be skimmed without being noticed, the annual budget would have to have been prepared with grossly underestimated revenue, especially over the past 6 years, when about 60 percent of the “misappropriation” took place.
Pretty slick deal.
Improbable, but not impossible – with only one person in control of city finances.
THIS SCANDAL HAS had one benefit throughout the Sauk Valley – it improved everybody’s hindsight.
We’re hearing from all kinds of people about all the obvious “red flags” that should have told us something was wrong.
Everyone has a different opinion about who should have known what when.
But skepticism and suspicion with no factual support lead only to empty allegations and seldom prompt further scrutiny.
Everyone is, of course, entitled to an opinion.
So you can call for the resignations of the mayor, and the four council members – three of whom have been in office only a year.
You can speculate out loud about a broad conspiracy involving city officials, the state, bankers, and accountants.
But in the end, facts will determine where this case goes.
NEXT DEVELOPMENT, it seems, will come from a meeting involving the Justice Department and the Lee County state’s attorney.
The FBI’s investigation is, itself, somewhat puzzling.
We know Mayor James Burke took the case to the feds, who launched an investigation.
And maybe it was the best agency to investigate a “white collar” crime like misappropriation of government funds.
But these were not federal government funds – they were state and local government funds.
The FBI will nab you for robbing a federally chartered bank, but a hold-up at the corner gas station is a matter for local police and prosecutors.
That jurisdictional split appears to be why Ms. Crundwell finds herself indicted on a single federal charge of wire fraud – an interstate bank transfer of funds.
That is a federal crime, and perhaps is the only federal violation the FBI investigation uncovered.
THAT WOULD LEAVE Lee County to pursue crimes against the state – theft, for example.
Once the FBI makes its investigation fully available to the state’s attorney, a Lee County grand jury can consider the matter.
Would it have been an advantage to involve local officials earlier, once it became clear that the offenses involved were mostly state crimes?
Maybe. But, as we said, this is not a simple case.
When they started, federal investigators had no idea where the case would lead them – and to whom.
In a small community, who you know might allow you to get away with things that would not be tolerated elsewhere.
And Rita Crundwell knew just about everybody she needed to know.
SOME FOLKS SEEM to think that Ms. Crundwell’s present freedom itself is a miscarriage of justice.
A judge allowed her to go free without posting bond after the feds first alleged she had misappropriated $30 million in taxpayers’ funds.
Even after investigators upped that total to $53 million, the bond remained at zero.
Haven’t other people had much higher bonds after having been accused of stealing far less?
Yes, but the seriousness of the crime isn’t the only factor used to establish a bond amount.
Bond isn’t intended to be punitive; it’s intended to ensure the defendant shows up in court to answer the charges.
Sure, the more serious the charge, the more likely a defendant will flee.
But Ms. Crundwell is well established in her community, has no criminal background – apparently had no passport – and therefore was not considered likely to run from prosecution.
Your basic burglar, however, might have an extensive criminal history and no ties to the community – other than this was where he chose to commit a crime. That defendant gets a higher bond to help ensure he makes all scheduled appearances before a judge.
Ms. Crundwell is next supposed to appear in court Monday for arraignment, where she likely will enter a plea.
Any guesses what that will be?