When the collar is white, punishment is light
The criminal justice system seems to treat those accused of white-collar crimes with more leniency than it does common criminals. How that trend plays out in the case of Dixon’s ex-comptroller needs to be watched closely.
Common criminals who steal thousands of dollars through break-ins, thefts and robberies generally end up in the slammer. Not so if the perpetrator is a professional and the theft is committed in a more genteel way.
White-collar thefts of thousands of dollars from employers, taxpayers or clients tend to be treated differently in the criminal justice system. Allow the defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge, order the payment of restitution, keep the defendant on a legal leash for a while, and that takes care of that. No time spent behind bars.
Of course, thieves and robbers pose a greater danger to their victims’ property and personal safety while making off with their ill-gotten gains. White-collar thieves, through fraudulent checks or fund transfers, merely abuse the fiduciary trust placed in them by their victims.
That may explain the rationale behind the double standard, but the distinction can be lost upon the victims of white-collar crime.
A Dixon lawyer appeared in Lee County court last week to face justice for exploiting a client.
Al Henry Williams, 63, pleaded guilty to financial exploitation of a disabled person, a Class 4 felony.
Prosecutors accused Williams of stealing $95,000 from a 97-year-old woman who hired him to handle her financial assets. According to court documents, Williams took the money by writing checks to himself over a 9-month period during 2008-09 and used it for his own “business and/or personal purposes.” Another lawyer hired by the client looked into the situation, and Williams repaid more than $61,000, but he was indicted 2 years ago. The charges: financial exploitation of an elderly person, and theft of more than $10,000. Both are Class 2 felonies punishable by 3 to 7 years in prison.
Last week, prosecutors with the state attorney general’s office dropped the more serious charges in exchange for Williams’ guilty plea to a lesser charge. He must pay nearly $16,000 to the victim’s estate and serve 6 months of conditional discharge, but he’ll spend no time behind bars.
By the way, Williams worked about 18 months as an assistant state’s attorney for Lee County before resigning in May 2010, 2 months before his indictment.
He still faces disciplinary action by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.
The outcome of the Williams case – a guilty plea to a lesser charge, restitution, and no jail time – may be disconcerting for those who wonder what will happen in the case of former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell, 59, accused by federal prosecutors of misappropriating $53 million.
The details of that purported white-collar crime captivated the city, state and nation when Crundwell was arrested by the FBI on April 17.
So far, however, Crundwell faces only a single federal wire fraud charge.
No charges have been filed for violating state law.
And she’s been free since the day after her arrest.
Through her attorneys, Crundwell has not objected to the sale of her assets, including hundreds of quarter horses. An auction has been scheduled, and proceeds would be paid to the city of Dixon for restitution, in the event of a conviction.
How much further the typical white-collar crime scenario plays out in the Crundwell case won’t be known for some time. As victims of genteel thievery, Dixon residents have 53 million reasons to keep a very close watch.