The Beat: A look at Crundwell case issues
DIXON – In a not-so-shocking turn of events, ousted Dixon comptroller Rita Crundwell admitted Wednesday that she stole $53.7 million from the city over a 21-year span.
She is set to learn her fate on Valentine’s Day, when a federal judge will sentence her on a single charge of wire fraud. She faces up to 20 years in prison.
Her plea, while satisfying to some, seems to have left more questions than answers.
I won’t lie: I have many questions myself.
As the cops and courts reporter for Sauk Valley Media, it’s my job to bring you all the developments, major and minor, in her criminal and civil cases since her April 17 arrest at City Hall.
Former Dixon reporter Emily Coleman used her column, Dateline Dixon, to keep readers up to date with issues arising from the city side of the scandal.
I thought I’d follow suit and use my inaugural column to address the legal questions I’ve received (from readers and my co-workers) about the recent developments in the case.
Q: Crundwell has been out on a $4,500 recognizance bond – meaning she didn’t have to put any money down – since the day after her arrest. Why was she not taken into custody after she pleaded guilty?
A: Bond is not meant to be punitive, so when a judge sets bond, he must take two factors into account: whether the defendant is a flight risk and/or presents a danger to the community.
Crundwell is neither, U.S. District Judge Philip Reinhard ruled Wednesday.
Since her arrest 7 months ago, she never has missed, or even been late to, any court hearing, nor has she violated her bond conditions by traveling outside of northwestern Illinois or western Wisconsin.
Her assets have been frozen and she has cooperated with federal officials to sell her property, including her prized quarter horses. One of her attorneys, Paul Gaziano, said it best: If she was going to flee, she would already have done so.
Q: Why the nearly 3-month delay between the plea and sentencing?
A: Defendants in federal court typically are sentenced 10 to 11 weeks after pleading guilty. The bulk of that time is spent preparing a presentence investigation, which helps the judge determine the length of a sentence.
Over the next 2 weeks, a probation officer will research Crundwell, and also will interview her, about a number of things, including her education, employment and criminal history (or lack thereof), and will compile a report.
That report, which is not made public, will be given to the judge, the prosecutors and the defense.
Q: Why was Crundwell charged only with one count? Will that make a difference in sentencing?
A: Defendants often are charged with multiple counts of the same crime, the legal elements of which vary enough to give the judge or jury options when considering a verdict.
However, if prosecutors believe the case will end in a guilty plea before ever going to trial, one count will suffice, Gary Shapiro, acting U.S. attorney for the Northern Illinois District, told reporters Wednesday.
He added, “From our viewpoint, there’s no point in stacking up more counts, because at the end of the day, it makes absolutely no difference.”
Wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. That sentence was “more than enough time for us to argue,” Shapiro said.
Tara Becker is Sauk Valley Media’s police and courts reporter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-625-3600, ext. 570.