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Burke: Hold off on Crundwell questions

Mayor decides against allowing public inquiries tonight

Dixon Mayor Jim Burke
Dixon Mayor Jim Burke

DIXON – The stage was set for Rita Crundwell questions to steal the show tonight.

On second thought: “We’d be a little more comfortable waiting until everything with the [lawsuit] settlement is finalized,” Mayor Jim Burke said Wednesday.

The City Council is hosting a meeting at 6 tonight in the auditorium of Loveland Community House, 513 W. Second St.

Tuesday, Burke said he and other officials would take questions from the public during the meeting about Crundwell, the former comptroller now in federal prison for stealing nearly $54 million in city funds over 2 decades.

Instead, Burke said Wednesday, those questions will have to wait until an out-of-court settlement is finalized in the city’s suit against auditors and a bank that will bring $40 million to Dixon.

Going on as planned tonight will be a presentation from Finance Director Paula Meyer on the city’s finances and options for spending the approximately $40 million it will receive – after legal fees are paid – from the settlement and sales of Crundwell’s assets.

The public also will be able to give input on how to spend the money.

Burke said he will address tonight the reasons for holding off on Crundwell questions.

City officials did not speak about the case while the lawsuit was ongoing.

In an interview with Sauk Valley Media on Tuesday, the mayor was asked about requesting in 2002 that auditors look into Crundwell’s credit card accounts.

Ron Blaine, who was an equity partner for CliftonLarsonAllen, the city’s contracted auditor at the time, said in a deposition statement during the lawsuit that Burke had asked him about a decade ago to look at her credit card expenses, specifically an American Express account.

Blaine was one of two accountants who were interviewed in November by the city’s attorney, Devon Bruce, in connection with the city’s lawsuit against the firms that audited the city’s finances.

The mayor, whose call to the FBI in April 2012 led to Crundwell’s arrest, was suspicious of the former comptroller’s lifestyle, he told SVM in January.

According to Blaine’s statement, nothing was found – but he left it unclear whether the account was even investigated.

There was an investigation, Burke said Tuesday. Blaine told him nothing was found.

The mayor was suspicious of Crundwell stealing petty cash, not knowing at the time what he knows now that she was taking millions from the city.

“I had an intuition and wanted to satisfy myself,” Burke said Tuesday. “I wanted to see if there was any monkey business going on. There weren’t any red flags, just one of those cases of ‘trust but verify.’”

Auditors went to City Hall and asked to take a look at credit card files, Burke said. Blaine told him that Crundwell would not be suspicious of the review, because auditors were coming to City Hall at various times asking for files.

“He reported back to me that he didn’t find anything,” Burke said. “I never thought anything of it again. I started to think maybe something wasn’t going on after all.”

Blaine did Crundwell’s personal tax returns and even asked her on a date, the accountant said in the November deposition.

After talking about the credit card inquiry, Burke stopped taking questions about Crundwell, saying then that he would address them at the meeting. He changed his mind on that Wednesday.

An overflow room is planned tonight in case crowds are too large for the auditorium. Two microphones will be used to keep public comments flowing, and a time limit on comments will be enforced depending on how many people sign up to speak.

A number of media outlets are planning to be there, including Al Jazeera America and CNBC’s “American Greed.”

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