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Local Editorials

Brazen thefts end in prison countdown

For two decades, Rita Crundwell lived a very good life while living a lie. Now, for stealing more than $53 million from taxpayers, the former Dixon city comptroller faces many years behind prison bars. She earned them.

Rita Crundwell’s brazen thievery of millions of tax dollars ended April 17. That’s when FBI agents arrested the former Dixon comptroller for looting the city treasury.

Crundwell’s pretense of innocence ended Wednesday. That’s when she pleaded guilty to one count of federal wire fraud; she also admitted to stealing an astounding $53,740,394 from Dixon city coffers.

Crundwell’s freedom will end Feb. 14. That’s when she will be sentenced in Rockford federal court.

No slap on the wrist is expected for Crundwell, 59, during her Valentine’s Day sentencing hearing. The prosecution says she faces between 15 years, 8 months and 19 years, 7 months in federal prison, with no probation possible.

The defense contends the sentencing range is more like 12 years, 7 months to 15 years, 8 months.


Knowing the details of Crundwell’s notorious, decades-long deception, we find the statement of her defense attorney, Paul Gaziano, somewhat galling:

“Rita, from the day of her arrest, has worked with the government to accomplish the sale of her assets, including her beloved horses, all with the goal of hoping to recoup the losses for the city of Dixon. I think the people of the city of Dixon ought to know that,” Gaziano said after his client entered her guilty plea.

Here’s what the people of the city of Dixon really ought to know:

– Had her thievery not been noticed last year by an alert fellow city employee, Crundwell would still be at it.

– City residents were deceived and stolen blind by a master manipulator who thought only of herself.

– The scope of Crundwell’s vanity and greed brought national – make that international – shame upon herself and the city.

The litany of her lavish spending is well known. What’s not yet known is how much the city will receive in restitution for the sale of the properties, vehicles, trailers, hundreds of quarter horses, and personal effects that she bought with stolen taxpayer dollars.

So far, about $7.4 million has been raised, but U.S. Marshals Service expenses must be deducted.

Crundwell began her fraudulent activities in December 1990. From then until April 17, the city suffered as an organism suffers when attacked by a parasite; life went on, but in a sickly, stunted fashion.

When Dixon receives its restitution, city leaders must put the needs of the taxpayers first as they decide what to do with it.

With one word, “Guilty,” Crundwell brought the federal prosecution of her crimes to an end. Still ahead are 60 counts of theft brought against her by the state. According to the charges, she stole more than $11 million from the city between January 2010 and April of this year.

Crundwell remains out of jail on a $4,500 recognizance bond, which sticks in the craw of many people. And why wouldn't it? A common thief who pleads guilty to a lesser crime would be thrown behind bars, but Crundwell, who admitted to taking $53 million and change, still possesses her freedom.

That minor victory is a hollow one. Crundwell now knows her liberty has a shelf life. In 89 days, her fate will be sealed.

Then, rather than counting the millions of dollars she stole from taxpayers, Crundwell will start counting the days she spends behind bars.

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