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As in all tragedies, everyone lost something

What’s next?

Journalists are always on to the next big thing.

It’s going to be awhile before anything as big as the Rita Crundwell scandal comes along in these parts.

Maybe never.

But that’s what we thought after a Midwestern manhunt captured Nick Sheley in the summer to 2008.

As with Sheley’s story, the last chapter of the Crundwell caper has yet to be written.

Nobody thought it would end with the federal sentence of 19 years, 7 months for fraud.

That old story has some life left in her yet.

FOR ONE THING, the federal marshals have to complete the liquidation of Crundwell’s property – real and personal. An online auction of her jewelry is next on the block.

Then the city has to see how much of that missing $53.7 million it recovers through all the sales. Maybe $11 million?

The city also will recoup what it can from the accountants who were supposed to be auditing the city’s finances over the past two decades. You have to believe a lawsuit settlement will be sought by the defendants, who cannot be too eager to have any more of the embarrassing details of their work go public.

And don’t forget Crundwell’s 60-count indictment on state charges.

Or, maybe we should.

HAS RITA CRUNDWELL suffered enough?

The jury is still out on that one.

She has lost her empire, her home, her horses, her reputation – lost her entire dream-made-true with public funds.

The court of public opinion, however, hasn’t shown much sympathy for the former horse breeder and showman.

Some people have suggested she should never get out of prison, even though her federal sentence is likely to keep her locked up only until she is 77.

Some people believe she must have some of that loot stashed away in a safe place for her eventual release. At 77, a lot of people still have a lot of living to do, if not the means by which to do it.

Is it possible that the FBI hasn’t tracked down all of her assets?

Rita apparently cooperated fully.

She wouldn’t lie to the FBI (again), would she?

SOME PEOPLE WON’T be happy if nothing comes of those state charges.

When she was asked about further prosecution, Lee County State’s Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller said she couldn’t answer that – yet.

If you watched this newspaper’s video of Sacco-Miller (available at saukvalley.com) after the Valentine’s Day sentencing, you heard her say this about pursuing those charges:

“At this point, I can’t answer that. I need to schedule a meeting with city officials to find out if they are happy with the sentence that was imposed and whether or not any additional sentence would be required.

“I think the main reason that the charges were filed state-wise as well was to make sure there was a very serious penalty imposed for her actions. Now that the judge has basically given her the maximum sentence, that may help to resolve the state’s charges more quickly.”

You can take that many ways.

YOU WOULD HAVE to think we’re talking about another plea deal here.

During that interview, the state’s attorney caught herself from promising too much to folks who think that federal sentence of less than 17 years (assuming good behavior by inmate Crundwell) is much too light.

“Obviously, my job is to continue to try to prosecute – or seek justice – for the citizens of Dixon and Lee County,” she said.

Dismissing those state charges would be politically unwise for Ms. Sacco-Miller, who has been in office less than 3 months.

But obtaining a conviction – even if through a guilty plea – isn’t likely going to involve any more time behind bars for Crundwell.

The state’s attorney suggested that the $10 million the city is likely to realize from the sale of all things Crundwell isn’t an insignificant sum and, along with changes in financial operations, will have the city on the road to recovery.

Is there anything more to gain by adding years to that prison sentence?

So while Sacco-Miller surely will seek a guilty plea, any sentence imposed would be served concurrent with the federal term.

That’s why it’s called a deal.

FOR THE RECORD, let the editor say he was heartened by comments from Mayor James Burke after the sentencing.

Although no one we talked with was much convinced that Crundwell was “truly sorry,” as she told the judge she was, for anything other than getting caught, the mayor injected some humanity into his reflection on the sentence.

While he said he believed her near-maximum term was just, and that he was happy to see Crundwell in ’cuffs, he expressed some sympathy for her immediate future.

“... I just felt what a tragedy it is for her that she is going to be spending almost 20 years in prison,” he said.

Thanks for saying that, mayor.

The only thing more tragic would have been for her to have never been caught.

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