Back in September, ex-Comptroller Rita Crundwell stood accused of stealing $53.7 million from the Dixon city treasury, but she was free on bond. Only one federal wire fraud charge had been filed against her.
It was an underwhelming charge for an overwhelming crime.
Henry Dixon, Lee County state’s attorney at the time, took note. He announced state charges of theft against Crundwell, as contained in a 60-count indictment.
Even as Crundwell remained free, the new charges she faced came a lot closer to fitting the seriousness of her crime.
However, by Tuesday, the last day of April, the situation had changed.
A guilty plea by Crundwell in November netted a federal conviction on wire fraud. A judge in February sentenced Crundwell to 19 years, 7 months in prison.
Crundwell will have to serve at least 16 years, 6 months.
The city will get more than $10 million in restitution.
And the reason for the 60 state theft charges is much less compelling.
For one thing, had a conviction been obtained and the maximum state prison term of 30 years been imposed, that sentence would have amounted to only 14 years, 6 months – or 2 years less than the minimum federal sentence she already must serve.
In addition, a state prosecution could have cost about $300,000, according to the estimate by Lee County State’s Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller.
That’s why we agree that Sacco-Miller’s decision to dismiss the Crundwell charges was the right one.
Though some people wanted the satisfaction of further public humiliation for what Crundwell did, the cost of prosecution simply could not be justified by the negligible legal advantage of a concurrent state prison sentence.
Crundwell most certainly would have accepted a plea agreement to avoid being paraded into and out of court daily in front of cameras.
But Sacco-Miller didn’t want to take that chance and run up a big bill for further proceedings.
If Crundwell’s sentence is vacated or overturned, Sacco-Miller has retained the right to refile state charges within 2 years.
Should the state charges have even been filed? Prosecutor Dixon was in the midst of a tough re-election campaign at the time (which he lost to Sacco-Miller). Whether political considerations were involved is fair speculation, but that’s all it is.
Mayor Jim Burke observed that federal sentencing guidelines seem inadequate to properly punish a crime of the magnitude that Crundwell committed.
He might be right, but continued pursuit of state charges would not have done anything to lengthen Crundwell’s time spent in prison.
As Sacco-Miller said, prosecution would have been “futile.” It’s best to end it and move on.