Equine Rescue

Feds say AQHA Breeder’s Theft Worse than Believed: $53M

By Melissa Jenco and Andy Grimm, Chicago Tribune reporters

Ex-comptroller indicted in theft of city funds over 22 years

The small northwestern Illinois town of Dixon took another body blow Tuesday as federal authorities charged that its longtime comptroller stole nearly double what prosecutors originally alleged.

In formally indicting Rita Crundwell on Tuesday, federal authorities charged that she stole more than a whopping $53 million from city coffers over nearly 22 years, up from the initial estimate of $30 million in just the last six years.

Prosecutors are now moving to force the champion quarter-horse breeder to forfeit bank accounts, her horse farm in Dixon, three residences, a luxury motor home and more than 300 horses — all of which she allegedly bought with stolen city funds.

Crundwell, who had served as Dixon’s comptroller and treasurer since 1983, is charged with stealing the money beginning in December 1990 from a city bank account the current mayor has said he never knew existed. Over the next 21 1/2 years, she allegedly stole more than $53 million — an average of more than $200,000 a month, a staggering sum for a town the size of Dixon, best known as the boyhood home of President Ronald Reagan.

For the first time, authorities alleged that Crundwell concealed all the money going into her own pocket by telling the mayor and City Council that the state was late in its payments to Dixon.

Prosecutors said Tuesday that Crundwell admitted to FBI agents during her arrest last month that she’d used the ill-gotten city money to buy some of her horses and pay for their upkeep.

With more than half of the money stolen in the last six years, the embezzlements grew bolder over time, according to the charges.

“The whole thing is incredible,” Mayor James Burke said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “There’s been five city councils and at least probably three mayors and three finance commissioners in that period of time. … She got by a lot of people.”

Experts have said numerous financial safeguards broke down or simply didn’t exist in the city of just under 16,000. For one, Crundwell had almost complete control over finances, authorities said. She also picked up the city’s mail to keep city officials from learning about the secret bank account she used to funnel herself the money, investigators alleged Tuesday. When she took a vacation, she had a relative handle the chore, they said.

Prosecutors asked for court permission to auction off 311 horses she boarded at her ranch in Dixon, as well as a ranch in Beloit, Wis., and farms around the country, including Texas, Florida and Ohio. Papers filed in court listed all the horses. Atop that court filing, authorities highlighted a horse named Have Faith in Money.

The government said it plans to eventually sell the animals and other seized property in order to return some of the funds Dixon has lost.

But in the meantime, the U.S. Marshals Service intends to hire a contractor to feed and care for them.

“Deputy marshals will not be running around feeding horses,” said Chief Deputy U.S. MarshalJohn O’Malleyin Chicago. “We will have professionals do that.”

Crundwell’s arrest two weeks ago sent shock waves through the horse-breeding industry nationwide. Crundwell was considered the most successful quarter-horse breeder in the country, with her horses taking home top prizes at shows across the nation, said Gene Graves, president of the American Quarter Horse Association.

Many rival breeders fear that selling off hundreds of some of the finest horses in the nation would depress prices, a problem that Graves likened to the mortgage foreclosure crisis.

“You put that many up for auction at one auction, it’s going to be tough,” he said…

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17 replies »

  1. This is absolutely unbelievable. Again, where were the checks and balances that even the smallest city groups should be using?

    The people of Dixon are victims of the stupidity and laziness of their city leaders.

    This woman is a complete outlaw and should go to jail for a long,long time.
    I just hope that the horses will find good homes and that the care of them and the auction will be handled well and professionally.


  2. I still don’t get why no one wondered why she needed to work her $80,000.00 a year job, but could afford a 2+ million dollar motorhome and several residences. Her paycheck was just what it took to fill the motorhome and the 2 Mack-type trucks with fuel!


    • I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the kind of money you can earn in the horse industry as well as the kind of money it takes to be successful (without robbing the bank).


