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Ex-official sticking to her appeal

Oral arguments up next in case

Rita Crundwell
Rita Crundwell

DIXON – Rita Crundwell’s attorney is sticking to his argument that the U.S. District Court in Rockford abused its discretion in sentencing her and did not give enough weight to the former city comptroller’s communication with authorities.

Crundwell appealed her sentence July 10 with a federal court of appeals in Chicago, and her attorney filed a reply Monday.

Oral arguments would be the next step in the appellate process, but they have not been scheduled.

The former Dixon comptroller was sentenced Feb. 14 to 19 years, 7 months for wire fraud in connection with her theft of nearly $54 million. It is widely regarded as the largest municipal embezzlement in U.S. history.

The sentencing was 4 years longer than recommended in guidelines used by federal courts to standardize sentences, and just 6 months short of the maximum sentence possible, her attorney Paul Gaziano said in previous documents.

Prosecutors argued that a federal judge in Rockford gave proper consideration to Crundwell’s cooperation when he handed down the sentence.

In documents filed Monday by Crundwell’s attorney, Gaziano argued that the appellate court should be allowed to review the judge’s decision.

Crundwell concedes her theft caused a loss of confidence in the city government and the inability of Dixon to provide services to its residents, her attorney said in documents.

Using psychological harm to Dixon residents to enhance her sentence, however, was an error, he said. The district court elevated residents to the level of victims and used their letters to determine psychological harm, the attorney said.

The government presented no expert witness to establish that any person was psychologically damaged, Gaziano said in the argument.

“This action was contrary to the district court’s earlier determination that only the city of Dixon was a victim,” he said.

Also, Judge Philip Reinhard made only one reference to Crundwell’s cooperation in his sentencing remarks, Crundwell’s attorney said.

That reference was: “I’ve considered the assistance you gave to the FBI, and I’ve considered those letters which have been written in your support. As I’ve said, there are plenty of letters that are written that do not support you.”

All in all, the judge said, Crundwell cooperated. But he said that in the last few days before sentencing, he found out that she had stolen money from another fund as early as 1988.

The district court made a passing reference to other thefts in 1988, Gaziano said in documents.

He said not enough evidence was given by prosecutors for how those thefts interfered with the investigation or how it justified increasing the prison sentence.

Ms. Crundwell’s level of cooperation was “significant and proved to be of great assistance to the law enforcement agencies involved in this matter,” according to testimony from Andrea Dobranski of the FBI.

Prosecutors had said Reinhard considered Crundwell’s cooperation after her arrest but found that it was outweighed by the harm she caused to Dixon. The fact that not as much weight was given to her cooperation as desired does not make the sentence unreasonable, prosecutors said in previous court filings.

Crundwell is serving her sentence at a federal prison in Waseca, Minn.

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