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Winning bidders bag their booty

Out-of-staters, others clear out decades of Crundwell’s life, piece by piece

Published: Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 1:15 a.m. CST • Updated: Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 1:53 a.m. CST
Caption
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukval)
Anneliese Benesh (left) and Erin Wustrack of Omro, Wis. plop down Benesh's newly acquired cowhide couch Saturday morning at Rita Crundwell's former home. Saturday was the last day auction winners could pick up their items. Benesh, who also lives on a ranch and rides quarter horses, was thrilled to pay $1,375 for the sofa, emblazoned with a steer or two, which she said would cost about $4,000 new.

DIXON – Never in her wildest dreams could Anneliese Benesh afford the cowhide and couch that was loaded into her van Saturday.

That is what Benesh said after picking up the sofa she won in an auction of former Dixon comptroller Rita Crundwell’s personal belongings.

Crundwell, 59, pleaded guilty Nov. 14 to federal wire fraud in a scheme in which she admitted stealing nearly $54 million in city funds since 1990.

As a result, her personal belongings in Dixon and Florida were sold in a 2-day online auction that brought in $275,734.

Benesh is just one of many people who picked up their purchases Saturday at Crundwell’s former Route 52 home. More than 10,000 bids were placed in two auctions; there were 557 bidders for the items in her Florida home and 658 for the Dixon lots, the U.S. Marshals Service reported.

“A custom-made piece of furniture like this would normally be about $4,000 and I got it for $1,375, I wouldn’t be able to afford something like this otherwise,” said Benesh, a horse owner from Omro, Wis., about a 3 1/2 hour drive to Dixon. “Beside that, I got a piece of Rita history.”

Benesh, who came with a friend, Erin Wustrack, took a tour of Crundwell’s old digs and took photos on their cellphones. They said they were going to eat lunch in Dixon before heading home.

Volunteers from Dixon, including City Commissioner Jeff Kuhn, helped the marshal on site locate belongings. The home was left almost bare by Saturday, with the exception of a few items.

“There have been lots of people from Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota and all over Illinois,” Kuhn said. “The grand piano went to someone from Arkansas. They hired a piano mover and those guys just went to town taking it apart and loading it up.”

Pat Jacobson and her husband, who drove 6 hours from Minneapolis-St. Paul, stayed overnight in Dixon to pick up Crundwell’s upstairs office desk and hutch. They had to call Jeff of All Trades, a moving company in Dixon, to get the desk they bought for $1,025 down the stairs and loaded into a horse trailer.

“It’s been an adventure,” Pat Jacobson said with a laugh. “We are picking this up for my boss. The people here have been really friendly to us.”

Some folks, like Raul Torres of Byron, who bought a wheel barrow, admitted their purchase was just for nostalgia.

“Everything else was going too high, so I got myself a broken wheel barrow,” Torres said. “It was a bid for a piece of history, I suppose.”

All told, Crundwell’s horses, vehicles, tack and other belongings have netted about $7.93 million. There are five properties and jewelry left to sell, and Jason Wojdylo, chief inspector of the marshals asset forfeiture division, has said he hopes those upcoming sales will generate a few millions more.

As a result of Crundwell’s thievery, Dixon’s city operating funds plummeted from $10.6 million in the black in 2002 to a debt of $19.7 million at the time of her April 17 arrest – a $30 million swing in one decade, not including more than $12 million in debt from loans.

Donna Spencer of Rock Falls said she is happy the proceeds mostly will go back to the city.

“This is just something to give back to the community,” she said of her $137 magazine rack. “It’s a shame what she’s done to the people of Dixon.”

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