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Local Editorials

Finally, the charges fit the crime

Until Thursday, former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell faced only one federal court of wire fraud that charged her with misappropriating $53 million in taxpayers’ dollars. Now, she faces 60 additional state charges of theft. Those charges come much closer to fitting the crime.

What difference does it really make that former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell now faces dozens of new theft charges, after indictments were handed up Thursday by a Lee County grand jury?

On the surface, Crundwell’s situation hasn’t changed. She remains free on a $4,500 recognizance bond on a lone charge of federal wire fraud. Lee County State’s Attorney Henry Dixon, who announced the 60-count indictment, said he would not ask for a warrant for her arrest.

Crundwell’s property is still in the process of being sold, presumably to reimburse the city of Dixon for some of its losses over the past two decades. A 2-day auction of several hundred quarter horses and other Crundwell possessions will take place Sunday and Monday at Crundwell’s ranch near Dixon.

And the federal case against Crundwell apparently will continue to take precedence over the new state charges brought against her.

However, it was important – extremely important – that the criminal justice system charge Crundwell with more than a single wire fraud charge involving the transfer of $175,000 in city funds from a bank in Minnesota to a bank in Ohio.

In the face of overwhelming losses – as much as $53 million – from city coffers over 22 years, that lone charge has looked mighty underwhelming for that past 5 months.

Not any more.

Crundwell now stands indicted on 60 counts of theft, each involving more than $100,000 in government property.

The charges are all Class X felonies, each charge punishable by 6 to 30 years in prison.

A review of the 60-count indictment, which covers the last 27 months of Crundwell’s tenure as comptroller, illustrates the methodical nature of the crime. On 60 separate occasions, investigators say, city funds were transferred into a secret “R.S.C.D.A.” account that Crundwell controlled – and only she knew about. Those initials, we now know, stand for “reserve sewer capital development account.”

Those illegal transfers took place from Jan. 19, 2010, until April 16, 2012 – one day before Crundwell’s arrest at city hall. The amounts ranged from $100,000 to $350,000.

The amount misappropriated during that time was $11,293,810, according to Thursday’s indictment.

The state charges don’t encompass the entire missing $53 million, but they are better than nothing. Much better.

From what Lee County State’s Attorney Dixon said during Thursday’s news conference, the federal government shared minimal information on the case, leaving his office to develop its own evidence and charges. That would explain the gap between the filing of federal charges and state charges. Dixon was correct to involve the Sterling Police Department to conduct the investigation, rather than Dixon Police, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest within city government departments in Dixon.

Dixon remarked that Crundwell “violated our law” and that “she ought to be held accountable.”

Those 60 Class X charges of theft come a lot closer to fitting the serious crime with which Crundwell stands accused. In the minds of thousands of Dixon residents, that makes a difference. A big difference.

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