  3. This is probably just one case in the many , how and why did she do it?????/ Because she was trusted by the people of Ill.. how sad is this?????


  4. I have been thinking to myself when looking at her lifestyle and the earlier sum, that it can’t be just the last 6 years she has taken money . She has endangered the lives of 311 horses and put the folks that worked for her horses at risk as well. As for a “contractor” being hired to feed the horses? Better to keep the current staff on board to do that. People that know the horses and know what they need to stay in top condition prior to the auction. HOPEFULLY top quality horse folks that want to protect the bloodlines and the horses future as an individual will be attending this auction in mass numbers. Going to be high dollar auction no doubt.

    I found it interesting that the President of AQHA was worried about this many horses “flooding” the market and that it might drive prices down. The breed with HIGHEST output in dropped live foals. The breed with the HIGHEST number (70,000) of horses being sold to kill buyers to be slaughtered and eaten by foreigners. But before this crisis with Rita, it was all happy awards and breed, breed, breed.


  5. absolutely unbelievable ! how could this woman sleep at night? She obviously does not have a conscience! I feel bad for all the horses! who knows what their fate will be!


  6. A textbook example of the financial pathological. They get worse with age. Will be interesting to hear what her “story” is and how she justifies and minimizes what she has done. Incredible that a town of 16,000 even had that kind of dough sitting around.
    A sad day for quarter horses. Hope none of hers go to slaughter, although I understand the AQHA is a slaughter proponent…Breed, breed, breed.


  7. Hopefully, there will be many people who know and want these horses at this auction. Perhaps there may be some people who will get the horses who will provide the forever-homes that they so
    desperately needed. I certainly hope that they aren’t outbid by the low- lifes. This could probably be an ideal opportunity for those who don’t have the thousands to buy a really nice horse. Although there are probably thousands of great horses out there already that just need the publicity in finding that forever-home. You can see Birds of a Feather, when you read the comment made by the current President of AQHA. What a DOPE! It seems he is forgetting about the welfare of the horses.


  8. From an industry standpoint, when has AQHA been identified with horse welfare? From over breeding, to support of slaughter, to their harsh training methods this group has seemed to be one of the worse. It is unfortunate because Quarter Horses are more docile and forgiving as a group than some of the other breeds.


  9. This story appeared on my local St. Louis, MO. news this morning! It’s really very sad, considering that because of her dishonesty, she’s going to lose everything she loved, her horses!! It’s a shame they can’t just throw a hefty fine on her, maybe a short jail sentence, & make her do community service rather than just take everything away. After all, I don’t think she actually hurt or killed anyone, all she did was steal money. And, that town must have been pretty dumb not to notice anything peculiar. The ones in the middle are her horses, regardless of their monetary worth or value, what fates await them? Will they all go to good homes? If “normal” people can’t afford to buy them at auction, who will, possible kill-buyers?? This isn’t really about politics, or the AQHA, it’s about a woman who made bad choices, got caught, now will have to pay the consequences, & her horses, her beautiful, beautiful horses! What a shame!


    • Valerie…HUH!?!??????

      It IS about politics because politics write the tax and ag laws, the government of Dixon, the county and state let her get away with it……and politics is/are most certainly driving the murder of our wild equines and the failure to pass equine welfare bills in Congress.

      Bad choices?! Jeesh….that is an understatement! She’s a freaking criminal, albeit “white/blue collar”….and yes, innocent until proven guilty, but it ain’t looking good. As a side note, try and find the disposition of all those horses she had, made/spent money on…..just try! Twenty-one years….good gravy!


  10. be very interesting to see what politicans this top breeder rubbed elbows with while she was stealing state and local funds. Someone in politics had to grant a small town of 16,000 people 54 million dollars for what items a small town did not even miss?

    Also be interesting to see what QH breeder she bought her horses from. Those horses were not cheap. It makes one wonder if the politics of the scam were mixed with any top QH breeders who had political contacts.


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