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Dateline Dixon: Crundwell could steal the show

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 4:59 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 9:53 a.m. CST

Thursday will be about the future, city officials have told me, but don’t be surprised if the past ends up being most of the focus.

One of the last chapters has concluded now that the Dixon City Council has approved a $40 million agreement in an out-of-court settlement with its former auditors and bank, whom it blamed for Rita Crundwell’s theft.

An appeal of Crundwell’s sentence and the city receiving its $10 million restitution in the recovery of her assets seem to be all that remains in the scandal aftermath. Still to be revealed are details on the payback of personal loans Crundwell made to two public officials.

The city will host a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at Loveland Community House to present options for using the multimillion-dollar settlement. Officials will take questions and suggestions from the public about the money.

No decisions or actions are expected to be made Thursday. The budget planning will be a long process with more opportunities for public input, said Police Chief Danny Langloss, who is temporarily the special assistant to the council.

In a Feb. 20 column, shortly after Crundwell’s sentencing, I wrote, “don’t close the book on the Rita Crundwell case,” because of the pending lawsuit.

Federal Judge Philip Reinhard told residents at the sentencing hearing to look at the city’s pending lawsuit against its auditors for answers. After all, the fundamental question driving the lawsuit asked who is responsible for allowing the theft to go on.

Mayor Jim Burke will tell you the settlement amount speaks for itself in determining fault.

That does not mean questions still don’t remain.

Pending a trial or settlement of the civil lawsuit, the city had to stay closed-lipped on details relating to Crundwell. When Commissioner Jeff Kuhn started to say too much about the Crundwell case at a governmental task force meeting, his colleagues silenced him.

Now, commissioners and the mayor are free to talk – if they are willing.

Thursday is the day to bring those questions to them once and for all, the mayor told me. The idea is to get everything out there, so that the city can put the Crundwell theft in the past.

Also, the mayor will make a statement, although he’s mum on exactly what that will entail.

Pointing fingers and shaming the council would be a waste of time at this point. The public has had ample opportunities to do that, and hasn’t hesitated to do so.

I go back to what Judge Reinhard said. He asked during the sentencing hearing, “Why was this not discovered by someone?”

Dave Sinason, a forensic auditing expert at Northern Illinois University, once told me that the scheme Crundwell devised to steal nearly $54 million is not that unusual. The 20-year duration and the amount stolen is what makes the case extraordinary.

“I don’t have the answer,” the judge said. “I don’t have to decide that. The citizens of Dixon have to decide that.”

More details were revealed in lawsuit documents, giving the public a better handle on Crundwell’s crime.

If questions still linger, now is the time to ask. A big part of moving forward is understanding the past.

Stop by

Derek Barichello has “office hours” from 1 to 2 p.m. today at Books on First, 202 W. First St. Feel free to stop to ask questions, suggest story ideas, or just chat.

He also can be reached at dbarichello@saukvalley.com or 800-798-4085, ext. 526.

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