Horse News

Top AQHA Breeder Rita Crundwell Pleads Guilty to Stealing $53M from Illinois City

By JOHN SCHRIFFEN of ABC News

“What we have in this case is an object lesson in how not to manage public funds..”

Rita Crundwell, former comptroller for Dixon, Ill., leaves court in Rockford, Ill., Nov. 14, 2012 ~ photo courtesy of ABC News

A former comptroller for a small town in Illinois pleaded guilty to embezzling $53 million from city accounts to feed a lavish lifestyle that included a nationally known horse-breeding operation.

Rita Crundwell, 59, pleaded guilty Wednesday to wire fraud in federal court for siphoning off taxpayer dollars to her secret bank accounts while comptroller of Dixon, Ill., the boyhood home of former President Ronald Reagan.

Crundwell spent most of the stolen cash on extravagant items such as a $2 million custom RV, a Florida vacation home and her most prized possession – a world-class horse breeding farm.

“If nothing else, what we have in this case is an object lesson in how not to manage public funds,” Gary Shapiro, the acting U.S. Attorney for northern Illinois, said. “This is a crime that should never have been allowed to occur.”

All of Crundwell’s items are up for auction by the U.S. Marshals, including 400 horses. Only $7 million has been recovered so far.

“Since the day of her arrest, Rita has worked with the government to accomplish the sale of her assets, including her beloved horses — all with the goal of helping to recoup the losses for the city of Dixon,” Public Defender Paul Gaziano said.

The question many residents of Dixon are now asking is how did she get away with the scam for so long? Dixon Mayor James Burke said Crundwell was the only person who controlled the city’s finances and funneled public money to her secret, private accounts.

“There were no red flags that we were able to, or did notice here at city hall,” Burke said.

Authorities say Crundwell was eventually taken down after going on vacation in October 2011, and her replacement at work called the bank to clear up some confusing paper work and stumbled upon her secret back account. Crundwell was arrested in April by the FBI.

Prosecutors say she began stealing money in 1990 to support her extravagant way of life. As the town’s comptroller since the early 1980s, Crundwell earned an annual salary of $80,000, according to the complaint filed in April in the Northern District Court of Illinois.

“There are all kinds of things that I wish I would have done differently,” Mayor Burke said.

Many residents in the working-class town are in shock that she was able to get away with it for so long.

“Nobody really had any idea that she was doing what she did. Now that we look back on it, watching all the stuff grow out there at the ranch and her home and her lifestyle and everything else, it’s funny we didn’t put two and two together,” Dixon resident Stan Wolzen said.

Crundwell is facing up to 20 years in prison and will be back in court on Feb. 14.

9 replies »

  1. What do her friends at AQHA and United Horseman think about this? I wonder how much of this stolen money was donated to each pro-slaughter group. Dixon is a short distance from the now closed DeKalb horse slaughter plant. I am sure that came in handy for this AQHA breeder. Sadly this went on to reach $53 million dollars stolen from the small town of Dixon,aka Petunia City. Glad to see Karma at work.

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  2. Can’t blame this on anything but “The Good Ole Boy” attitude gone bad. It’s one thing to say “Look how well Rita’s doing in her horses business”, “She sure is raising some fine animals out there”, “Did you hear Rita won another Championship”, “She’s such a nice person”…but not noticing monetary shortfalls of such magnitude in the city’s coffers for over 20 years? The true criminals are the ones who should have been overseeing employee.

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  3. I just want to know, “What about her 400 Horses, are they going also for auction?? ” Than , a Kill buyer could buy them? That would be terrible, that means into the slaughter house!!!!! By the way, is everybody calling the White House, 202-456-1111? You have to hold on, for a Long time, but you will get an operator, , so please ask,” that Cattle Baron and proven wild horse slayer “Ken Salazar”, to be removed from office TODAY Also talk about,” that he was involved with the Kill Buyer, who bought 1.700 horses, to be send to Mexico fo be SLAUGHTERED!!! . Oh, How I wished, those kind of people behind bars for ever!!!!

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    • Her horses sold at auction in September for well over $6 million dollars. Too much for kill buyers. She had top quality American Quarter Horses that were highly sought after by people in the AQHA breeding and show horse industry. They will be very well cared for. Wish all horses were wanted that much! She, on the other hand, will continue to live off the taxpayers, but on a much lesser scale than to which she’s become accustomed!!!

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  4. How does a “small town” get so much money to steal in the first place????? On 80 grand a year, lot’s of heads looked the other way or SOMEONE would have said….. How can she afford all this??
    Lot’s of businesses are going to be sorry she’s still not in “business for herself”! You’d think, after all those years, some coworker would have been jealous about her salary, compared to theirs.

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  5. This town (county?) DOESN’T HAVE AN INDEPENDENT AUDIT CYCLE??????

    Good grief…what a bunch of dumb bunnies. And that would be the ELECTED OFFICIALS, NOT the electorate.

    Now I will admit that INDEPENDENT anything will NOT guarantee against fraud, graft and/or the promise of justice.

    The Feds have MULTIPLE checks and double checks, THEY EVEN HAVE TRIPLE CHECKS AND MORE…and look what has happened to our wolves, bison, wild equines, public lands, forests, oceans and domestic/import food situation of which our domestic equines suffer from.

    Where’s Kenny???…is he freakin’ fired yet!!!!!!??????!

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  6. Another unbelievable! The amount of money that flows through the crooked! 53 mil… I can’t believe it. What a waste and it wasn’t even a rescue!#$#! These horses she’s left behind are going to need to be rescued. I’ll bet that’s not included in the D**M recovery!! (pardon my french) She should be sued separately for the safe and secure- life long- (30yr) care of each these horses! When are the horses gonna get a break in all the messes we humans have created for them? sheesh :*(

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  7. I think I saw some photos a few weeks ago of one of the auctions and because of the horses blood lines they were going for thousands of dollars. The KB’s couldn’t afford any of them. The same thing happened when a drug dealer’s horse ranch was raided this side of the border.

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