APRIL 19, 2012
Big-time political corruption that sticks taxpayers with exorbitant bills doesn’t just happen in Washington D.C. or major U.S. cities. Case in point; a veteran public official in a tiny Illinois town has been criminally charged for stealing tens of millions of dollars to finance her extravagant lifestyle.
The longtime comptroller and treasurer (Rita Crundwell) of the northern Illinois city of Dixon, population 16,000, somehow stole a staggering $30 million from government coffers, according to a federal complaint filed this week in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The scheme took place over the last six years and authorities say Crundwell stole a whopping $3.2 million since last fall alone.
What did she do with all the money? Crundwell lived a life of luxury most public servants with an annual city salary of $80,000 can only dream of. She operated a nationally renowned horse-breeding business on a large farm, bought hundreds of thousands of dollars in jewelry and numerous vehicles, including a motor home for $2.1 million, a horse trailer for $258,698, a tractor truck for $146,787, a freightliner truck for $140,000 and a pickup for $56,646. Crundwell also used $2.5 million in city funds to pay her personal credit card.
This all went down in a little municipality with an annual budget of only $8 to $9 million. Located about 100 miles west of Chicago, Dixon is a quaint city best known as the hometown of former President Ronald Reagan. Its official city website boasts of being a “proud friendly community” that prides itself on “good lean values.” Strolls along the river and feeding ducks are among the typical activities for residents.
Few would imagine that corruption of this magnitude would strike an American-as-apple-pie town like Dixon. In fact, Crundwell’s scheme was discovered by accident during one of her lengthy vacations. An employee filling in for her asked the city’s bank for all its statements and questioned an account that had been involved in many large transactions. The mayor immediately contacted the FBI and the feds launched a probe.
The disgraced comptroller was arrested this week and hauled out of City Hall in handcuffs. She’s been charged with misappropriating more than $30 million in city funds. This story brings to mind the case of a veteran public employee (Harriette Walters) in the District of Columbia’s tax and revenue office who embezzled nearly $50 million over two decades. A few years ago Walters pleaded guilty to wire fraud, money laundering and a series of other charges.
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