Rita Crundwell’s apology to the city of Dixon, her family, and friends was too little, too late, to alter her fate.
On Thursday, federal Judge Philip Reinhard sentenced Crundwell to 19 years, 7 months in a federal prison for committing wire fraud as she stole $53.7 million from Dixon city accounts between 1991 and 2012.
That sentence is 98 percent of the maximum 20 years that the judge could have imposed.
The former city comptroller was immediately taken into custody to begin serving her sentence.
No more horse shows.
No more expensive horse-breeding ranches.
No more snazzy names for hundreds of quarter horses.
No more top-of-the-line vehicles, homes, furnishings and jewelry.
No more lavish lifestyle for her.
Crundwell will have to serve at least 85 percent, or about 161/2 years, before she would be eligible for release. She’s 60 now; she would be close to 77 before she could walk free once more.
When a pre-sentence report submitted to the court recommended a much lower sentence, between 12 and 16 years, we were concerned.
Prosecutors were correct to strongly argue for a longer sentence. New evidence that Crundwell’s thievery from city funds began 3 years earlier than reported, and that she had lied to the FBI about her thefts, powerfully portrayed the startling extent of her dishonest, devious and heartless acts.
The judge was correct to recognize the enormous theft of public money as an aggravating circumstance. Testimony by city officials as to the detrimental impact of the thefts bolstered his conviction.
Speaking of aggravation, Dixon area residents have been mighty aggravated the past 10 months since Crundwell’s April 17 arrest by the FBI at City Hall.
In an editorial after the arrest, we noted that the motto “Trust, but verify” had failed in Ronald Reagan’s hometown.
In its place, we urged a new motto: prosecution, restitution, prevention.
With Crundwell headed to prison for what some say is the largest case of municipal fraud ever, the federal prosecution has ended.
Prosecution on 60 state charges of theft must continue. This prosecution will likely bring to light even more facts regarding the thefts. Those facts are important for the public to know.
Restitution efforts must continue. The U.S. Marshals Service has liquidated much of Crundwell’s empire; the city’s share will be about $10 million. But the city’s lawsuit against its auditors has the potential to bring in more.
Prevention efforts must be pursued to lessen the chances of another Crundwell-style scandal. The city has taken important steps in this regard by hiring a new financial director and instituting stricter internal controls.
Mayor Jim Burke also appointed an advisory group to study the city’s commission form of government, which, some have said, is outdated and contributed to Crundwell’s ability to disguise her thefts.
Just this week, state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, introduced a package of anti-corruption bills in the Illinois House. The legislation would add more accountability to government offices and increase the penalties for forging state documents and stealing public funds.
One important milestone has been reached. Crundwell won’t be running around free anymore. She’ll be doing serious time for a serious crime.
Other prosecution, restitution, and prevention milestones lie ahead. Their successful resolutions are a must if Dixon is to restore its tarnished reputation.