Column: Crundwell, party of eight, after release
BELOIT, Wis. – The day then-Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell was released from federal custody, she had dinner at Liberty Inn.
Crundwell was subdued, said the restaurant’s owner, Casey Singles.
“But Rita was never a person to be flashy,” he added.
Singles has known Crundwell and her boyfriend, Jim McKillips, for years, he said Tuesday.
They used to come out to another of Singles’ establishments, the Gun Club, which was located at 1122 E. Colley Road, practically next door to the Meri-J Ranch where Crundwell boarded 60 of her more than 300 quarter horses and McKillips is the general manager.
An article in The Janesville Gazette eulogized the Beloit restaurant when it burned down in 2010, reporting: “For decades, the Gun Club was the place to go if you wanted a good steak and live music three nights a week.”
Crundwell and McKillips would come by once or twice a week, Singles said, but for the most part, the couple didn’t do their socializing in Beloit. They were always traveling for horse shows, he said.
“She seemed like a normal person to me,” Singles said, adding that he didn’t really know what to say that night. “What do you say to somebody who’s been a social friend?”
On the day she was released on a $4,500 recognizance bond, Crundwell and McKillips came in with six other people from the horse business, Singles said. Their friends paid the bill. McKillips ordered a burger, he said, and Crundwell had chicken.
Crundwell, 59, had been arrested at Dixon City Hall a day earlier. Federal prosecutors say she misappropriated $53 million in city funds over more than two decades.
After her release, McKillips called up Singles and asked if they could get a table downstairs, Singles said. He wasn’t able to accommodate, so Crundwell’s party ate in the main seating area.
Liberty Inn is located on the west end of Beloit, in an ivy-covered brown building. It’s not a place where patrons have to dress up, but it’s nice, dimly lit and quiet.
Sauk Valley Media reporter Tara Becker and I stopped by the Liberty Inn on Tuesday. We had driven to Beloit – it’s about an hour and 20 minutes from Dixon – to check out the area and do some research.
Beloit is a city of almost 37,000 people, according to the U.S. Census. It sits on the Rock River, and it looks like there’s been a lot of effort put into improving the downtown.
There are several blocks of stores, restaurants and other businesses. A metal flame-like statue shoots up toward the sky on The Landing. Sprinkled throughout the area are advertisements for downtown festivities.
But despite the fact that FBI agents raided Meri-J ranch the day Crundwell was arrested, there hasn’t been much interest in the story here.
A search of the Beloit Daily News’ website brings up four stories: one detailing the Beloit connection immediately following the arrest, two articles picked up from the Associated Press, and an editorial titled “Seriously, how did it happen?”
Beloit, it turns out, had its own brush with fraud.
A former Beloit water utility maintenance supervisor was sentenced May 9 to 3 years in prison for stealing more $880,000 worth of money and property.
The $53 million Crundwell is accused of misappropriating, though, “makes the reported $1 million or so ex-Beloit city employee Timothy Kosier may have absconded with seem like a rounding error,” the Beloit Daily News editorial said.
The newspaper isn’t the only one not following the story very closely.
Tom Hankins has owned Suds O’Hanahan’s Irish Pub, a downtown restaurant and bar, for 17 years.
“I know I’ve not heard a lot of people talking about it,” Hankins said. “I think people figure it’s an Illinois thing.”
Dateline Dixon is a weekly column discussing whatever Dixon is discussing. Emily Coleman has “office hours” from 1 to 2 p.m. Wednesdays at Books on First, 202 W. First St. Feel free to stop by to ask questions, suggest story ideas, or just chat. She also can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-625-3600, ext. 526.
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